Management Systems of User Interfaces Functionalities in Latin: American Web OPACs

Management Systems of User Interfaces Functionalities in Latin: American Web OPACs

Elsa Barber (Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina), Silvia Pisano (Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina), Sandra Romagnoli (Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina), Verónica Parsiale (Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina), Gabriela de Pedro (Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina), Carolina Gregui (Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina) and Nancy Blanco (Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-201-3.ch010
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Taking into account the fundamental role of online public access catalogs in the dissemination of scientific and technical information, it was considered relevant to look into the situation of user interfaces of OPACs Web of university, special, public and national libraries in Latin America. A quantitative methodology has been adopted and a checklist of system functions (Hildreth, 1982) updated was used as data collection tool. A sample of 846 OPACs was obtained from predefined search queries and classified according to type of software, type of library and country. A subset of 374 units was selected of those whose system presented a frequency of appearance = 10. The percentage of presence of functionalities in each area was calculated and functionalities were compared according to type of software by test of independence. It was then possible to typify the interfaces of the analyzed OPACs according to the selected types of software and in relation to their category.
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Library automation in Latin America first started in the 80’s in midst of an extremely complex context. The political, social and economic conditions prevailing in the region impacted the area of education and culture where the absence of planning and investment affected automation processes from the very beginning. Thus, early Systems were implemented in a context of serious restrictions in terms of infrastructure and equipment, as well as, in terms of software programs used.

Already at earlier stages, when the traditional library model prevailed in the countries of Central and South America, most of these institutions had limited resources available to show their collections in catalogues and to provide visibility to the services they offered. The erratic information policies always coincided with budgetary difficulties and prevented them from having a balanced and rational development to support the changes evolved in the transition process toward an automated library, first, and later toward a hybrid or digital library.

In the face of this situation, and given the importance of these institutions as organizations capable of contributing to the encouragement of technical and scientific development, as well as to the improvement of the quality of life of citizens, the decision was made between 1995 and 2003, to look into the status of automation processes in the different types of libraries in Argentina. This lead to a real diagnosis of public and private university libraries of the entire country and of public libraries of the City of Buenos Aires and its surrounding areas.

Certain difficulties were identified in the libraries that were studied hindering the progress of automation processes. Included among others were: the absence of standards implemented to have distributed exchange and processing of information (client-server architecture, open Operating Systems, MARC format, Internet access, Z39.50 protocol, etc), the selection of database managers to the detriment of library management integrated systems, the absence of information quality control systems, the limited use of information and communication technologies applied to the provision of services (Barber et al., 1999; Barber, Tripaldi & Pisano, 2003; Barber et al., 2006).

These issues triggered a series of questions which lead to the analysis of OPACs interfaces available in the Web environment of Mercosur libraries. The research team focusing on issues related to the use of new information technology found that most of on-line catalogues that are available to the public in Mercosur member and associate countries only provided minimum services and were at a very early stage of development (Barber et al., 2007).

Given the fact that the real situation in Latin America was unknown and because the preliminary observation survey had shown that the interface capabilities implemented up to that point were limited, the team concluded that a survey was necessary to look into the situation of Web OPAC user interfaces of all university, specialized, public and national libraries in the region. The criteria followed was that different types of software packages impacted the presence/absence of interface functionalities, and that there were differences among Web based OPACs implemented by information units, depending on the type of software selected by the countries of the region. This chapter shows the results of the survey completed for comparison purposes of this assumption.

The team concluded that it was necessary to know the characteristics of the Web OPACs implemented in the study’s target region with the purpose of showing the available possibilities to the involved information units to undertake projects that would better position them for the emerging context lead by the Web 2.0. The assumption used was that the findings resulting from this effort would be the starting point in association with the studies conducted on the use of catalogs guiding the actions aimed at establishing collaborative information systems using their Web OPACs.

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