Design Critique: BobCat Primo (Cooper Union)

BobCat Primo is the online library catalog used by members of the consortium between NYU, the New School, Cooper Union, and other select institutions. This catalog, BobCat Primo, is Cooper Union’s specific version and displays holdings across all campuses in addition to online resources. I will evaluate the site based on the goal of finding a book in the catalog.

Layout and Process

priority mapping

A great feature of the Cooper Union library site and online catalog (BobCat) is how clean the fonts and colors are. Although there is a lot of content to provide for users, the mapping of the library site shows that the designers understand that the catalog will be the most commonly referenced tool. Placing it first on the left side of the page aligns with our Western norm of reading left to right. New users may not recognize the term ‘BobCat Primo’ as the school’s library catalog, so including ‘Catalog: ‘ at the beginning of the clickable link is informative. An alternative option would be to use ‘Find books (BobCat)’ as the text for the catalog link so that the words would match the links below (i.e. ‘Find E-Journals at Cooper’) and it would associate books with the word ‘BobCat.’ Another mapping success is placing ‘Library Information’ in the center, where it naturally draws attention to information that is pertinent to all users (such as library hours and staff).

browsing pages

Feedforward is evidenced in how large and bold the titles are compared to the list items. Adding icons related to the title might help with further spacing the categories and emphasizing their content. There is no feedback when hovering over the links. Feedback would be useful since there are many listed items and they have no visual differentiation. It would be helpful if the links changed color as you hovered over them or past visited links remained a color different than the main text.


Once you actually search for an item in BobCat, the first list of search results might be difficult to parse through if you are not exactly sure or particular about what edition of the book you want (Fig. 1). Some records have more versions within them (Fig. 2), but once you get to the holdings list for the item you want, you are provided the basic information you need about each book (title, author, publication information) (Fig. 3).

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Fig. 3

The items are labeled ‘BOOK’ (Fig. 3a) however, when the user clicks on the link and reads the details, it reveals that the first listing is an e-book. This may or may not matter to the user if they simply need the item for class or a citation, but it might be safer to specify the media type than cause mistakes for users. Most MARC records list “online resource” in the Physical Description field (300). Pulling info directly from this field and displaying it with the other basic information could alleviate confusion.

Search Engine Format

Library users today, especially at the college undergraduate age, are more familiar with Google searching than using the reference section of a library. By including this familiar tool for browsing within BobCat, searching has been made easier on the user. This search bar is sleek and minimal with a clear option for more advanced searching as needed.

As you type your inquiry, the search bar copies your text and provides three search options: in the (1) Consortium Catalog, (2) Cooper Library Catalog, or (3) Course Reserves. If you simply press ‘Enter’ or the search icon, then the catalog automatically searches within the Consortium Catalog.

The Consortium Catalog will generate the largest amount of results, however not all students may understand or know about the consortium and what institutions are a part of it. The conceptual model of a library catalog is that it lists the library’s holdings, so I could imagine a Cooper student might prefer or expect to have the search result reference an item that is on campus as opposed to NYU Bobst or the New School Library. If all incoming students or faculty attend a library orientation, then there is likely no issue. If not, it might help to prioritize the Cooper Library holdings by placing it above the Consortium Catalog.

Not a Catch-All Search

A missing feature of the search bar is that the search engine does not peruse across all library materials unless they are cataloged — this is particularly relevant to journal articles. The search bar allows the user to type in anything, which leads to the assumption that it searches for anything. There is no design for error or warning signal that tells you to use a different function to search.

If the search engine looked through databases that Cooper Union pays for access to, it could locate more items. For example, I can find Stuart Cohen’s 1974 article, “Physical Context, Cultural Context; Including It AII” if I were to search for it in the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals (which Cooper Union has access to). Avery reveals that Cooper Union owns the journal article in Oppositions Issue no. 2, Jan 1974. However, when I search on the main catalog with the keywords ‘stuart cohen physical context,’ it will not show up at all. I would have to know the journal and issue number ahead of time, and then check to see if it is in the catalog.

Useful (?) Links

An area that would benefit from cleanup is the ‘Links’ section of the item records. When a user selects the item they want to look at, they will find a screen that has information on the item and options to share the record or check its availability (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4

There is also a list of links that repeats the opportunity to check the item’s availability, see the MARC info of each library’s holding, browse NYU’s Ebooks, check Amazon for the book and any digitized snippets (which are broken links for some items), or check WorldCat for all the libraries that have this item (Fig. 5). These extra links reflect “featuritis” because they are a surplus of options that might distract from the main goal (finding a book at Cooper Union) or provide links that won’t be used.

Fig. 5
Fig. 6

A recommendation would be to combine the information into the ‘Get It’ section on top (Fig. 4a), since there is already a link to check the item’s availability. If the designer extracts the ‘Copies in Library’ information from the Availability page (Fig. 6) and embeds it into a chart in the item record, this would remove excess hyperlinks and have relevant information immediately on view.

Another solution would be to shift up the ‘Check Availability:NYU Bobst Main…’ links (Fig. 5a) to the ‘Get It’ section, but remove the words “Check Availability:” so that the clickable links only show the institution’s name and the item’s Call Number.


BobCat Primo has a simple interface that is pleasant to look at and generally user friendly, but its features can be difficult to understand if one has never used a consortium catalog or Cooper Union’s library.