Thomas, over on TechEssence.Info, has a great post about the problem of forcing users to learn to use the catalog. He poses one of the central questions about the catalog:
And this was the comment that I keep chewing on: “Students are in college to learn, so whats so bad about forcing them to learn the catalog?” I’m still not sure how best to respond to this (although, ”Isn’t that what we do now? And why were having day-long conferences on why our users are migrating to Google?” is high on the list).
And like Thomas, I’m anything but sure what a good answer to that comment might be. On the one hand, I’m a firm believer in having catalogs serve users. Who isn’t? But in an academic library, where we get must meet the entire range of research needs, how important is it to have more complicated systems that can perform more complicated searches? I know that I tend to be able to manipulate a system to better advantage when I’ve been forced to figure out it’s inner workings. But then, that’s how I learn. That’s not how everybody learns. And quite frequently, my students only have enough time to work on their assignments, let alone familiarize themselves with an arguably arcane web application that provides very little in the way of automated help.
On the other hand, perhaps we’re finally to the point where technology is good enough that people don’t have to know how a program works in order to use it well. Maybe we can simplify things now without sacrificing valuable knowledge.