Perhaps the most significant impact of web retrieval on library and technology is the development of Online Public Access Catalogs (OPACs).  People no longer have to visit their local library to have a wealth of information available through the library at their fingertips.  Although the Web may have a plethora of information available to all, as we have learned, finding relevant information is still not an easy task and resources available through the library can help information seekers find what they are looking for more effectively and efficiently.

First generation OPACs in the 1960s and 1970s primarily provided “known-item searching” (Antelman, Lynema, & Pace, 2006).  They provided access points just as the older card catalogs.  Second generation OPACs integrated keyword and Boolean (AND, OR, and NOT) searching.  However, it was very hard to search by subject in these first generation catalogs.  Next generation catalogs in the 1980s began using partial-match techniques.

According to Bailey (2011), library user’s look for the following criteria in a library’s OPAC:

  • Ease of navigation
  • Accessibility to library materials
  • Integration with social media
  • Usability
  • Ease of access to actual journal articles

Research in the web retrieval field in such areas as displaying search results, ranking, and query formulation helps to make meeting these criteria possible.

There are still many challenges to overcome. User interfaces of OPACs and their look and feel don’t reflect the conventions found elsewhere on the Web and their functionality often falls short of user expectations.  Plus online catalogs often do not index the totality of a library’s collections, and users have to use other tools to access materials such as magazine or journal articles.  Weare, Toms, and Breeding (2011) discuss how OPACs should include search features like the ones we learned about in our reading this week (Modern Information Retrieval, Chapter 11), such as:

  • Dynamic query suggestions (auto-complete)
  • Spell check function
  • Search term recommendations
  • Ranking by relevancy

They also recommend virtual rich displays such as virtual shelf browsing.  I am confident continuing research in the field of information retrieval will in turn lead to substantial improvements in OPACs.

Antelman, K., Lynema, E., & Pace, A.K. (2006). Toward a twenty-first century library catalog. Information Technology & Libraries, (25)3, 128-139.

Bailey, K. (2011). Online Public Access Catalog: The Google maps of the library world. Computers in Libraries, (31), 6, 30-34.

Weare Jr., W.H., Toms, S., & Breeding, M. (2011). Moving forward: The next-gen catalog and the new discovery tools. Library Media Connection (30)3, 54-57.