A patron walks into the library. She walks past four rows of OPAC computers – none of which are in use. Her journey ends in front of the Information/Reference desk where the following conversation takes place:
Patron: I’m looking for something on ess-que-el.
Librarian: I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Is that the title?
Patron: It’s ess-que-el.
Librarian: (Now mildly annoyed.) I need to know if that is a title or a subject or an author.
Patron: (Now frustrated) It’s ESS-QUE-EL!
Finally, I step from behind a book shelf and say to the librarian, “It stands for Structured Query Language and it is actually referred to as SQL.” I believe the reason why the librarian did not simply type in what the patron was saying is because for those few moments the words (or the letters, as it were) did not fit into any of the established classifications (in the librarian’s mind).
So that brings us to this week’s reading (PDF attached) that heavily references the work of Christine Borgman’s 1996 article (PDF also attached). One of the primary points made in these readings is that the 2nd generation OPACs (in use today) still rely on 1) keywords and 2) Boolean searching. The theory is put forth that the reason that OPACs are difficult to use is because “their design does not incorporate sufficient understanding of searching behavior.” The author from our reading (Naun) relays Miss Borgman’s point that the three things for a successful search – conceptual knowledge, semantic knowledge, and technical skills may not be part of the end user’s (patron’s) linqua franca.
Now, [Drum Roll] we have what looks like the next generation of OPACS in the form of a software company called Endeca and their state-of-the-art commercial search engine called Information Access Platform (IAP) that is being used by North Carolina State University (NCSU). I will save my further input on this for our in-class discussion – but one of the most remarkable features may be the fact that you can begin a search with no keyword at all! And thus, it simulates browsing in the library.