One of the most common questions I am asked when helping patrons use our catalog concerns item availability. Patrons want to know if the item is in the library and available to check out. Answering this question was not always intuitive for researchers using our older online catalog. For example, look at the screenshot below and try to figure out which library has a copy of this book available and which one doesn’t:
It’s not immediately obvious. SBTS shows 1/1 and LPTS shows 1/0. You might correctly assume that the first number is the total number of copies the library owns, but what does the second number indicate? Does it indicate number of copies available, or does it indicate number of copies checked out? Further investigation would reveal that the second number shows the number of copies that are checked out. So in this example, SBTS’ only copy of this book is checked out, while the copy at LPTS is on the shelf and available.
There are two major problems with this interface. First, it is unintuitive. Most users would assume that SBTS had the book available while LPTS did not because most users would assume this is showing availability of an item. Therefore, the first number would show the total copies owned by the library and the second how many of these copies were available. However, what actually is displayed is, in essence, item unavailability. SBTS has one copy, and one copy is unavailable. That is not intuitive for users coming to find out whether something is available. Second, not only is this interface unintuitive, it is also confusing. Users have no way of knowing from this screen what these numbers mean.
WorldCat Local has a better way of handling availability information. For the same book, look at the screenshot detailing this item’s availability in WCL:
The first thing you might notice is that WCL shows what you expect it to show: item availability. It’s in green right at the top where it says, “1 of 2 available.” Looking at the details, you can see exactly which one is available without any confusion. There is one copy on the shelf at LPTS, demonstrated with a large, green check box next to the words “On Shelf.” If you’d prefer to wait for the item at SBTS to be returned, you are shown the due date of that item as well: 8/31/2009.
The WCL interface arguably is not only more attractive than our older online catalog interface, it is also more intuitive and informative in its availability information. Those of you who have been using WCL heavily over the past month or so might have noticed that not everything in the catalog displayed its availability correctly in WCL. I think we have fixed that bug. All items should be showing up correctly with their availability displayed in this easy-to-read, intuitive format.
If you haven’t tried WorldCat Local, I’d encourage you to test it out. After you’ve spent some time using it, send us an email and let us know what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org.