Thursday, February 23, 2006

Why do Users want Lists?

Why are users so adamant about being able to browse journal lists that library IT group, and vendors like Serial Solutions and Ex Libris, spend time creating systems that create the infamous "A-Z List"? MPOW catalogues all of our online resources, just like our print collection (except online resources don't get call numbers). Everything we have is in the catalogue and it's usually not too hard to find the journals in the catalogue (except for the usual suspects: "Cell", "Nature", "Science", etc.) but users keep asking for a list of our electronic resources. We (I) finally broke down a couple of years ago, and we now produce our own A-Z list from a catalogue review file. So the users can browse through a list of over twenty-eight thousand titles. If somebody decided to print it out, the "A" section would run to seventy pages alone.

I hypothesize that at least part of the reason for this behaviour is that the users think "searching" is for when they are looking for information about a topic, and that a list provides faster access when they are looking for a known item (which Cutter identified as one of the prime purposes of the catalogue). There might also be a sense that, at some level, "browsing" is an effective discovery method. But again, how effective a technique is it when the list is 28K long, and alphabetical?

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