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    The Need for A Friendly User Interface

    The Need for A Friendly User Interface To Access the Online Catalog:

    A Comparative Study Between Two OPAC Interfaces;

    University of Pittsburgh OPAC Interface & Carnegie Mellon University

    OPAC Interface

    Essam Mansour

    Dr. Essam Mansour*

    dr.essamman@yahoo.com

    The Department of Library and Information Science (DLIS)

    Faculty of Arts, South Valley University (SVU), Qena, Egypt

    .

    .

    *Ph. D (University of Pittsburgh)

    Master (University of Wisconsin), USA

    BA (Cairo University).

    1

    mailto:dr.essamman@yahoo.commailto:dr.essamman@yahoo.com
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    The Need for A Friendly User Interface

    Introduction

    There is no doubt that the world has witnessed a great revolution in

    information technology in the last 20 years. And this has required a respectful

    understanding for end-user needs and behavior, as they are considered the real

    aim of creating and developing this technology. The program designers,

    developers, and vendors feel a great responsibility towards these users who are

    using their products (programs). In other words, software developers need to

    expand their focus beyond functional requirements to include the behavioral

    needs of end-users. What users really want from these people is not only that

    they build applications that meet users needs for information, but also that

    they make these applications easy to use and friendly. So, the problem is how

    to make applications usable without the need to read complicated manuals or to

    receive hard and long training.

    Defining the User Interface (UI):

    The user interface (UI) in its simplest definition is the point of contact

    between human needs and the computational, data-storage and communication

    capabilities of a computing device (Frank, 1995). Dumas defined human-

    computer interface as the words and symbols that people see on the computer

    screen; the content and layout of displays; the procedures used to enter, store,

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    The Need for A Friendly User Interface

    and display information; and the organizational structure of the interface as a

    whole (1988, p. 68.)

    Understanding the User:

    (Who is, what he/she expects, )

    It is important to understand the user and his/her needs of information

    and what he/she can expect the library to offer. If the users are not familiar

    with the use of an automated library system, the library should make some

    training available to help them learn to understand and deal with the system.

    Hackos and Redish (1998) stated that we greatly need to study users because

    the more we know about them, the better we can design for them. The users are

    people with likes and dislikes, habits and skills, education and training that

    they bring into practice whenever they use any computer system. Any

    automated catalogue system should put into consideration who the user is, how

    he/she thinks about the machine and the OPAC, what he/she waits expects

    from them, and what he/she needs to be adapted to deal with the OPAC

    interface. The Library should convey all desires of the users to the program

    designers and vendors so that they can consider and respect them when

    creating the OPAC interface.

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    The Need for A Friendly User Interface

    The Goal of the Graphical User Interface:

    The primary goal of interface design as Lynch (1994) indicated, is to

    create and support an appropriate and coherent mental modal of the operations

    and organization of the computer system. Graphical user interfaces incorporate

    visual and functional metaphors to help orient the computer user to the

    possibilities and functions of the computer system.

    Why is Interface Design is Important?

    Ambler (1998) answered this question by stating the following several

    reasons:

    First of all the more intuitive the user interface, the easier it is to use, and the

    easier it is to use, the cheaper it is.

    The better the user interface, the easier it is to train people to use it, reducing

    training costs.

    The better the user interface, the less help people will need to use it, reducing

    support costs.

    The better the user interface the more users will like to use it, increasing their

    satisfaction with the work that is done.

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    The Need for A Friendly User Interface

    Designing the User Interface

    According to John and Lorne (1998), designing the user interface

    involves designing two languages that differ in the way communications

    between user and computer are expressed. The two languages are commonly

    referred to as the action language and the presentation language. The action

    language, expressed by the user, is used to tell the computer which operations

    to perform on the objects in the application. The presentation language is used

    by the computer to ask about the objects and operations requested and to

    provide the resulting information. Both languages allow communication about

    a common task domain. Hildreth (1995) tried to articulate the principles and

    goals, which should guide the design and development of the online catalog

    interface. These two principles are:

    The online catalog system should never permit a user's search attempt to fail

    to retrieve one or more bibliographic records for review and action. Many

    searches in existing online catalogs fail to retrieve even a single record, and

    most online catalogs offer little or no assistance to the searcher when this

    result occurs. The assumption behind this principle is that something in a

    heterogeneous online catalog database might satisfy the request to some

    degree, or serve, even in its rejection by the user, to supply useful

    information that can be used to further the search.

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    The Need for A Friendly User Interface

    It should be never assumed the display of a bibliographic record is the end of

    a search, merely to be selected or rejected, then "set aside." Bibliographic

    records are for use, not just as location devices, but also as information-

    laden devices for furthering the search. This action role of bibliographic

    displays is often overlooked in system design. Bibliographic records can be

    generative; they may have a springboard effect in the search process, or

    serve as information seeds to fertilize subsequent searching.

    Review of the Literature

    In a study of what screens should look like and making effective OPAC

    screens, Shires and Olszak (1992) display the most basic principles and present

    these with rationale and practical checklists. They discussed the physical

    screens and general principles; menus, commands, inquiry screens, and

    messages. Crawford (1992) presents principles for the design of OPAC

    displays accompanied with checklists. Also, Matthews (1987) presents detailed

    guidelines for the design of OPAC screens, including bibliographic displays.

    Hildreth (1995) tried to investigate user-interface features of about ten OPAC

    systems using also checklist methodology. He focused mainly on the role of

    the Graphic User Interface and asked What Do GUIs Bring to OPACs? He

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    The Need for A Friendly User Interface

    answered this question by stating the features of GUI like Hot buttons for

    activating functions, Sizeable, moveable windows,etc.

    Research Question

    The research question for this paper is:

    To what extent does the design of the graphic user interface (GUI)

    increase/decrease the use of the online public access catalog (OPAC) in the

    academic library?

    Research Methodology

    Data were collected from two universities (University of Pittsburgh &

    Carnegie Mellon University) having two different and variant OPAC

    interfaces. A questionnaire was distributed to 20 students taking classes at both

    Pitt University & CMU universities, and of course, using their OPAC

    interfaces. I got 11 answers from these 20 students..! The 11 students

    answering the questionnaire were six at Masters level, and five at Ph. D level.

    There were five students have a native language of English (3 Ph. D and 2

    MA), the nature language of two of them is Spanish (Ph. D). One