This study explores the perception of borrowers from Fingal County Libraries of Encore, a next generation library catalogue. Fingal County Libraries is a public service library and for generations, public libraries have provided a free, democratic and universal service. With a diverse target audience, public libraries strive to improve and enhance the wellbeing of all members of the community. It is envisaged that Encore would provide significant benefits to the public, allowing access to library collections in one easy search. Therefore, it is important to understand what the user perceptions are of this indispensable discovery tool which acts as a gateway to information for Fingal borrowers.
This research was conducted by adopting a qualitative research approach. The researcher was concerned with obtaining an in-depth understanding of this contemporary phenomenon rather than a measurement of it. The study aimed to get below the surface, to achieve a deeper and more insightful response by interviewing users via focus groups. Members of the Project team, responsible for managing the deployment of the new catalogue were also interviewed.
Overall it appears that users like Encore, the next generation library catalogue. This was displayed by positive feelings from the user about the new discovery tool and from the fact that user’s logon regularly to search and reserve library resources, with some users logging on every day. For the most part, they found the system intuitive to use and visually appealing. However, they raised a number of concerns around the descriptive information of library resources. It became very clear from the beginning that users would like to see more detailed, consistent and accurate information when searching for a library resource in the library catalogue. Conducive to a next generation system, Encore provides a range of searching technologies to enhance the search and discovery experience however, users were not inclined to use advanced search or faceted navigation to assist in the refinement of their searches. When users were asked about relevancy ranking and if they had experienced a higher success rate in their search for library items. Users expressed frustrations with the amount of returned results, feeling there was too much data on the screen. One of the insightful findings from the research study resulted in how users of the library service valued the relationship and interaction with library staff. As much as they liked the next generation catalogue, they would not like it to replace the librarian, in fact, they feel the two combined, compliment the library service provided. Finally, one of the sought after features from users was social interaction such as book reviews, star ratings. These features are available on Encore however they are currently not enabled for Fingal County borrowers.
In terms of features and functionality, there is no doubt that Innovative Interfaces can meet the needs of web savvy library users through their discovery tool, Encore. However, it is clear, due to the enormity of this particular deployment, that focus on the end user experience was neglected. Essentially, a stronger emphasis was placed on implementing the new Library Management System as a whole and Encore was just one component of that. With pressures on the public library service to be cost effective, it was necessary for contractual reasons to rollout the software within a tight timeframe. Unfortunately, Encore got lost in the deployment and this goes to explains why “desirable” features and functionality, as identified by users in the focus groups, were omitted.