Monday, February 25, 2008

Talis Insight 07 Conference - Dave Pattern - OPAC 2.0: Teaching the Pig to Sing

Dave is someone I've been keeping an eye on for a while with some really clever, innovative work at the University of Huddersfield.
The 'Does your OPAC suck?' meme has been bouncing around the blogsphere for some time now, with server reports on user disengagement with libraries and the emergence of web 2.0 introducing a richer online experience.
A survey received over 700 responses with results and analysis here:
Dave then started to look at how people were using Huddersfield's OPAC. he combined this with user suggestions from surveys, 2.0 inspired features and borrowing ideas from other websites to create a 'perpetual beta' OPAC where features are launched with low/no publicity and monitored. The most critical feature of this was that it required a staff buy-in and a willingness to take risks.
He started by monitoring keyword searches and discovered 1 in 4 gave zero results, most OPACs presented users with a dead end, unlike good search engines which gave 'Did you mean?' replies. Many users just walked away. They already had a spell-check, but this didn't allow for searches which were e.g. too specific. They cross-referenced keywords with to provide new suggestions. He discovered that hyperlinked terms in wikepedia make good keywords producing serendipitous searches.
The next stage was mining the data in circulation statistics to produce links to 'people who borrowed this also borrowed' titles. As for introducing user-created content, he started with ratings first then comments (which are more popular with staff than students). Neither were promoted but have some use, comments are moderated by Dave (they allow anonymous posting).
The most popular service spellchecking. The 'also borrowed' functionality has increased in popularity by 300-400% since it was launched. Users seem to be browsing more.
There were major issues around staff acceptance
There was no formal process for discussing and agreeing new OPAC features, so the organised a web 2.00 afternoon.
There was initial scepticism from staff
  • would students think the 'also borrowed' link were formal recommendation?
  • would sudden changes confuse users?

The solutions were to:

  • encourage suggestions from staff
  • include users in decision-making
  • encourage play & experimentation
  • don't be afraid of mistakes
  • look around for ideas
  • build crappy prototypes fast
  • monitor usage - if poor then remove it.

He then demonstrated some ideas in visualisation and some of the 'next generation' discovery tools out there (see the LibraryShed for details)

Daves shopping list of Library 2.0 features included

  • spell checking
  • relevancy ranking
  • recommendations (manual and automatically generated)
  • improved serendipity
  • user participation

In general it rakes 2 years to library acceptance, results from his survey indicate that the US is some way ahead of the UK

Dave's full presentaion on slideshare

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