9.414 GUIs

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Sun, 24 Dec 1995 12:08:19 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 414.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Andrew Armour <armour@pncl.co.uk> (47)
Subject: Re: 9.411 GUIs

[2] From: Charles Hildreth <CHILDRETH@slis.lib.uoknor.edu> (8)
Subject: Re: GUIs

Date: Sat, 23 Dec 1995 21:47:07 +0000
From: Andrew Armour <armour@pncl.co.uk>
Subject: Re: 9.411 GUIs

> [1] From: Andrew Burday <andy@dep.philo.mcgill.ca> (43)
> Subject: Re: 9.407 GUIs
>Two replies, on the issue of putting graphical front ends on OPACs.
>I'm sure this [question of cost] is the most important problem.

I wonder why. "GUI-capable" computers cost less than a thousand dollars
apiece, and even beginners seem to have little trouble creating home pages
for the Web these days, using fairly basic hardware and software. If the
students can do it, why can't the libraries? And one should bear in mind
that the latter are set to save thousands of dollars in journal
subscriptions as more and more publications switch to the electronic medium.
Money could be freed up to employ a few students with experience of UNIX and

>At present, their are no
>standard, inexpensive ways to use GUIs via telnet or modem. (I suppose
>the Web and CGI forms are as close as you come, but I don't think they're
>practical for very large databases like library catalogs. And they're
>only *pretty well* standardized.) This seems to me to be another serious
>problem with GUI front ends for OPACs.

An astonishing statement! I'm not sure exactly what is meant by "using a GUI
via telnet", but hundreds of thousands of people with modems are accessing
the Net using a GUI (and often blissfully unaware of what "telnet" is).
There are also many examples of HTML front-ends to very large and powerful
databases -- the Open Text site, for instance. Surely it cannot be too
costly to implement similar front-ends for library catalogs? The cost to the
user is very little indeed (browser software is often free). Incidentally,
HTML standardization is not a serious problem and is certainly not stopping
dozens (hundreds?) of new Web sites appearing daily.

>Wow. So it's appropriate to judge library catalogs by the same standards
>as an old game of pong. If the only way we can get the children of today
>to use a library catalog is to give it a flashy GUI interface, then we
>(and even more so, *they*) are in serious trouble. Usability is not the
>same as entertainment value. The latter just is not a relevant issue.

I'm not sure how you define "entertainment value" (your term), but as an
educator and computer user I beg to differ. Interface design is a very
important part of software design. One cannot discuss "usability" while
ignoring the interface; companies do so at their peril. You seem to imply
that "GUI = flashy interface", but there is nothing flashy about most GUIs;
the Macintosh one is decidedly conservative and yet it has proved very
popular and "usable" (admittedly it is about to turn the tables on Microsoft
and adopt of few tricks from Windows to improve its image, but this can be
seen as evidence of convergent evolution toward a universal GUI, one that
should perhaps be adopted by libraries).

It is hard to imagine how people will relate to text in a few decades from
now, but I personally believe that today's children need all the
encouragement they can get to use libraries, read books, and learn to
express themselves through writing. "Tough luck if you don't like it" is not
an appropriate attitude.


Date: Sat, 23 Dec 1995 22:33:37 CST
From: Charles Hildreth <CHILDRETH@slis.lib.uoknor.edu>
Subject: Re: This Terrible Person

Someone I do not know sent me your Humanist posting of Dec. 20 re
my GUI-OPAC article. I enjoyed your comments. Thought you would
like to read my response. Regards, Charles Hildreth
- - - - - - -
Forwarded Message Follows

Received: from TEMPQ by SLIS (Mercury 1.12); Sat, 23 Dec 95 22:04:09 GMT+6
From: "Charles Hildreth" <CHILDRETH@slis.lib.uoknor.edu>
Organization: SLIS, University of Oklahoma
To: kleinl@is2.nyu.edu (Leo Robert Klein)
Date: Sat, 23 Dec 1995 22:03:53 CST

Leo, Thanks for bringing this to my attention, and best wishes for
the new year. See my response below. I do not belong to the
Humanist list. You may do whatever you like with my brief comments.

> > Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 401.
> > Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
> > http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/
> >
> > [1] From: Leo Robert Klein <kleinl@is2.nyu.edu> (22)
> >
> >
> >I read with interest the article "The GUI OPAC: Approach with Caution" by
> >Charles R. Hildreth in PACS 6:5 (1995). In it, the author casts doubt on
> >the value per se of Graphic User Interfaces for the OPAC. Instead, the
> >author argues that equal or greater attention should be paid to the search
> >capabilities of the database behind the interface. (Since I'm probably
> >completely mischaracterizing the article, please see
> >http://info.lib.uh.edu/pr/v6/n5/hild6n5.html). I couldn't agree more.
> >
> >However, I cannot understand how such tools as icons and
> >direct-manipulation devices (read mice, touch screens, etc.) can be so
> >easily discounted when the whole world has shifted over to their use. I
> >cannot understand how our OPACs have up to now so successfully resisted
> >their incorporation. Anyone looking at the face of a new student dragged
For heaven's sake. Have you read through to the end of my article.
I am not anti-GUI, and I certainly do not discount their potential
and promise. There is no need to slow down the GUI revolution. I do
warn against using graphical user interfaces to paper over
retrograde online library catalogs. Here lies the real threat of
"foot-dragging." With such neat and fun things to paste on OPACs of
the last decade, OPAC designers may continue to stay stuck on the
plateau of "second-generation" OPAC development, where they have
been content to remain for ten or more years.

If system designers would heed OPAC/IR (information retrieval)
research findings (which point strongly to post-Boolean search
and browse methods) and begin to use GUI features in innovative
ways, we might have something exciting with which to leap into the
next century.


Charles R. Hildreth, Ph.D.
School of Library and Information Studies
The University of Oklahoma
401 West Brooks, Room 120
Norman, OK 73019-0528
(405) 325-3921