Forsyth County Public Library Website & Catalog Analysis

The Forsyth County Public Library (FCPL) OPAC provides in-house and remote searching of their catalog. This catalog was examined remotely to determine what features are provided and its functionality. The FCPL catalog is accessed through the FCPL website. The main website recently had a facelift that makes it visually attractive. A Search the Catalog button is located near the top right of the screen and is easy to find. Clicking that button takes the user to a very different looking catalog page. The OPAC opens in a new window or tab and there is no link back to the FCPL main page.

The catalog requires login information: patron card number and PIN.  The PIN can be attained through the Ask Your Librarian link on the FCPL library main site. Receiving the PIN via email takes about two days. Help buttons are provided at the top and bottom of the OPAC page explaining the different facets of the catalog.

The Search/Home link allows for a quick search. A Power Search option takes the patron to an advanced search. This is by far the richest element of this OPAC. There are also options for browsing by author, title, subject, series or periodical title. There is a Call Number search that allows the user to choose one of the library branches. Among the library choices are Outreach Services, Spanish Services (including the Spanish bookmobile) and the Virtual Library. An advanced search for Author: Cassell AND Title: (Reference and information services) in all libraries yielded one available copy at the Central Library. When the catalog record appears, the patron can Keep the record an links are available to find more by the author, on the topic and nearby items on the shelf. This is a very nice feature and is very similar to browsing the shelves, but in all of the library branches at the same time.

After the search, basic information is given for the books, and in addition to the library holding the item, the patron is told which area of the library the book is in as well as how many copies are available. If a copy is not available, a time estimate is given of how long it will be out. The entire card can be seen by choosing Details, and the Keep link keeps a running track of the books chosen. Titles can be sorted, narrowed down by library location and records viewed in brief or full form on a single page. Those records can also be printed or emailed. The author and nearby searches worked in similar ways, but the nearby search did not provide a Keep link. Some of the books also had a link to a Library of Congress page giving more information about the book.

The Find It Fast and Kid’s Library links have picture based buttons divided into categories and subcategories leading to a list of books. The Kid’s Library link has fewer categories and fewer subcategories. All items in the varying categories are returned in descending order by date.

The I Need Material link offered three options: Place Hold, Recommend to Order, and Requisition Additional Copies. The Place Hold page appears to have a serious kink. The words “Title” and “Author” are present, but there are no fields in which to enter information. When the “Pick Up” field is completed, there is still no option to enter a title or author. The Recommend to Order page works correctly with numerous text boxes to complete. There are, however, no instructions on the page and there is no indication which or if all fields are required for the page to be sent, so it is possible that entering as little as the “Title” and “Author” is sufficient.

A Library Info link has three sections Titles Recently Added, New Picture Books and  New Chapter Books. The Titles Recently Added section contains mainly fiction. New Chapter Books are all Juvenile fiction. That adult and juvenile books are divided into these categories is not completely intuitive. A user has to pay attention to the type of books in the categories to make the connection.

The last section in the online catalog is Review and Renew My Materials. In this area, a patron can Review My Account, Renew My Materials, User PIN Change and Change My Address. Review My Account shows outstanding obligations and activity on the account, Renew My Materials provides an opportunity to renew check out materials, User PIN Change lets the user change his PIN number, and Change My Address allows the user add an email and change address and phone number. Handy features for the online user.

While the site was fairly easy to use, the sessions timed out too quickly. When the session ended, user information entered in the login fields cleared. This was frustrating to say the least. Even more frustrating was looking through the browser history information to find that every visited page was named the same. This made return to a desired page impossible. There also seemed to be a large chance of getting knocked off the site if the browser back button was used instead of the Go Back link on the page. This quick log-out is probably due to in-house specifications, but it would be a nice feature to differentiate in-house and remote access to give remote users a longer session.

After examining the OPAC part of the FCPL webpage, the main site was analyzed using standards set forth in Jasek’s pamphlet on designing library web sites. Jasek outlines quite a few useful standards for a library to consider, but his suggestions were based on analysis of academic libraries and not all the suggestions necessarily pertained to other library types.

The FCPL has a very attractive page. Colors are sharp, and items are well spaced. Forsyth County redesigned the web pages and this was a part of that redesign. A link specifically named Help is not provided anywhere on the page. All pages are laid out consistently using the same colors, layout, fonts and themes. Layout is different on the main page, but everything else laid out consistently. Layout for each of the library locations mimicks the main page’s layout. They use a light orange/dark yellow for some of the fonts though and even on a large, clear monitor, that particular color is difficult to read.

A consistent menu is used across the top of the page along with a bread crumb trail that leads not only back to the library’s home page, but it also leads back to the county’s home page. The top menu has pull down menus for each item. The pull down menus are in a nice font that is easy to read. In order to read the menu without going to the page, the mouse is held over the menu. If the menu item is clicked, the page appears and the menu disappears. Links are not treated conventionally. They are a different color and change color again when moused over, but they are not underlined and there is no indication that every link had been visited. Some do change colors and stay that way, others do not. Menus for the branch pages are different from that of the main page but remain consistent from branch to branch. More information is now offered about each branch than on the previous design.

The FCPL use their web real estate wisely. The banner takes up about 1/6 of the page consistently, and the same limited pallet of colors is used throughout the site and those colors blend with the county page. Information is frequently cross-linked, and they keep the number of clicks low as well as being free of library jargon. There is no search feature for only the library, however, there is one for the entire network of Forsyth County pages. When using this search, though, pages are returned that have nothing to do with the library.

The one area that this page needs serious work on is accessibility. The home page has scrolling pictures with words over the picture. They do not have alternate text or especially clear captions. Most of the links are clearly named and some have descriptive text on mouseovers, but not all. They are inconsistent on this feature. The use of the orange/dark yellow text is also a concern.

For the most part, the FCPL OPAC and main site are functional and useful for patrons. Most all questions a patron needs answered about books and library services can be found somewhere on this site. Pages on the FCPL main site could be improved, however, with a library-specific search, adding a help button and improving accessibility features. Some of the OPAC pages could use more instructions and browsing sessions could be extended.

References:

Forsyth county public library. (2010). Winston Salem, NC: Forsyth County. Retrieved on June 6, 2010 from http://www.forsyth.cc/Library/Default.aspx

Jasek, C. A. (2004). How to design library web sites to maximize usability. San Diego, CA: Elsevier.

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