MLIS Graduate Portfolio

Justin Barnett

Information & Its Organization

As part of SLIS702 (Introduction to Technical Services), we were required to look into and evaluate OPAC (open public access catalog) software for a hypothetical library we may be responsible for. Looking at it from the perspective of an academic library, I tested and familiarized myself with multiple OPAC systems, before sitting down and determining what the library would need. From there, I reviewed and established a recommendation based on my experiences with different search parameters and techniques, while gauging how the results and functionality affected a users' access to information.

Through doing this, I have demonstrated that I can explain and evaluate information-seeking behavior as well as the relationships between information organization and retrieval; in addition, my ability to retrieve and test these OPAC systems shows professional skills in information searching, and critically evaluating the systems themselves shows an understand of major concepts, theories, and trends in information organization. I've included this assignment, specifically, because it was the first time I sat down and made judgments on OPACs, translating gut feelings about which means of information retrieval I liked and didn't into reasoned explanations.

Reflection and Analysis

Prior to this class, I had certainly made use of library catalog systems, and noticed when they ran on different software back-ends. Looking at them critically, however, from the standpoint of not just patrons but library workers, made the differences in how systems parse searches stand out. It is tempting to be excited about search tools that allow me to performance advanced operations easily, but more important that simple searches performed by untrained users provide useful information—whether they are familiar with booleans or subject searches or just guessing at a title based on something remembered and possibly mispelled. Evaluating the software this way had me visualizing how average patrons might actually find information we have "made available" by including it in a catalog, and consider the ways in which the organization and presentation shapes the experience.

Looking back at this assignment several semesters after I submitted it, I remember the additional work I put in that isn't reflected in the paper itself—spending an hour every evening for a week testing out another OPAC. While I presented this report based on the one I preferred, those preferences were shaped by the things I liked [and didn't like] with each of them. While the repeated similar searches were sometimes dull, exploring the catalog system with an eye for how it returned information rather than just what was returned sparked an interest in how this data was organized on the back end, and led to me taking SLIS730, Cataloging, the next semester. That interest—and developed skills—have made me more capable at estimating how data I work with is going to appear to patrons, allowing me to make it more accessible and inform the means by which I would provide search assistance. All said, that makes me a better librarian, even if I never am in a position to decide on which OPAC the library I end up working in uses.