OPACs in the Age of Google

Complexity has always been a topic in software. Simplicity is better, right? I think most of us would agree with that – to a point.

As far as simplicity goes, Google – with it’s blank page aside from the friendly search bar and engaging Google Doodles, may be the exemplar. Type something in, and Google’s highly developed algorithms will do their best to kick back something useful. Google differentiated itself from other search engines with its simplicity and usefulness, leaving competitors like Yahoo! and Bing in the dust.

But that’s the kicker, isnt’ it? That usefulness part.

I’ve seen a lot of OPACs lately that are very, very simple. They look Google-like. But they just don’t work. All that simplicity belies the truth: that a lot of hard work and complicated programming go into making it look simple. And ILS systems, especially OPACs, just don’t have the soul to match the pretty face.

But back in the day, Google didn’t look all that simple. It went through it’s growing-up phase. Take a look.

Google Then
Google Now

Google’s increasing sophistication behind the scenes has allowed it to achieve this design standard. It didn’t just say – I want to have one thing on my page. It made it so that one search bar was USEFUL. OPACs could learn from that. Most of the OPACs I have seen have tried to achieve that single search bar look, but the results are… less than useful. Only advanced search helps bridge the gap.

But the problem is that the money that makes it worthwhile for Google just isn’t there in libraries. Library systems, accustomed to the relatively low cost of their current ILS systems, are trapped between the “good enough” mentality and their budgets. ILS systems aren’t cutting it. Programming won’t improve unless there’s financial backing. Libraries simply don’t have the financial backing.

Is simplicity worth the extra money? I would say yes, as long as that simplicity is backed by an efficient system. Infrastructure upgrades cost money, and unfortunately people are often less willing to pass a millage for a new library software than a new building. Libraries may need to convince their community that the latter is made infinitely more valuable by having a user-friendly, intelligent, and integrated collections system.

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