Monday, February 11, 2013

Yearning for the Good Ol' Days

There’s a discussion on Autocat about interfaces and how they are all different, and basically mourning the loss of the totally-standardized card catalog. Yes, back in the day, a person could roll into a library and go to the card catalog and they would know exactly what they were looking at, and how to use it (if the already knew how to use it). Today, you roll into the library and sit down at the terminal and (these Autocat people say) you will have to “re-learn” the catalog in order to do any research.

I have a very basic and negative reaction to this kind of thinking. Okay, yes, it would be great if all the library catalogs everywhere in the world looked the same (I guess? I don't know if I really care that much). However, luckily, we are human beings with the ability to adapt our learning behaviors to fit the task at hand based on past experiences. So while I may not know the catalog I see before me from past experience, I *can* use my past experiences to tell me which searching behavior has worked in the past in my former libraries. And since we catalogers all use the exact same method for creating library metadata, the chances are good that my searching behavior (which was successful before) will succeed again. Maybe the online interface looks different, but there’s still a search box there, and I still see titles and authors when I do a search. I’m still using a qwerty keyboard and a mouse and it’s on a windows operating system (probably), using Chrome (hopefully! I’m biased).

In addition, users *expect* a learning curve when they access an unfamiliar website. If I need to find a tire place, and I see that there is one near me but I have never gone to their website…do I hide under my blankie and say “oh, but I've never been there before, so I will probably mess it up”? No. I click on the URL and I go there and I cast around for a bit and find what I need.

The internet and web-based catalog interfaces have been around for about 15 years now. After all that time, I think our users deserve a bit more credit and a bit more trust.

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.