…And Then You Realize You Wasted Your Life

I think I’ve been avoiding commenting on this issue for weeks because it hits so close to home. First I read it in BiblioAcid, then Jenny Levine picked it up, then Richard Ackerman picked it up at the Science Library Pad: library catalogs are broken, and there’s no amount of adding pictures or fiddling with colors that will fix them.

I nibbled at the edges of this in my IUG conference presentation, but I didn’t say it as well or as clearly as Roy Tennant did in his widely quoted April 15 Library Journal column:

Recently I viewed a library catalog redesign before it went public. This was the first major change in many years, and it turned out to be quite an improvement to the look and feel of the system. But despite this, it still sucks. Badly.

I don’t know how much time was spent on this cosmetic facelift, but until the deeper problems that plague this system are addressed, users will remain poorly served. Librarians appear to be afflicted with a type of myopia. We see only minor, easy-to-make corrections instead of changes that will truly affect the user experience. We ask our vendors to tweak this or that to make our lives easier, while the users are left to founder on an interface that only a librarian could love.

Thing is, we’re about to go live with our own much updated OPAC, the first redesign in many years, and Roy’s points are right on. I’ve had complaints about the limitations of our OPAC and the reticence of the vendor to support customers who are seeking to address the problems identified by Roy and others, but now I find it nearly impossible to continue “polishing the turd.”

Little things always crop up just when you think you’re done with a project, but increasingly I want to say: put this in perspective, we’ve got to cut the line on this and go live with what we’ve got now so we can invest our time into fixing the real problems. Our students are using Google not because they’re dumb or lazy, but because we are. The limitations of the OPAC and our inability to think beyond what the vendor offers us is leading to a narcissism of small differences where we argue about where to put the cover art for an item in an attempt to make it look like Amazon, but forget that we need to make it work as well as Amazon or Google.