That’s the title of a provocative presentation made by Gregg Silvis, of the University of Delaware Library systems office, at the annual PALINET meeting. I made a reference to this program in an earlier post, and I finally attended last Monday. Silvis began with a retrospective of OPAC development, and reminded everyone of how much maintenance work legacy catalogs used to require. You may date yourself if “filing above the rod” actually holds some meaning for you. Our catalog history is largely one of massive duplication of effort. Even though bibliographic networks and library automation eliminated many forms of duplication, to this day thousands of academic libraries duplicate effort when they maintain their local OPAC. Silvis’ radical solution to the duplication is to forego all local loading of catalogs, and instead use WorldCat as a shared, universal OPAC.
Silvis acknowledges that his vision for the OPAC is conceptual and short on specifics. His immediate goal is to share the idea with colleagues for feedback and refinement. He also reminds us there is more to library systems than the local OPAC; acquisitions, serials, and circulation are largely local entities and need to remain that way. But he clearly demonstrated how much of the information provided in the OPAC is available through WorldCat records. Among the advantages are a standardized and better interface than most OPACs. A uniform OPAC could allow for the display of only local holdings when desired. Challenges include a host of serials issues, potentially incomplete holdings information, and an inability to manage item specific information such as special collections material.
While it’s an idea that clearly needs more work it is not without merit. If we could manage to centralize the primary types of information into a national OPAC, it would indeed eliminate vast amounts of duplication conducted at local libraries. Those now performing that work could shift to public services where more outreach is needed, or could focus attention on local collections where backlogs exist, such as the archives or special collections. Clearly there are significant stakes in such an idea for OCLC and library automation vendors. While some pundits are calling for a radical re-thinking of the OPAC interface, this idea goes beyond that in many ways. We don’t necessarily need an OPAC interface that supplies a “Google experience” for library users. It may be we need one that just provides consistency. Silvis says he plans to give the presentation a few more times, and to continue gathering feedback from academic librarians that will help to refine the concept. I encouraged Silvis to turn the presentation into an article. It seems like an idea worthy of reaching a wider audience.