An apology for the complex OPAC.

I’ve written a little bit about kairos in this blog before. In reading an apology for the role of the librarian, I also found a little bit to say about the complexity of the OPAC. Many have called for its demolition, and to have it replaced with single search boxes. It has been endlessly assaulted by many inside the profession as having too many functions, and a recent comment about educational technology reminded me of that fact:

In education, digital-based obfuscation was unintentionally built into some monolithic learning management tools….Simply because we have the ability to create vast systems with our ingenious programming languages and architectural schemas does not mean those systems are good.

That makes sense to me. I teach classes on Microsoft Office software. I also have seen the slightly astounded look I get when I mistakenly blaze through a catalog for a patron in a hurry. But perhaps all of that complexity underlies a more humane objective than what we give the designers of these softwares credit for. That is the “the ability to respond productively to the moment and its demands.” This kind of responsiveness demands complexity of some kind. As it was discussed at In the Library With the Lead Pipe, that is also who we are as librarians. Our jobs are often multi-faceted, and rarely do we perform a single task. Instead we educate user and fellow staff, we perform outreach, reference, circulation, collection management, programming, provide subject and technology expertise, and make sure that people don’t bring their entire dinner to the library. We’re like our OPACs. Happily, we also have friendlier user interfaces.

Alas, poor OPACs.


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