The invisible library catalog

I posted this “vent” on LM_NET today:

Sigh….High School kids don’t know the library book catalog

Thanks for being a sympathetic audience.  Obviously, I will recover eventually and start doing more direct teaching on the concept.   Right now though, I am just shocked.  Of course, I know that non-fiction use is down.  I can even see most of it shifting to ebook format.  But still….

We just asked the following question at the beginning of 9th grade English research project:

If  you had to find a book in the library about the Middle Ages, how would you do that?

I am sad to say – NO ONE in the ENTIRE 9th grade knew that the correct answer was to go to the online catalog.

The answers I received in order of frequency were:

  1. Ask the librarian
  2. Ask the teacher
  3. Use the Dewey Decimal signs
  4. Start at the beginning of the non-fiction section and search till you find a book
  5. Go to google and search for the dewey decimal system

I tried modifying the question to:

If the entire library and teaching staff were to magically disappear, and you had to find a book in the library about the Middle Ages, how would you do that?

That did not help either.  It simply eliminated number 1 & 2 as an option.


My assistant and I have vowed to insist that the kids go to the catalog to find books – even when we know exactly where the book is located.  We are doing them no favor by helping too much.

10 thoughts on “The invisible library catalog

  1. LOL I want to see the other questions on the survey! I feel your pain as a high school librarian. How well I know this too. But take comfort in that you can always justify your job because you MUST teach students and faculty what the catalog is and how to use it to find books.

  2. Thanks. Being able to share our pain does help =)

    Of course, it might help if our catalogs were not SO boring and hard to search. How can our clunky catalogs hope to compete with Google?

  3. Ugh! All I can say is “Ugh!”

    Right after I read this post, I called my teenage daughter and asked her the same question. Can you guess what she said? “Ask the librarian.” (sobbing)

    As her mother, I am not much help because…I am her mother. She resists having me help her do better searches for information…simply because I am her mother and am so uncool I guess.

    Okay…now I am going to call and ask my son (who is in 9th grade)…let’s see if he answers correctly.

    His answer was somewhat better! “I’d go to the 900’s because that is the history section and I’d figure it out from there” after a slight pause he said, “Or I’d go to the OPAC.” !!!!!! (smiling a little more now)

  4. I am not sure why it doesn’t come up. I think maybe you have to register at my site to get your picture to come up. I don’t know how one would do that – but I will investigate.

  5. I REALLY think the vendors have to get us a product that kids like. Our OPACS are HORRIBLE. Lack of money keeps us tied to the ones we have and lack of creativity on the part of vendors prevents them from producing a product with an inviting interface. The kids ask us. Maybe a good sign. It would appear they prefer our friendly helpful faces to our clunky, antique OPACS. And THERE’S a term that everyone can embrace – OPAC. UGH!

  6. I’m in a K-4 library and we are still using Follett Circulation Plus with the added module of Title Peek. Title adds a great deal of interest for our kids.

  7. Thanks for your comment. I keep hoping to some day get a better OPAC. I’ve seen many. Unfortunately none of them match what I would like to see. Titles would help – but I would like to see catalogs become interactive, allowing students to chat about books etc. But mostly – when it comes to information, teens want all internet, all the time. Over the next 10 years I anticipate my non-fiction section shrinking dramatically as I shift to online reference ebooks. Fortunately I still see a lot of strong readers devouring all the new fiction I can provide. So I expect the fiction section getting larger. It’s a changing world out there.

  8. I’m glad to see someone else with this problem. We finally have an online catalog and have advertised and taught it along with freshman orientation. The problem here is, we have no computers dedicated to just the catalog and won’t anytime soon. Faculty historically just come in and take the DVD’s they want and drop them off whenever without checking them out. It was a “new” concept when I came and asked they check them out. The Middle Ages question is irrelevant here- anybody looking up a book on that would be because they are restricted from the computer or the first month of the year when no one has signed the AUP. Even students looking for a fiction book, when told it is alphabetical according to author, don’t know where to look. Yes, this is high school.

  9. Thanks for your comment. For whatever reason – I just was not aware how bad things had become. I guess we just have to keep up the effort and never assume anything. And with inadequate equipment – it is especially challenging.

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