Sparks of Innovation in Human-Computer Interaction, B. Shneiderman, Ed., Ablex Publ., Norwood, NJ (1993) 251-258.
Supporting patron access to library collections requires significant resources in all types of libraries. Card catalogs and reference librarians have traditionally assisted patrons in locating materials related to their information needs and the development of online public access catalogs (OPACs) has begun to affect both of these patron resources (Hildreth, 1982). Many libraries have invested heavily in OPACs in spite of the many problems they present to library patrons. Patrons have difficulty using the computer workstations, formulating queries appropriate to the OPAC command language, and interpreting feedback from the system (Borgman, 1986). In many libraries, reference staff who hoped that OPACs would allow them to assist patrons with challenging information problems have found themselves spending large amounts of time assisting patrons in the mechanics of using the OPAC. This problem is likely to be an ongoing one since patrons in public and academic libraries are what may be termed "casual"
rather than "regular" users. The challenges of OPACs are particularly critical at the Library of Congress (LC), a premier library in the world and host to patrons from all walks of life and experience. The Library was a pioneer in automating bibliographic records and has long provided electronic access to its catalog. Patrons to the library are often visitors to Washington, D.C. who spend a short amount of time using the library and do not want to invest time learning to use the system.