The Scenario

Your institution, the Lily and James Potter Memorial Library, has decided to upgrade to a new Web-based OPAC (online public access catalog). You have been appointed to form a committee that will recommend a vendor to provide the software for your new catalog. Your committee should have three or four members. As part of the research process each committee member will access a Web-based catalog, evaluate it, and report back to the committee.

The Assignment

Form a committee of three or four students in the class. Select three or four (depending on the number of people on your committee) Web-based OPACs (online public access catalogs) to evaluate. You can find links to a few such OPACs at Utilizing "Criteria for User-Friendliness" delineated by Dr. Diane Nahl in her article "The User-Centered Revolution: 1970-1995," as well as other readings for the course on Web construction, evaluate the user interfaces of the OPACs you have chosen.

As you access an OPAC for the first time, keep a list of the Criteria for User-Friendliness in front of you. Take notes as you go through the process of doing a variety of types of searches (if available):

How difficult is it to navigate the system? Are the instructions helpful or confusing? Are the results presented clearly and in a readily usable format? Does the system provide searching modalities for both novice and expert users? If you find something frustrating, make a note of it. If there is something you particularly like, make a note of that also.

Each member should write a three- or four-page (double spaced) summary of his or her findings. For this assignment you do not need to know the names of the vendors that created the cataloging software for the OPACs you evaluate. However, be sure to include the names of the institutions and the URLs of their online catalogs. Then, as a group, prepare a summary of the data comparing the OPACs you've evaluated. This summary can be in the form of a table or spreadsheet, with accompanying textual description.

Both the individual OPAC evaluations (each with the name of the person who performed the evaluation) and the summary will be handed in as a package.

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Time-permitting, you may be asked to share your findings with the class.

You can use the Library of Congress Z39.50 listing of catalogs to determine the company behind the catalog of a particular institution if that institution participates in the Z39.50 program.

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