New OCLC Report - Online Catalogs: What Users and Librarians Want

In 2008, OCLC conducted focus groups, administered a pop-up survey on WorldCat.org—OCLC’s freely available end user interface on the Web—and conducted a Web-based survey of librarians worldwide.

The Online Catalogs report presents findings from these research efforts in order to understand:

  • The metadata elements that are most important to end users in determining if an item will meet his or her needs
  • The enhancements end users would like to see made in online library catalogs to assist them in consistently identifying appropriate materials
  • The enhancements librarians would recommend for online library catalogs to better assist them in their work
The findings indicate, among other things, that although library catalogs are often thought of as discovery tools, the catalog’s delivery-related information is just as important to end users.

Executive Summary

An end user’s expectations and work practices on the Web influence his or her decision to use a library online catalog.

Catalog interfaces matter, but catalog data quality is also a driving factor of the catalog’s perceived utility—and not only for end users, but also for librarians and library staff. To gain a rounded, evidence-based understanding of what constitutes “quality” in catalog data, OCLC formed a research team to:
  • Identify and compare the data quality expectations of catalog end users and librarians.
  • Compare the catalog data quality expectations of types of librarians.
  • Recommend catalog data quality priorities, taking into account the perspectives of both end users and librarians.
Readers who are seeking to define requirements for improved catalog data (exposed in both end-user and staff interfaces) may find this report helpful as a source of ideas. The same is true for readers who have a part to play in contributing, ingesting, syndicating, synchronizing or linking data from multiple sources in next-generation library catalogs and integrated library systems.

Selected key research findings
  • The end user’s experience of the delivery of wanted items is as important, if not more important, than his or her discovery experience.
  • End users rely on and expect enhanced content including summaries/abstracts and tables of contents.
  • An advanced search option (supporting fielded searching) and facets help end users refine searches, navigate, browse and manage large result sets.
  • Important differences exist between the catalog data quality priorities of end users and those who work in libraries.
  • Librarians and library staff, like end users, approach catalogs and catalog data purposefully. End users generally want to find and obtain needed information; librarians and library staff generally have work responsibilities to carry out. The work roles of librarians and staff influence their data quality preferences.
  • Librarians’ choice of data quality enhancements reflects their understanding of the importance of accurate, structured data in the catalog.
The findings suggest two traditions of information organization at work—one from librarianship and the other from the Web. Librarians’ perspectives about data quality remain highly influenced by their profession’s classical principles of information organization, while end users’ expectations of data quality arise largely from their experiences of how information is organized on popular Web sites. What is needed now is to integrate the best of both worlds in new, expanded definitions of what “quality” means in library online catalogs.

The report concludes with recommendations for a data quality program that balances what end users and librarians want and need from online catalogs, plus a few suggestions for further research.

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