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What is a library OPAC?

What is a library OPAC? Purpose – This paper aims to look at online public access catalogues (OPAC) operations in the light of the philosophy of information, communication theory and semiotics, and to revisit fundamental questions about the nature of library OPACs and the ways in which they function. Design/methodology/approach – This exercise is pursued through examination of the multiple tensions implicit in any cataloguing or indexing system: the competing requirements of organisation and retrieval, description and classification. Findings – The paper finds that for an OPAC to be practicably usable the potential complexity of the information it contains must be reduced to a manageable level of simplicity. OPACs purport to allow complete retrieval, even though data structures and index definitions are not transparent. They necessarily impose a framework of retrieval that conceals information at the same time as it presents it, and therefore to an extent they undermine the very concept of information literacy. In an online environment catalogues have been able easily to move beyond the scope of individual library collections and to incorporate an increasing range of non‐traditional types of information, thus introducing further tensions between their roles as indexes and as information sources in their own right. Originality/value – The multiple tensions involved can be conceptualised in terms of indeterminacy of the communication code and indeterminacy of the linguistic sign. A clear theoretically‐based understanding of these issues is essential to ensuring optimal OPAC design. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Electronic Library Emerald Publishing

What is a library OPAC?

The Electronic Library , Volume 25 (4): 9 – Aug 14, 2007

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Publisher
Emerald Publishing
Copyright
Copyright © 2007 Emerald Group Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.
ISSN
0264-0473
DOI
10.1108/02640470710779790
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Purpose – This paper aims to look at online public access catalogues (OPAC) operations in the light of the philosophy of information, communication theory and semiotics, and to revisit fundamental questions about the nature of library OPACs and the ways in which they function. Design/methodology/approach – This exercise is pursued through examination of the multiple tensions implicit in any cataloguing or indexing system: the competing requirements of organisation and retrieval, description and classification. Findings – The paper finds that for an OPAC to be practicably usable the potential complexity of the information it contains must be reduced to a manageable level of simplicity. OPACs purport to allow complete retrieval, even though data structures and index definitions are not transparent. They necessarily impose a framework of retrieval that conceals information at the same time as it presents it, and therefore to an extent they undermine the very concept of information literacy. In an online environment catalogues have been able easily to move beyond the scope of individual library collections and to incorporate an increasing range of non‐traditional types of information, thus introducing further tensions between their roles as indexes and as information sources in their own right. Originality/value – The multiple tensions involved can be conceptualised in terms of indeterminacy of the communication code and indeterminacy of the linguistic sign. A clear theoretically‐based understanding of these issues is essential to ensuring optimal OPAC design.

Journal

The Electronic LibraryEmerald Publishing

Published: Aug 14, 2007

Keywords: Online catalogues; Information; Communication; Information retrieval

References