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Library web OPACs in Pakistan:
Department of Library and Information Science, University of the Punjab,
Purpose – This paper aims to analyse features and functions of indigenously developed web-based
catalogues of academic, special and national libraries of Pakistan.
Design/methodology/approach – The assessment of 16 OPACs is based on a 91-item checklist
developed with the help of previous studies conducted in other countries.
Findings – The paper ﬁnds that indigenous web OPACs are at an initial stage of development and
only offer basic facilities to their users. They do not offer facilities many OPACs in advanced countries
already offer. Their shortcomings include the absence of MARC format and Z39.50 protocol, which are
indispensable for shared cataloguing. A very few catalogues can accommodate non-Roman scripts like
Urdu and other local languages.
Originality/value – The comparison of features and functions of web OPACs can be useful to
understand the level of OPAC development in Pakistan. It can also be helpful for future improvements
in this regard.
Keywords Online catalogues, Pakistan, Academic libraries, Special libraries, National libraries
Paper type General review
The computerisation of libraries in Pakistan was started in the mid-1980s. Cataloguing
has always been a popular area for automation in Pakistan. Some libraries use
expensive imported software packages while others have developed their own in-house
programs. To provide users access to library collections online public access
catalogues (OPACs) have been developed that can be deﬁned as computerised systems
to catalogue and organise materials in a library. OPACs have replaced card-based
catalogues in many libraries. With the advent of the twenty-ﬁrst century, libraries in
Pakistan have developed web-based OPACs. These are an advanced generation of
traditional OPACs serving as a gateway to the resources, not only held by a particular
library, but also to the holdings of other linked libraries (Harmsen, 2000). The
important features of web-based OPACs are:
.Graphical user interface (GUI), which is typically thought of as a combination of
windows with pull-down or drop-down menus, icons and a pointing device such
as mouse or trackball to manipulate information.
.The usual features of traditional OPACs, such as storing bibliographic and
sometimes full-text databases; providing direct access to a library’s
bibliographic database by means of a terminal or PC; providing instructional
help; display of search results in readily understandable form; sometimes remote
access from the library’s location; information about community events;
providing links to circulation ﬁles, reference help etc.; providing searches
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received 30 September 2007
Revised 9 January 2008
Accepted 15 January 2008
Program: electronic library and
Vol. 42 No. 2, 2008
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
through a variety of access points such as author, title, keyword, subject,
periodical title, series, class number, ISSN or ISBN, etc.
.The ability to use hypertext links to facilitate navigation through bibliographic
.A move towards emulation of the appearance and search features similar to
those found in search engines.
.Linking to full text when available.
.Ability to help bring a convergence in searching of all electronic information
available through one interface, e.g. catalogues, CD-ROMS, internet sources etc.
(Babu and O’Brien, 2000).
According to Wells (2007):
The library OPAC has at least three distinct functions. First it acts as a bibliographic
database, an electronic version of the card catalogue that it replaced, acting as an index for
the user in search, for example, of a particular book. As a logical extension of this, the OPAC
increasingly also provides links to electronic texts, freeing the user from the necessity of
physically locating material on the library’s shelves. Second, it functions as a “portal” in a
way not dissimilar to a library homepage, providing links to non-bibliographical data, either
relating to users themselves – information about overdue books, ﬁnes, etc. – or to other
library information such as opening hours. In principle this portal function could be extended
indeﬁnitely to connect to a variety of data considered to be of interest to library users. Third,
the OPAC functions as a promotional artefact, advertising the presence of the library and the
services it can provide, and at the same time making a statement of authority about the
communicative links that are supported and facilitated (p. 387).
Despite the abundance of literature on the topic of OPACs generally, there is no
documentation on library OPACs or web-based OPACs in Pakistan. This study was
conducted to assess the features and functions of indigenous web-based OPACs in the
libraries of Pakistan.
The approach taken for data collection was to survey and analyse web-based catalogues
accessible via the internet in Pakistan. The ﬁrst task was to ﬁnd out indigenous library
OPACs on the internet. In the absence of an authorised web directory of such OPACs in
Pakistan the author depended mainly on the Google search engine to access websites of
local institutions. A list of universities and degree awarding institutions, published by
the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan on its website (www.hec.gov.pk/new/
main/ourinstitutes.htm), was also used. Once at the site, then access could be made to the
library pages and ﬁnally to the web-based OPAC of that particular institution.
Consequently, 16 web-based OPACs were accessed via the internet that were working
properly. These comprise the subjects of the study. As this study focused on the library
OPACs developed indigenously, one library, Lahore University of Management Sciences
(LUMS), using American software, was not included in the study. Similarly, the
following 11 OPACs of Pakistani libraries that were available through the Library of
Congress Z39.50 Gateway (www.loc.gov/z3950/) were not included:
(1) Bahria University, Islamabad.
(2) Hailey College of Banking and Finance, University of the Punjab, Lahore.
(3) Institute of Communication Technologies, Islamabad.
(4) Iqra University, Islamabad.
(5) Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore.
(6) Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, Jamshoro.
(7) National Library of Pakistan, Islamabad.
(8) National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, Lahore.
(9) National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, Union Catalog.
(10) Planning Commission of Pakistan, Islamabad.
(11) Shaheed Zulﬁqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST),
Two other libraries, whose web servers remained down most of the time during data
collection, were also excluded. To examine the features and facilities of OPACs sample
searches were performed. The subjects of the study comprise 12 academic libraries,
three special libraries and one national library. The libraries belong to six big cities of
Pakistan, i.e. Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore and Multan. The
names of the institutions and the URLs of their web OPACs are given in Table I.
The next step was to decide on the items for evaluation and make up a checklist.
The author wished to adopt an evaluation checklist that was already familiar to, and
generally accepted by, library and information science professionals. Cherry (1998)
developed guidelines to evaluate OPAC display designs for web-based OPACs in
Canadian academic and public libraries. This checklist was limited to four aspects of
display design and covered labels, layout, text and instructional information. It is
worth saying that Cherry’s guidelines are the most popular and frequently applied
guidelines (e.g. Herrero-Solana and Moya-Anegon, 2001). This list, does, however, lack
some substantial features of web-based OPACs such as search types, search methods,
provision for exporting/downloading retrieved records, links to Z39.50 and external
e-sources. Babu and O’Brien (2000) developed a checklist more pertinent to the
functions and capabilities of present day web-based OPACs. The checklist covers
interface and searching capabilities such as search types, search strategies, access
points, display options, entry structure, external links, services/facilities, output
capabilities, and layout. Surprisingly, this checklist pays no attention to display
aspects such as labels, text, and instruction. With the merger of Cherry’s (1998) and
Babu and O’Brien’s (2000) checklists, Ibrahim (2005) reproduced a rather
comprehensive checklist useful for evaluating not only display designs, but also
features of web-based catalogues. With minor modiﬁcations this paper reports on the
use of Ibrahim’s (2005) checklist to assess the features of web OPACs of libraries in
Pakistan. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institution’s
(IFLA) (2005) guidelines for OPAC displays were also consulted in making a new
checklist. This checklist (given in Table II) includes 91 items categorised into ten areas.
A tick mark shows the existence of a particular feature in the catalogue.
It can be seen from the results shown in Table II that no indigenous Web OPAC has all
features and facilities that are provided by the catalogues in advanced countries. Of the
No. Institution City Type Web OPAC URL
1 University of Central Punjab Lahore Academic library.ucp.edu.pk/online_catalouge.asp
2 Government College University Lahore Academic www.thetowertech.com/gculms/search.asp
3 National Library of Pakistan Islamabad National nlp.gov.pk/asp/Searchlarge.htm
4 University of the Punjab Lahore Academic www.qal.org.pk/QAL_Net.php
5 United Nations Reference Library at the National
University of Modern Languages
Islamabad Academic library.un.org.pk/isis/UN-Cat/form.htm
6 Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan Academic bzu.edu.pk/library.asp
7 University of Agriculture Faisalabad Academic www.uaf.edu.pk/lib.htm
8 Pakistan Agricultural Research Council Islamabad Special www.parc.gov.pk/data/catalog/catalog.asp
9 National Rural Support Program, Institute of Rural
Islamabad Special http://22.214.171.124:8080/index.jsp
10 Aga Khan University Karachi Academic www.aku.edu/akulibrary/bkjoursearch.asp
11 GIFT University Gujranwala Academic 126.96.36.199/search.php
12 Lahore School of Economics Lahore Academic www.lahoreschoolofeconomics.edu.pk/catalogue.
13 Iqra University Islamabad Academic sic.iuic.net.pk/library/
14 Khadim Ali Shah Bukhari Institute of Technology Karachi Academic http://library.kasbit.edu.pk/Booksearch.aspx
15 Shaheed Zulﬁkar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science
and Technology (SZABIST)
Karachi Academic zablis.szabist.edu.pk/
16 Pakistan Library Automation Group Lahore Special paklag.org/paklag/webopac/
List of library web-based
OPACs in Pakistan
Search types and methods
Offers several types of searches such as simple (basic),
general, complex or advanced/expanded UUU U U UU 44
Has full search capability on conventional access points,
such as title, keyword, author, subject, class number,
ISBN, ISSN, etc. UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU100
Provision for Boolean search UUU U U 31
Provision for truncation UUUUU 31
Provision for exact matching UUUUUUUU UUUUUU 88
Provision for phrase searching UUUUUUUU UU UUU 81
Provision for word adjacency/ proximity U6
Hypertext links in full bibliographic record display 0
Search limits and strategy
Displays search strategy UU UU 25
Provides examples under each type of search U6
Option for search history 0
Provision for comprehensive search limits such as year,
language, type of publication, location, publication
status, etc. UUU UU U 38
Facility for sorting records U6
Ranks output by relevance 0
Keyword UU UU U 31
Subject heading UUUUU UUUU UUU 75
Keyword in title UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU100
Keyword in subject UUUUU UUUU UUU 75
Combined search such as author/title, author/keyword UUU U UU U UU 56
Class number UUUUU UU U U 56
ISBN/ISSN UUUUU UU 44
Series UU 13
Evaluation checklist of
web OPAC interfaces
Barcode/accession number UUU U UU UU 50
Provides name authority control UU13
Provides subject authority control U6
Supports cross-references 0
Provision for the copy location UU UUU U U UUU 63
Provision for brief (short)/long bibliographic displays or
both U UUUUU UUU U U 69
Different display levels U UUUUU UUU U U 69
Limiting the number for the display of records (output
Support for MARC formats 0
Provision for library structured format UUUUUUUUUUUUU U 88
Labelled format UUUUUUUUUUUUU U 88
Provision for exporting/downloading of retrieved
Provision for the transmission of retrieved records
through e-mail 0
Provision for storing retrieved records U6
Provision of next/previous UUUUUUUUUU UUUUU 94
Access to Z39.50 0
Links to external sources 0
Interface with the circulation system UUUUU31
Provision for options such as ILL, renewal, reservations,
Provision of online mailboxes for user comments or
User assistance (instructional information)
Textual information simple, clear, free of typographical
errors UUUUUUUUUUUU UUU 94
Provision of online help UU13
Provision for procedural learning/training 0
User-friendly, requires little staff assistance UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU100
Abbreviations avoided in textual information? UUUUUUUUUUUU UUU 94
Instructional information free of jargon UUUUUUUUUUUU UUU 94
Provide options to the user listed near both the top and
bottom of page UUUUUUUUUUUU UUU 94
Provide options clearly separated from the information UUUUUUUUUUUU UUU 94
Display system messages (such as error messages) by
using contrasting display features (e.g.) bolding, colour UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU100
Instructions on the screen are simple, clear and inviting? UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU100
Less use of technical jargon and codes UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU100
Wording/terminology consistent UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU100
Layout is left justiﬁed UUUUUUUUUUUUUUU 94
Search strategy is displayed near the top of the page? UU UU 25
Related ﬁelds in the bibliographic data grouped together
and separated from other data UUUUUUUUUU UUU 81
Highlighting techniques used (bolding, font size,
Labels, text, and instructional information displayed in
consistent locations, formats throughout the display UUUUUUUUUUUUUU 88
Call number displayed closed to the top of the
bibliographic display UUUU U 31
Provision for drop-down or pull-down menu UUUUUUU U U UU 69
All variable ﬁelds labelled UUUUUUUUUUUUU U 88
All labels full words (not abbreviated) UUUUUUUUUUUUU U 88
All labels free of library jargon UUUUUUUUUUUUU U 88
Labels accurate, appropriate, meaningful UUUUUUUUUUUUU U 88
All labels located to the left of corresponding ﬁelds UUUUUU UUUUUU U 81
All labels are right justiﬁed UU U19
All labels separated from corresponding ﬁelds by a
colon UUUUU 31
Holding information displayed in tabular format UUUUU UU 44
Other highlighting techniques used (e.g.) colour, bold UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU100
Column labels located immediately above the column of
ﬁelds, i.e. no blank line UUUUUU UUU UUUU 81
Text arranged logically with related ﬁelds (author,
added author) UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU100
Holding location information included in the full display UUU U UUUU U UUU 75
Text vertically aligned and left justiﬁed UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU100
Redundant/repeated text avoided UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU100
Call number display UUUUUUUUUUUUUU U 94
Circulation status information included in the full
Copies listed in recognisable order UU U UU 31
Provision of hypertext links in the record through:
Class number UU13
Show in every display the name of the catalogue and the
owning library or other organisation UU U UUUUUU UUU 75
Has time out feature, if desired U6
Explains the contents and coverage in the OPAC 0
Provides log in/log off instruction, if desired UUU19
Provision to accommodate non-Roman scripts UU13
Total 52 50 54 48 59 44 42 41 51 48 41 41 30 42 36 53
91 features, 13 were not found in any Pakistani catalogue. The highest scoring OPAC
was that of the United Nations Reference Library at the National University of Modern
Languages, Islamabad that included 65 per cent of the tested features. This OPAC was
locally developed by using Unesco’s WWWISIS software (Buxton, 2006). Figure 1
shows a screenshot of the opening page of this OPAC.
The next best OPAC, having 59 per cent of the features, was developed by the
National Library of Pakistan and its homepage is shown in Figure 2.
The “best” web-based
OPAC in Pakistan
Web-based OPAC of the
National Library of
The multilingual OPAC developed by the Pakistan Library Automation Group for
training and free distribution scored 58 per cent and its homepage is shown in Figure 3.
The pull-down menu of language options shows that Pushto, Sindhi and Urdu are
available as well as the default language of English.
3.1 Search types and methods
Simple, quick, general, and advanced searches are vital search features provided by
web-based OPACs. In this study it was found that all the OPACs provided search
facilities using conventional access points but only 44 per cent offered various other
levels of searching. Exact matching and phrase searching are very common but
Boolean and truncation facilities are rare. Only one OPAC offers proximity search
facilities. Hypertext links are not found in any of the OPACs surveyed.
3.2 Search limits and strategy
Provision for comprehensive search limits such as year, language, type of publication,
location, publication status, etc. is poor (38 per cent). Only 25 per cent of the OPACs
display the search strategy during searching. Provision of examples and record sorting
is found only in one OPAC each. No OPAC displays search history and record ranking
3.3 Access points
All surveyed catalogues offer author, title and keyword in title as access points for
searching. Other more popular access points include subject headings (75 per cent),
Homepage of the
web-based OPAC of the
keyword in subject (75 per cent), class number (56 per cent) and accession number (50
per cent). Combined search facility is provided by 56 per cent of the OPACs. The
poorest frequency is found to be in provision of name and subject authority control and
cross-references. Copy location information is provided in 63 per cent of the OPACs
3.4 Bibliographic display
Most of the OPACs display bibliographic records according to a locally structured
labelled format, and 69 per cent of the catalogues offer different display levels, i.e. short
and long. Only one catalogue offers output control, i.e. limiting the number for display
of records. It was surprisingly found that no catalogue was available following the
3.5 Output, services, facilities and external links
Most of the surveyed catalogues (94 per cent) offer next/previous option for record
output. Only 31 per cent of the catalogues have an interface with the circulation
system. Only one OPAC provides a facility to store retrieved records. Facilities that are
completely non-existent in Pakistani OPACs include the export of retrieved records,
transmission of records through e-mail, access to Z39.50, links to external sources,
options for interlibrary loan, renewal, reservations, and provision of online mailboxes
for comments or suggestions.
3.6 User assistance (instructional information)
Most of the OPACs surveyed are simple, clear and free of typographical errors, and
have textual information on their user interfaces (94 per cent). There is consistency in
the surveyed catalogues to offer user-friendly interfaces, requiring limited staff
assistance, and free of jargon and abbreviations. On the other hand, they lack online
help or tutorials.
3.7 Layout, labels and text
Screen instructions of all OPACs are clear, free of jargon and consistent in wording.
Related ﬁelds are grouped together and highlighting techniques (colour, bold, italic,
etc.) are also used. Labels, text, and instructional information are displayed in
consistent locations and formats throughout the display. Labels in most of the
catalogues are also clear and user-friendly. Provision of hypertext links in records is
3.8 General points
Most of the catalogues (75 per cent) show in every display the name of the catalogue
and the owning library. Time out and log in/log out features are very rare. Only two
OPACs can accommodate non-Roman scripts, i.e. Urdu and other regional languages.
This study shows that libraries in Pakistan are at the initial stage of developing
web-based catalogues. Although the indigenous OPACs offer basic facilities, the
evaluation with an international checklist revealed their shortcomings and the
under-utilisation of services offered by the state-of-the-art web technology. It is
interesting to note that many of the ﬁndings of the present study are similar to that of
another study conducted in India (Babu and Tamizhchelvan, 2003). The study
highlights the absence of MARC format and Z39.50 protocol, which are necessary for
shared cataloguing. Due to lack of training and awareness for librarians MARC
standards are not well-known in Pakistan. A more recent study of OPACs in Indian
academic libraries shows that bibliographic records now follow MARC standards
(Kapoor and Goyal, 2007). Provision of Urdu and other local scripts is a good sign in
the web-based OPAC but it is found only in a very small number of those surveyed. As
Pakistani libraries have local language collections in a reasonable size, the
accommodation of non-Roman scripts is indispensable for future OPACs. Providing
access to full-text internal and external resources is another feature that is not covered
in Pakistani catalogues. Use of web-based OPACs is an area in Pakistan that needs the
attention of the future library service providers as well as library and information
science researchers. Studies should be undertaken to assess the use behaviour of the
users of online catalogues. Their problems should be addressed in designing future
OPACs. Future designers will have to incorporate recent trends in library web-based
OPACs which include good relevance ranking, faceted navigation, search result
clustering, breadcrumb trails, federated search, visual search, spelling correction
facilities, browsing, entry vocabularies and recommender features (Antelman et al.,
2006; Breeding, 2007; Brisco, 2006). Library web-based OPACs in a developing country,
like Pakistan, are far behind the functional improvements of online catalogues which
Hildreth (1995) anticipated, i.e. natural language query expressions; automatic term
conversion/matching aids; closest, best-match retrieval; ranked retrieval output;
relevance feedback methods; hypertext, related-record searching and browsing;
integration of keywords; controlled vocabulary; classiﬁcation-based search
approaches; and expanded coverage and scope.
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