User perspectives on NextGen catalog features



Since the development of the online public access catalog (OPAC), there has been discussion about what constitutes a next-generation (NextGen) catalog. In the last few years, many user-centered features have been included in both vendor and open source NextGen catalogs. What is lacking, though, is a study of user perspectives on the usefulness of these features in searches. Examining these perspectives will provide insight important to future the development of NextGen catalogs. In this study, 98 library science students reviewed the features of the AcquaBrowser, Encore, VuFind, and Scriblio systems. Participants used a 10 point scale (1=low, 10=high) to rate the helpfulness and desirability of user-centered features such as the simple search box, advanced search options, results sorting options, enriched content, user contributed content, faceted navigation, relevance ranking, spell checking, word constellations, word clouds, recommendations for similar items, external links, and other Web 2.0 features. Overall ratings show the advanced search option to have been the most helpful and the recently added items feature to have been least helpful, while faceted navigation was the most desirable feature and the recently added items feature was the least desirable. For all features included in the study, except the advanced search option, the average desirability of the features was rated higher than the average helpfulness. Additionally, more detailed findings, including users' comments about NextGen catalog features, are reported.

Introduction and Background

Since Hildreth (1995) traced the development of online public access catalogs (OPACs) and discussed the various options and features a next generation (NextGen) catalog ought to provide, library catalog interfaces have been changing. In the last few years, the library world has revitalized the concept of the NextGen catalog with the use of new features. However, there still is no official definition of the next generation library catalog or what would constitute a next-generation library catalog, even though the discussion about next generation catalogs has been going on for many years now (Breeding, 2007).

Among the common additional features these recent NextGen catalogs offer are: cover art (jacket images), relevance ranking, spell checking and “did you mean” suggestions, faceted navigation, and user-based tagging. Systems that have been introduced as NextGen catalogs or have additional features that would constitute a NextGen catalog include vendor systems such as the Endeca-based search interface for library catalogs, AcquaBrowser, Polaris, Innovative Interface's Encore, Ex Libris' Primo, OCLC's Worldcat Local, and the open source systems VuFind, Blacklight, Koha, Evergreen, and Scriblio.

Importance of Study

These NextGen catalog features are becoming the desired features for a library catalog and often are presented as user-centered features. What we lack now are actual user perspectives regarding if and how these features are used when searching a library catalog for information and how useful end-users find these features in their searches. This study examines user perspectives on a number of NextGen features available in current innovative library catalogs. The findings of this study will help us better understand how useful and desirable users perceive each of these NextGen features to be and will provide insight that will help future developments of next generation catalogs and other information retrieval systems.


The participants of this study were 98 library and information science students who were completing an organization of information course, in which they were introduced to information retrieval systems and search features among other related topics. NextGen catalogs used by the participants of this study include systems using AcquaBrowser, Encore, VuFind, and Scriblio. A number of system-specific features were examined by each participant and, in addition, users were asked to comment on an overall list of cross-system features. Features examined in this study include the simple search box, advanced search options, results sorting options, enriched content (tables of contents, summaries, cover art, reviews, etc.), user contributed content (tags, comments), faceted navigation, relevance ranking, spell checking, word constellations, word clouds, recommendations for similar items, external links (to Amazon, Google, etc.), and other Web 2.0 features such as bookmarking, emailing results, and RSS feeds.

After providing some background information (coursework completed, computer use, library catalog use, etc.), participants were asked to express their own information need on a topic and the purpose of their search. Participants were then instructed to use the same search in each of the four NextGen catalogs and rate how “helpful” each feature was in their search using a scale of 1-10, where 1 was poor and 10 was excellent. Only features available in the particular system were commented on in this part of the study. At the end, participants were provided with a list of all features encountered across all four systems and were asked to rate the overall helpfulness (10 point scale, 1=poor and 10=excellent helpfulness) and desirability (10 point scale, 1=no and 10=extreme desirability) of each feature and to provide additional comments. Participants were asked to record their ratings and comments in a template provided by the researchers.


A total of 99 search topics were described by the 98 participants (one participant described two search topics). Two were for music materials, one was for a film, another two were for fictional material, 93 were for non-fiction and one did not indicate a preference for fiction or non-fiction. Of these 99 search topics, 52 were for books, four were for books or journal articles, four were for books or videos, three were for sound recordings, one was for moving image (DVD or Video), and 35 did not state any format preference.

NextGen feature overall ratings show that the “advanced search option” feature is perceived as the most helpful, with the highest average rating for helpfulness (7.98), and the “recently added items” feature is perceived as the least helpful feature, receiving the lowest average rating for helpfulness (5.46). The top five features, receiving the highest average rating for helpfulness are the advanced search option, faceted navigation, sorting results options, simple search box, and enriched content. The five features receiving the lowest average ratings for helpfulness are recently added items, user contributed content, word constellation, word clouds, and external links.

When comparing the average ratings for desirability, the study found that “faceted navigation” is the most desirable feature, receiving the highest rating (8.41), with the desirability for “relevance ranking” a close second with an average rating of 8.40. The top five most desirable features (based on average ratings) are faceted navigation, relevance ranking, sorting results options, spelling correction, and the simple search box. The five least desirable features are recently added items, word constellation, user contributed content, external links, and word clouds. The recently added items feature was the least desirable, receiving an average rating of 6.08 for desirability.

Comparing the average ratings for the NextGen features, we found that for all features there were differences between helpfulness and desirability. The largest gap between desirability and helpfulness appears for the spell checking/correction feature, with a difference of 1.11 between the two average ratings. The feature with the closest helpfulness and desirability ratings is the linking to external sites such as Google or Amazon.

Only one NextGen feature rated higher in helpfulness than desirability: the advanced search option. All other NextGen features rated higher in desirability than helpfulness, which means that users desire these features even though they do not always prove to be as helpful in the search for information.


The poster presentation will include additional detailed findings for individual features, along with individual comments to illustrate user perspective for each feature and a summary of overall user comments for each NetxGen feature category. Results of this study will provide a better understanding of user perceptions on the helpfulness of and desirability for NextGen features and valuable insight that will help future developments of next generation catalogs and other information retrieval systems.