From the catalogs of babes

{April 14, 2009}   parable #C: the story of Tony Duquette

Once upon a time, late one night in the library, an instructor came in asking for “that book by Tony Duquette.”

Being the diligent reference desk staffer that I am, I dutifully type “Duquette, Tony,” into the author search field of our online catalog. The search returns one result, and so I answer affrimatively that indeed we do have a book by Tony Duquette, and write down the call number.

We walk to the section together and I pull the book for her. “No,” she says, “that’s not it. It’s a bigger book, and it’s sort of reddish, and it’s all about his life and work. It’s new. He just died, you know.”

Well, no, I didn’t know. Nor did I have any idea who Tony Duquette was, only that she asked me for a book by Tony Duquette. Since she had said it was a new book, I told her that we would of course look into ordering it and aquiring it as soon as possible.

Back at the desk, I look up Tony Duquette on Amazon. After reading the description of the first result, I learn that a) Tony Duquette died in 1999; and b) this retrospective was published in 2007; and c) despite those facts, it looks and sounds like the book the instructor was after.

The other interesting thing I learn is that the book is not in fact by Tony Duquette (not surprising, since he’s been dead for 10 years), but rather by a Wendy Goodman. It suddenly clicks, and I type “Tony Duquette” into the title search field of our OPAC, and lo and behold, there it is, it comes right up. Unfortunately, the instructor had already left the building.

So what’s the moral of this story? If our OPAC search fields were not limited to indexing specific fields like title, author, etc.–if the user didn’t know the difference between a book by Tony Duquette and about Tony Duquette (as was definitely the case here and certainly not limited to this example)–if the user could simply type in “Tony Duquette” and find books both by and about the artist–then maybe this debacle of unfulfillment wouldn’t have happened, and the instructor could have left with the book she wanted, instead of empty-handed.

Elizabeth says:

The University of Pittsburgh just bought a new catalog package that allows us to do a general search. On the one hand – it’s great for things that you aren’t really sure about (like this situation). On the other hand – it’s super hard to find a known item (it took me three searches to find a copy of the Wasteland).

I’m hoping Pitt continues what they have now – keeping our older more traditional catalog (Voyager based) as well as the new pretty 2.0 version (AquaBrowser). But that’s the joy of being at a huge university, they have the funds to do that.

Ivy says:

We’re planning on a new software package sometime soon (fingers crossed, anyway). It should definitely relieve some of the issues.

I’m a little perturbed to hear about your seach experience, however, even with a new pretty interface. Ideally, I envision something like Borders–check out the drop-down menu next to the search box. That’s like the best of all worlds, imo. And obviosuly doable, since it already exisits…

Booker says:

The Google Mini is pretty affordable and can index database content like catalog records. It wouldn’t replace the fielded database query tool you describe completely, but it would certainly return more flexible result sets. It could be set up as a first-tier familiar to users & staff alike, with the fielded query tool avaiable as the time-honored advanced search backstop for when the Google results are overwhelming in number or too ill-focused to be of use.

It’d require some IT resources for initial installation, but maintenance is quite limited. And you’d need some sort of front end that shows the Google search first rather than your default catalog system. But fwiw.

[…] That’s right. I found the mystery Tony Duquette book. […]

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