Introduction to Online Catalogs

What Is an OPAC?

An OPAC, or Online Public Access Catalog, is how you can find books, magazine and journal titles (not articles), DVDs, VHS recordings, CDs, and other items that the library physically owns. You can also find eBooks from EBSCO in the catalog, too.

Before the creation of the internet, people had to search through drawers full of cards–card catalogs–to find out what the library owned.  You had to look up things by the subject, the title, or the author’s name.  It could take several minutes to just find the card to tell you where to look for the book!  OPAC is short for Online Public Access Catalog, and most libraries now have them.  With OPACs, you can still look for things by subject, title, or author, but the computer can complete the search far faster, even if there are thousands of records to look through.  Online catalogs often are simple to use and are very intuitive, and they still do exactly what the card catalog used to do–tell you what the library owns.  OPACs also have other advantages over the old-fashioned card catalog.  Most OPACs tell you how many copies are owned and, more importantly, how many are available and how many are checked out.  Most will also let you sign in to a personal account that lets you renew items you have checked out, and place holds on library items that are already checked out to someone else.  Even if they don’t allow holds, you can at least usually see when the item is due to be returned, and if you keep checking back on it, you’ll see when it is returned.

 But not all library resources can be searched through OPACs.  Things like journal and newspaper articles can’t be found through the OPAC–you need to search through EBSCOhost, Gale, or NewsBank databases for those.  The OPAC will only let you know if the library subscribes to a particular journal, magazine, or newspaper title, like JAMA, Sports Illustrated, or The Pilot News.

 OPACs will usually find: books, eBooks, CDs, DVDs, VHS, Blu-Ray, titles of journals, magazines, or newspapers that the library subscribes to

OPACs will usually not find: websites or web pages, articles from journals, magazines, or newspapers

 Now that you know a little about OPACs and what they do, you’re ready to move on to the how-to part of this site.

 Each Module is designed to walk you through part of the process of an entire search.  While you can simply use just the information found in Module 1 to perform a search, it won’t be a very precise one and you’re likely to be overwhelmed with choices.  Module 2 is designed to show you ways to utilitze the different parts of an item’s database record to find specific authors, titles, and subjects–just like they used to do with cards in the card catalog, only faster.  Module 3 shows how to combine two or more terms properly in order to get more precise information–while a Google search will let you string words together randomly, databases are designed to use certain words to link terms together to get you what you want more efficiently.  Module 3 will also help you narrow your results by date, full text, or material type (visual materials, audio materials, books, etc.) while Module 4 will make your life simpler by showing you how to login to renew your checked out materials and how to get citations.

OPACapalooza! home
Introduction to Online Catalogs
On to Module 1: Basic Search (keyword)
On to Module 2: Field Search (author, title, subject searching)
On to Module 3: Advanced Search (Boolean searching, date limiters, material type limiters, etc.)
On to Module 4: Special Features (login to renew, WorldCat, Google Books, citations)

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