There is no substitute for an appealing and powerful OPAC that is available 24/7.
When my library switched from L4U to Library Destiny Manager it increased library circulation. Students were able to find books more quickly and were more motivated to find the books that they found in the catalogue. Key features that motivated students were the existence of cover photos for their books and the additional information provided through Titlepeek. Students were able to get background information on their books and become convinced it was a great pick and worth locating on the shelves.
The following innovations and features have all improved access to the collection, improved the breadth of items being circulated and increased the number of circulations per student: Visual Search, Resource Lists, Reading Level Searches and MyQuest.
The real revolution in my library surrounding the OPAC for my younger patrons was the Visual Search feature available in the Destiny Library Manager and its companion user interface DestinyQuest. Younger students lack some creativity and curiosity in terms of what to look for. Visual searches using icons that represent subjects triggers interests and moves children from the general to the specific without them becoming demotivated by encountering too much text. Students still struggle with finding the items using the Dewey call numbers but they know what they want and it is a quick and easy task for a librarian, clerk or teacher to help a child locate a book.
Another useful OPAC tool for patrons are public resource lists created by the teacher-librarian. These public lists allow students to see books on any number of topics or interest levels. Students go straight to browsing the book covers and descriptions and do not have to make multiple queries to make sure they have found all the books on Black History or Poetry or popular series. The librarian has done all the work.
Teachers also benefit from resources lists. After pulling books for a class unit or theme they can scan these books into a private resource list and be ready for the next time they have the same unit. They won't need to do all the queries again. A teacher-librarian can make such resource lists for teachers and save the labour of pulling the exact same books for another teacher doing the same topic a little later in the year.
A controversial yet useful feature of modern OPACs such as Library Destiny Manager is the ability to narrow searches by reading range. For example, if your school subscribes and uses Accelerated Reader, over 90 percent of the fiction collection and 30 to 40 percent of your non ficiton collection will have have reading levels associated with them. Searches by reading range does not guarantee a perfect match with a just right book. It may even filter out some more appropriate books. Nevertheless such ranges will often assist younger readers in making more successful book choices in their earlier years. Dependence and reliance on such flawed systems can lessen over time. In our school we do subscribe to Accelerated Reader but use it as part of an arsenal of book selection skills and motivational tools. It seems to be a happy medium. This librarian is well aware of the stance of the BCTLA on this issue and other associations. I believe the concerns although valid are too strongly worded and reactionary to the AR zealotry that has swept some schools and districts, expecially in the United States. Book leveling is a reality and needs to be incorporated in a responsible way by librarians--not just outright banned or ignored.
Perhaps the best example of an OPAC interface and feature that has greatly increased user independence and patron engagement is Destiny Quest and MyQuest. The modern interface that incorporated the best of a Google type search engine with colourful graphics and an abundance of information is called DestinyQuest. With this interface, students even get prompts for other books that may also be of interest of them when they browse particular titles in the catalogue. Fellow patrons can post reviews of the books which can also postively inform patron book selection.
MyQuest is the account based feature of Destiny Quest. MyQuest users become part of a reading community inside their school. They give and get reading suggestions. They are able to create reading wish lists. Students can search the library from home and create a wish list and print it off. They then can come to school ready to get the item off the shelf.
A well designed OPAC enables users to independently make better book choices. Patrons spend more time evaluating their options and make choices that will likely lead to more favourable and successful book selections.