From the catalogs of babes











{September 24, 2009}   an OPAC by any other name

So it’s quarter break here in our library. We usually have 2-3 weeks between each quarter when the library is closed to patrons, but we still come in to work. We’re actually pretty lucky in this regard, as we get a lot of tasks done that we couldn’t ordinarily accomplish with the library full of students. I’m grateful for this opportunity; I know most other libraries don’t have a time like this.

One of the many things we do over quarter break is to change out all the library displays. I’m not involved much with this process, being on the tech services side of things, but a while back when asked for ideas, I suggested using one of the displays to highlight “how to” aspects of the library: how to find a book, how to search the catalog, etc. I’m pleased to say that the idea was well-recieved and one of our bulletin boards is now dedicated to that topic.

I am, however, slightly less than pleased with the actual manifestation of the concept. I know that I can’t have my finger in everything, and goodness knows I don’t want to be saddled with yat another task each quarter on top of all the work I already do. But it was my idea and I do have graphic design and retail merchandising experience. I confess I’ve been counting the hours waiting for this display to come down:

opacdisplay3

 opacdisplay1

 What’s so bad about it, you ask? Well, I’ll skip the diatribe about the design and get straight to my point. Pretend you’re an 18-yearold design student in your first quarter of college with little-to-no library experience. You see this display entitled “how to find a library book” and step one is some fingers pointing at a computer that says “opac.” What does that mean? What do I do? What the heck is opac? It sounds like some sort of air-conditioning duct system, or a rodent-type animal from Peru.

I hate the term “OPAC.” Hate it hate it hate it. It’s probably one of my biggest pet peeves and it pushes all my buttons. No one but librarians knows what an OPAC is or what it stands for, and at this point an acronym for “Online Public Access Catalog”  is outdated anyway. But most of all, our patrons have no idea what it is, and so the image included in the wall display is prohibitively unhelpful.

I personally make it point to say “OPAC” as rarely as possible, and never around patrons. (It’s even driving me nuts just to keep typing it in this entry.) I know a lot of people equally as appalled as I am about the term “OPAC” who now just say “the catalog.” Which is fine, to a certain extent, and I do it too. But it got me thinking–the word “catalog” (as a noun) implies a list. Traditionally, a library catalog is a list of all the materials a library holds.

But what we have now is not a list. An OPAC is not even a list. We have long surpassed tallying our holdings as simple lists, and believe me, I’m grateful for that. So if we don’t have a list or a catalog, what do we have? We have a database. We have a collection. Those are the words I choose to use during reference interviews and instruction. I’m not sure they’re the ideal choices, but I think they’re miles better than “OPAC.”

We’re a profession not just steeped in terminology, but based in it. Vocabularies are some of the underlying tools of our trade, especially cataloging. We lobby to change and update vocabulary terms to be more current and patron-accessible, why shouldn’t we do the same for our services? Catalogers complain that “no one understands what we do”–maybe that’s becuase we’re using outdated terms and descriptions that those people don’t understand and can’t relate to. I’m left wondering about the marketability and “rebranding” opportunities that might be possible–might reach more of our patrons–if we stopped using outdated, unfamiliar terminology not only in our job titles and subject headings, but in our services as well.

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robin says:

Oh my goodness I have hated the use of OPAC in that display since the day it went up. I even told some of the folks who worked on it and they just shrugged it off. I also hate where it says “If all else fails, ask us.” Like we’re the very last option. We don’t want to talk to you unless you’ve completely failed at using the library on your own. Sheesh. So many things wrong with this display I just try to ignore it and hope the students do the same.



Booker says:

Any chance of putting some Tufte design books on display near the bulletin board? Maybe it could have value as an example of what not to do.



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