Back to the Future: OPAC Questing

If it has not already become apparent, Thomas More is a pretty unique place: its is a relatively low tech environment, it is a micro college on a campus that is full of both beauty and history, it is centered on academics in a vibrantly Catholic community. When I was explaining the school and my small role in its community in the library to several other librarians at SLA 2015 in Boston, their eyes lit up and they exclaimed “IT’S LIKE HOGWORTS! But real! And all New England-y!”

That was not to say that my catalog troubles went unnoticed. It comes as a surprise to a lot of people that we are currently on a card catalog with no online public access catalog (OPAC). For the average user, the main question would be “When can I search this online? Do I have to still use the card catalog?” During that same conversation at SLA, the average librarian’s main question was “Can I get the card catalogs when you’re done? I love those things!”

Beyond the basic issue of cleaning up the excel spreadsheet that houses our catalog in its current, nascent form, there is the question of where do we go from here? A small school has a small budget, by its nature. Many OPACs are expensive, due to their all encompassing nature– circulation, cataloging, collection development, the works. Any vendor I spoke to was amazed by the size of our collection relative to the size of our student body; there was an immediate recognition of the challenges that come with such a scenario. So while I haven’t ruled out an OPAC through one of the vendors I have looked into, I am also consider other options.

Under consideration?

  • Koha– an open source OPAC that we can simply run on our own servers, provided we have someone skilled in SQL, Perl, and Linux. Not the general skill set in the liberal arts, you know?
  • LibraryThing– I love LibraryThing. When I was working at the Bead Museum in Arizona (sadly closed in 2011), we kept our library catalog on LibraryThing. It was great! Quick, easy, pulled the records right away for you, integrates a social aspect easy as pie if that’s your jam. The drawback? I don’t as of now see a way to do circulation stats unless you’re on TinyCat, and while we are small, we are too big for TinyCat
  • OPAC vendor– I spoke with several at SLA, and there is a reason they are successful– do you really want to work overtime on making the catalog and circulation simply work? Circulation is so important in our library– we don’t have any historic stats to fall back on for collection development, and we don’t have a good way of tracking which books are where when the juniors and seniors embark on their projects each spring. The concern, as always is price. While the other options are higher in time commitment and lower in dollar commitment, this is the reverse.

In what combination do we utilize our time, talent, and treasure? Planning is ongoing, but feel free to weigh in with any experiences in picking an OPAC, transitioning, any pros or cons, or anything you wish you knew before deciding on an OPAC. For those who are not in the library world, your thoughts are always welcome as well!

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