Date of this Version
Library Philosophy and Practice 2012
Interface for user input and system output is among the components of IR system. Different Online Catalogs (online IR systems) have different user interfaces which would allow user to navigate or search information within and outside their library collections. Due to the increase in web technology, designers in user-interface industry compete in making different designs to allow ease-of-use of these interfaces so that users can have access to information they need. Yet, most of the designs of OPACs' interfaces are not that much effective in helping the users during their search for information. Some interface designs in university libraries' OPACs are less user-friendly and would not allow interactivity with the user during search sessions rendered them less effective, inefficient and bring low satisfaction on users. Libraries' Online Public Access Catalogs (OPCs) are one of the highly visible end user searching tools. Online catalog user studies have revealed, among other findings, that catalog users have the most difficulty with information searching and place the highest priority for improvements on various information search enhancements (Markey, 1983; Hildreth, 1985).
The OPACs allow users to access resources of libraries, publishers, and online vendors (Guha&Saraf, 2005). OPACs can be accessed by from anywhere in the world, even from the palm of their hand. According to Guha&Saraf, this new generation of OPACs also incorporates advanced search features and new designs from other types of IR systems, such as allowing users searching OPAC and online databases via OPAC interface. Most of OPACs interfaces were designed to minimize online connect time and printing options (Brantley et al, 2006). It is therefore expected that, a user-friendly designed interfaces would have for instance, a simplified menu-driven interface utilizing off line storage of search strategy, automatic logon procedures, and software-controlled navigated searching techniques.
Search and retrieval of library materials has become easy due to OPAC. But it has been observed in some instances, that users are not coping with this change. There seems to be two reasons for this. Firstly, some users lack computer knowledge and hence are reluctant to accept the change and secondly, the designs of the interfaces of some systems are not user friendly (Umarani et al, 2008). Umarani and others observed that personal and extended help is possible from library staff to the users to search OPAC effectively within the library. But it becomes difficult to provide such a help to online users. Therefore, it becomes essential to design user friendly OPACs and to test them for usability on a regular basis.
Usability testing is a means for measuring how well people can use some human-made object (such as a web page, a computer interface, a document, or a device) for its intended purpose. Usability testing tries to find out 'user-friendliness' of the system, which is obviously subjective. Repeated user interviews, surveys, video recording of user sessions, and other techniques can be used for this purpose. Apart from these, technique of task analysis also can be used where in, certain tasks are assigned to the users and observations are made and further analyzed .The academic libraries OPAC users manifest special and unique needs and problems during their searching for information. Few user studies could be located which focused exclusively on how user-interfaces may have different impact to different categories of university library user communities (Umarani et al 2008; Galitz& Wiley, 2002; and Mayhew & Kaufmann, 1999).
This study intends to investigate the usability and effectiveness of user-interface features of Library OPAC among postgraduate students of International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), in relation to variables that influence the usability and the extent that the interface features can enhance search and informational retrieval for the users (i.e. effectiveness). This study will also seek to understand users' perception on the effectiveness of IIUM's OPAC's interface design (perception of overall ease - of – use) and whether or not they are satisfied. To this regard, user's background information concerning the exposure and use of OPACs and levels of computer literacy skills are important dimensions to be looked at.