Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why do people use a university's library catalog?

So what do people come to MadCat, our library catalog at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, looking for? Do they already have a book/journal or whole bibliography of items in mind? Are they very familiar with this topic and want to see if there's anything new or anything they missed? Did a friend mention an interesting book they had just read at last night's party? Or are they brand new to a topic and just want to educate themselves on it.

How do we make a catalog of what our library owns, can get you to the full text of, or has a license for, work the best for all these different needs. Our library catalog, although very impressive, is not comprehensive. We don't own everything or have access to everything available. However, unlike most online bookstores, it does go quite far back in time and provide a wealth of material no longer available on the open market. Even as books and newspapers become digitized and available electronically, we'll still need to identify and track what is physically present in our collections.

But what does our public need when they search for something, and what suits their needs best? How can we get them to what they want with the least amount of effort yet also suit our need to track and know where something is physically at any moment. And how can we allow our collection materials to easily mesh with all the other materials a researcher may have collected from other sources if that is what they want, or simply deliver the one item they need at that particular moment. Is there one interface that can suit a variety of needs whether you know exactly what you want or you just want to browse a topic?

As we search for the best software being developed to hopefully improve our patrons library catalog experience, we'll be asking patrons--what is it you like or dislike about online bookstores or catalogs like Amazon. And how does searching Amazon compare with doing the same search in a library catalog with new features, such as the catalog at the University of Washington using WorldCat Local or the University of Iowa using Primo.

So please join us determining some interface differences. Find a favorite title in all three sites above. Now that you've found that title, misspell or perhaps 'rearrange' the words of that book or item so that your query won't exactly match. How well does each interface do? Are there differences in handling something that doesn't quite match-up right? What do you like or dislike about each of these interfaces? Let us know!

1 comment:

Susan Barribeau said...

Without asking bunches of MadCat users what they are doing, my hunch is they are looking for "known items" most of the time. If they try MadCat for "resource discovery" they'd soon encounter ***SHRIEK*** LC subject headings and that's got to be off-putting, somewhat. When I look for a "known item" in Amazon, e.g., it usually leads me to other related items of possible interest in multiple and user-friendly ways. They are super-motivated to get me to buy stuff. Using Amazon and MadCat in tandem is something I do with alarming frequency, so I don't have to buy things. That's one reason I use MadCat.
Susan B.