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Syracuse University


Final Project: Information Retrieval System Analysis

Elizabeth Griffin, Smote, Kelly Voorhees

IST 616: Information Resources: Organization and Access

11 December 2016
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Information retrieval systems can be found anywhere you look. As consumers of

various media, we often do not think of what these systems are, how they work, or how

they influence our everyday lives. However, once we begin to look more closely at these

systems we see that they are extremely important to service. Information retrieval

systems play a very large role in the information profession. These systems are

especially important to the library. For this reason, one should explore and evaluate the

systems we so often see in use. This paper will discuss the Information Retrieval

System called OPALS. OPALS stands for Open-source Automated Library System.

OPALS system is a web-based, open source program.

OPALS is an information retrieval system that uses access to the internet to

connect the users to information databases, library collections or digital archives. This

system is used by libraries, religious organizations, colleges, research institutions,

businesses, religious and library union catalogs (OPALS). This system also includes
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support for interlibrary loans. OPALS can be used by any organization that has a need

for an information retrieval system.

OPALS works through their catalog interface OPAC. This catalog interface can

be customized to fit the needs of the organization. When being used in the school

setting, OPALS can provide a costume for the childrens or elementary catalog search

page. OPAC has an advanced search feature that allows for users to narrow their

searches. This search feature analyzes the MARC records to find the keywords or

works within the system vocabulary to retrieve a record. The advanced search allows

for users to choose the type of resource they would like to be found at the end of the

search. When searching OPAC you can easily go back to the search results when you

click the back button. It is very easy to go back through the system. While searching the

system OPAC keeps the search tool at

the top of the results page and keeps the

terms within that bar. OPAC also

provides the items that are near the

searched item through the use of their

call numbers. The system does not let you set an item aside to view later. OPALS,

does however allow users to save a list of items by allowing the user to generate a

bibliography. This user generated bibliography can act as a way to go back to an item

that a user searched for previously. There is feature in OPAC that allows users to

navigate different modules that a library can add to the system for their patrons use.
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OPALS has a user oriented design. The interface has very simple visuals and is

easy to use. The homepage of OPAC holds the different modules that the library can

use to show patrons different aspects of the catalog. The search bar can be found at the

top of the page. The menus are drop down and clearly show what each option is. This

system also has a drop down menu to edit the search feature, as well as to access the

advanced search options. For the librarians using the system, the menu has features in

which the librarian can do a quick entry list. Librarians can also use the Equipment

feature to track the use of eReaders, iPads, or other equipment that the library loans


The system search features are built for users. The advanced search system

uses a combination of written language and icons to help users limit their searches.

This system works with users to

ensure that what they are

searching for is found. The system

can be error-forgiving. This

system is error-forgiving if the user

is looking for a popular title or author. This system is hit or miss with its error

forgiveness. There are times it will suggest a correction of a spelling mistake, while

other times it will suggest a completely different search topic. If a user spells their

search query wrong, OPALS and OPAC provide the user with a suggestion to replace

the misspelled search. This search feature has a high amount of precision. When

searching with the keyword search the system pulls up records of items with any
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mention of that search. For example, if one were to search Stamford Central Schools

OPAC for Saint Bernards, the four books that mention this breed of dogs comes up.

This search demonstrates the system's recall abilities as well. OPALS and OPAC have

a better recall function as well. The system does not typically generate irrelevant

documents. This system limits extra noise and helps to keep the search complete.

When searching Stamfords catalog for dogs, items with mentions of dogs are the

only items that appear.

Since OPALS is used largely in school libraries, it is great for instructional uses.

This system and its design are extremely conducive to teaching about using library

catalogs and performing searches. The simple nature of the interface makes it easy to

walk students through the use of the system. The advanced search allows for School

Media Specialists to explain search terms and demonstrate what it is like to do an

advanced search. This system makes it easier for the School Media Specialist to give

students the independence to explore the catalog and discover more about the library

through that exploration. OPAC also has features that help with accessibility, which in

turns help the library assist patrons with disabilities.

Ultimately, the organization managing the OPALS system is responsible for

deciding what resources get added. With OPALS, this can include resources for the

catalog, pathfinders and genre lists, patron information, and so on. In school systems,

the systems are individual to each school. This means that only the record information,

patron information, and specified databases are featured on that individualized page.

This information can then be linked to other systems through loaning.

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OPALS stores complete bibliographic MARC records in the built-in catalog.

Typically, these records come right from the vendor

and are imported into the system through a variety

of methods. According to OPALS, the system uses

data in the fixed fields, indicator bytes and sub-fields

to access resources efficiently and to display that

data effectively. (OPALS).

To import the information, you can directly import

the file your vendor sends you using the batch

import feature of the system. You can enhance the

MARC records using the Z-import option, which

accesses authority files from the Library of

Congress and other national libraries to give you

access to all the bibliographic information about the book and make the records better

for your individualized needs. You can also add your own bibliographic information if

you need to add something to the system quickly. This is called a quick item entry.

OPALS also keeps track of what items you entered quickly so that you can go back and

enhance these records.

The MARC editor makes it easy to add more information to suit each schools

individual needs. For example, some schools include reading program information for

their collections. This information can come right from the vendor or be added during

the processing of new books. The MARC editor also makes it clear what each datafield
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is and what it means, offering support if there is any confusion during the cataloging

process. This means that even those who do not have experience cataloguing can work

in the system as there is support.

With e-books, there is a little more that needs to be done. OPALS has

considered this as well and has developed a batch import specific for e-books. With

older school systems, this service could not be added, but thanks to the flexibility of the

OPALS open source system, it is possible that new additions like the e-book record

uploader could be developed to ensure all records were included in the catalog.

Much of the controlled vocabulary stems from the MARC records. OPALS often

pulls information from the Library of Congress or other national libraries (depending on

what country you are in) or from the MARC record generated by the vendors. These

different sources of bibliographic information typically lead to a slightly varied controlled

vocabulary. As most schools do not tend to review and edit the MARC records after

theyve been added to the system, this means that the record remains how it was when

it was uploaded. From looking at some example schools, subject headings used

stemmed from the Library of Congress.

In terms of vocabulary and other terminology controls related to record entries,

those are established by each individual system owner. For school systems, this means

that each individual school can ultimately decide what terms they will use in relation to

organizing information. Typically, this relates specifically to any reading programs the

school is part of that need to be indicated in the bibliographic information or if books

have been grouped for specific reasons. Examples of this include early chapter books
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or graphic novels. The terms and phrases related to these books can be decided upon

by the school or school library system.

In OPALS, information is organized in a few different ways. For example, in

schools, many middle and elementary schools participate in reading programs. In these

cases, records are organized based on that reading program and the different difficulty

levels for books. Additionally, central schools organize their books by age levels. There

are also options to browse by author or by the subject, though you have to do some sort

of search before you can browse.

Upon searching, the results the user sees are shaped

by the person or organization who maintains the

system. Some school catalogs evaluated initially

organized the results by call number, listing the

information texts first and the fiction books second. The

results were further organized by the authors last

name. In other schools, there was no apparent

reasoning behind the organization of the results. This

lead to the conclusion that you can decide the initial layout of your results when setting

up your system and let the user decide if they would prefer to sort by call number,

publishing date, or other option while searching.

In terms of evaluation, the Open Source Automated Library System has

significantly more positives than negatives. An OPALS user stated their preference of

OPALS over Mandarin due to the cost effectiveness of the system. With Mandarin
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Library Automation, schools not only pay for the system itself but also they have to pay

a second fee to their BOCES for databases. OPALS not only has a lower price point

but includes databases in their fee. While cost for OPALS varies - for example if it is

being purchased for an individual school or through BOCES, or if the school chooses

different additions to their system - overall, the cost remains reasonable for many

schools which would be unable to purchase a wide-range library system otherwise.

Additionally, OPALS offers a free, trial where libraries are able to upload their MARC

records and within 24 hours are able to use a full version of the OPALS for three full

months to decide whether or not OPALS is right for them (OPALSTM OPen-source

Automated Library System, 2016.). Along the same line, this free demo also shows

how simple it is to merge records using OPALS making the transition from the librarys

old system to the new quite easy and stress free.

In addition to being cost-friendly,

OPALS is user-friendly as well.

OPALS boasts a 24/7 support line,

email assistance, and numerous

workshops and tutorials. Through

the website, there are

considerable amounts of tutorials

that cover the usage of the system and even help with troubleshooting in some cases

(OPALS Open-source Automated Library System, 2016.). Many online reviews

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state that OPALS quick responses and personalized interaction with their customers is

a massive benefit over other systems that dont offer such quick assistance. According

to Becky Christensen, Florene Dickerson and Melanie Villarreal, MediaFlex, which

offers and maintains OPALS for us, has been consistently the most responsive

company in terms of customer support. Having worked with them since 2007, we

continue to enjoy a close working relationship. (OPALS Presentation, 2013.) OPALS

has a fairly familiar feel to it. If youve used a library database before, theres a lot of

familiarity going into its user design. However, there are some more detailed back-end

things that would likely require training of some sort (ex: adding images to items,

creating and exporting inventory lists and reports, etc) Beyond this, OPALS has been

found to be reasonably easy to teach to other librarians and the interface for young

students is manageable and fairly simple to pick up which is what makes OPALS ideal

for school systems.

One of the larger drawbacks to OPALS is simply its lack of popularity. While

over 1000 libraries are currently using OPALS (Opals, 2016.), the smaller system is

still beat out by larger, more proprietary systems. Still, with OPALS being so reasonably

priced and useful in school libraries, its gaining traction as a good system to use. With

this increase the system increasingly improves based on user feedback. Another issue

are the modules which are paid for separately, but some buyers have indicated the fact

that theres no requirement to get certain modules allows them to keep costs low and

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For the library end itself, users have indicated a number of features they love that

they can get from OPALS such as the ability to have multilingual and large-type

displays, choose their OPAC screen display colors and designs (see images below),

export day to day management reports, and receive circulation and acquisition lists.

One of the most liked features is

the ability to access databases

right from the OPALS system

which is something thats not

available in proprietary systems.

The Open Source

Automated Library System is an

incredible program that provides

libraries, particularly school libraries with lower budgets, the ability to work with a

web-based, modular system that allows for a great deal of customization, functionality,

and usage. Although OPALS isnt as popular as some other information retrieval

systems, the benefits of having an easy to use and powerful tool such as OPALS that

provides stellar customer service and relatively intuitive design that gives librarians a

chance to focus on their patrons and their collection far outweighs the negatives. A

school library searching for a new system should definitely consider OPALS as a top

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CCE :: Banford Elementary. (2016). Retrieved 11 December 2016,


Opals. (2016). Retrieved 11 December 2016, from

OPALS Open-source Automated Library System. (2016). Retrieved from

OPALS Presentation. (2013). Retrieved December 11, 2016, from

OPALSTM OPen-source Automated Library System. (2016). Retrieved December 11,

2016, from

ST :: Stamford Central School Library. (2016). Retrieved 11

December 2016, from