or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Attractive Reading and Library Tidbits

   July 10th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Just a couple of unrelated interestingnesses this morning.

The first is a neat image my friend Chris forwarded me from something called Facebook:

Reading a book from the inside

I don't know anything about this image, other than I like it. And it would be a good image for a caption contest.

Secondly, last week on BoingBoing Cory highlighted some Dewey Decimal System jewelry, made from old catalog cards:

Dewey jewelry

There's lots of it available on Etsy. I think it'd be fun to match the Dewey subject to the function of the piece - like, a ring magnifying 395.22.

Yay for creative people.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/10/13

   February 16th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Holding a duckOne common question at the reference desk is a patron asking for a specific book by describing the cover - they don't remember the title or author, but know it was "kind of red, with an airplane or a submarine, and maybe something like a roundish square type thing."

Being librarians, we take whatever information the patron can provide and do our best. I know many people dread this type of question (because it's often just impossible), but I sort of enjoy them. Since the expectation of success is so low to begin with, it's a fun challenge, and finding the right book is all the better for it.

In this case, the patron was actually a coworker of mine - she had taken her niece to a different library, and was trying to re-locate a book her niece had picked out and loved, to see if the author had any others. But all she could remember was that it was a newish kids book with a girl holding a duck on the cover.

I first went to Amazon's advanced search with this question. My keyword search was for "girl duck," limit to Condition=New, Format=Printed Books, Pub date after November 2012, and then submitted individual searches for each of the different kid ages one at a time. None of the searches has a likely-looking cover, so I decided to just use "duck" as my keyword (thinking that if a duck is on the cover it must be the important part of the story). I also dropped the idea of using the age limiter in favor of the Subject option limited to Children's Books.

Amazon advanced search page

In that search, result #10 looked promising. I called my coworker over to check, and she was excited - the book she'd seen with her niece was indeed Lulu: Lulu and the Duck in the Park (Book 1), by Hilary McKay and Priscilla Lamont*.

Lulu and the Duck listing on Amazon

Awesome. But then I started to wonder - was Amazon the best tool for this question? There is no really good "look up a book by cover" resource out there, although I would love there to be. LibraryThing started down this road with CoverGuess. The genius of their approach was to gamify the data entry part of tagging cover art, but I don't think a searchable interface has ever been created.

Anyway, out of curiosity I decided to run the same search process in Novelist and the library catalog, to see if I could have successfully located the book with those tools.

Novelist's advanced search is more complex than Amazon's - I used "girl duck" as a keyword, limited to Audience = 0-8 Years, and Publication Date from = November 2012:

Novelist advanced search

In my library's catalog's advanced search, I used "duck" as the keyword, limited to Format = Books, Audience = Kids, and Publication Year after 2011:

Evergreen's adavnced search

And now the results - each one has the number next to it indicating how far down this book was in the search results:

Amazon:

Result #10 on Amazon

Novelist:

Result #2 on Novelist

Library Catalog:

Result #55 in the library catalog

In all cases it was findable, but Novelist ranked it the highest with the fewest search limiters. However, since Novelist is a subscription database, getting to the search interface is a much more cumbersome process than using Amazon. The library catalog is easy to get to and the search interface is reasonable, but burying the book at #55 is bad because many people give up log before the sixth page of search results (thanks for that, Google).

Something else I noticed, and what I think is another strike against the library catalog, was the various sizes of the cover images. Comparatively, the library catalog's cover thumbnail is tiny, and because of this it's not really evident that the girl is holding a duck. Since that's all I had to go on with this search, if I had started with the library catalog, I probably would have missed this book entirely. I don't know why the thumbnails are as small as they are, but it seems the catalog would be improved by making them almost twice the size they are now.

So there you go, my curiosity was sated. Anyone else have a favorite method for finding books by cover descriptions?

 


*I don't know why Amazon has the publication date as September 2013, since the other library apparently had it cataloged and on their shelf. Ah, sweet mysteries of life.



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A New Overdrive Interface is Coming, Are You Ready?

   October 3rd, 2012 Brian Herzog

Overdrive's Next Generation Digital Library - See Book Read BookI think I'm a little behind the curve on this, but since there were so many great comments on how to improve the Overdrive interface, I thought this would be worth talking about.

It looks like the new Overdrive interface really is coming, scheduled to hit libraries during the holidays - perhaps the worst time for staff to be learning a new interface, but if it's progress, it's worth it.

I haven't seen Overdrive's Webinar on the new interface, but I do plan to watch it as soon as I find a spare 60 minutes.

However, other librarians in my consortium have watched it, and it looks like there's some good stuff in there. Most interesting to me is the "one-click download" requiring no software installation or activation. That's huge. Apparently that component isn't quite ready yet, but should make our patrons lives (and therefore our lives) much, much, much easier.

But one of the new features did bother me. The new interface apparently includes a "Buy It Now" button, which will be located directly under the "Add to Cart" button. The Boston Public Library has been demo'ing the new interface for most of this year, and here's what it looks like (click for bigger):

Overdrive "Buy it now" screenshot

When someone clicks that green "Buy It Now," a windows pops up with a list of stores (click for bigger):

Overdrive "Buy it now" popup window

Pardon my French, but I fucking hate this. There's been conflicting reports about whether this "Buy It Now" button is optional or not, but I sincerely hope it can be turned off.

Certainly there's an argument to be made for it: if publishers know libraries are going to directly be driving customers to them, they might be more inclined to actually deal with libraries. There's also the convenience to the patrons who don't want to wait for the library's copy to be returned, and can afford to just go buy it themselves.

This seems wrong to me. It makes libraries Overdrive's bitches, because now we're drumming up retail business by preying on immediate gratification. Which is absolutely idiotic, because technologically there is no reason anyone should ever have to wait for an ebook. Implementing this feature just encourages the backward-thinking currently gripping the ebook world as they try to cling to past revenue models.

What would be awesome is if the patrons were given the option of buying a copy for the library. They get it first, then they can donate it to the library for others to use, if they want.

There's also the line that libraries will be getting a kickback from such sales, in the form of Overdrive credit. This is a complete non-starter for me, so I won't even address the idea of libraries profiting from our shortcomings.

But speaking of revenue streams, it looks like the new Overdrive interface also prominently features banner ads - here's the BPL's advanced search page (click for bigger):

Overdrive featuring banner ads

Notice the two "Advertisement" right under the black menu bar? Sigh.

But I don't want to be all doom and gloom. In all fairness, I haven't seen the webinar and don't know a lot of the facts - this is just all from using BPL's site. When I called BPL, they were much more positive than I felt. The "Buy It Now" button was initially a little jarring for them, but they've had no problems or complaints, and do see credits quarterly, which shows patrons have no qualms about using it.

I am also not sure what other new features are included in the new interface, but since Mike Lovett of Overdrive was so encouraging in his comments last time, I'm hopeful the good outweighs the bad (or better yet, all of the "bad" is opt-in).

So, I encourage everyone to check out the Overdrive Next Generation Digital Library webinar. And as always, keep a running list of "how to make this better" to send to Overdrive to incorporate into the next iteration.

And for further reading on ebook topics, here's a few recent things to check out:



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Job Opening for Evergreen Library Support Technician

   August 2nd, 2011 Brian Herzog

MVLC-EvergreenBack in May, my library's consortium migrated our catalog to Evergreen. Since then, it became clear that we need more staff to support Evergreen, because using an open source catalog is a great deal more work than supporting vendor software.

As a result, the position description (below and at the MBLC) was posted last week, and I encourage anyone interested to apply. Don't let the "temporary" part fool you - there is so much work that there'll be plenty to last beyond the 9 month initial period. And although not strictly required, I think the more tech and database skills the better. The job will primarily be the front-line support and liaison person between libraries and Evergreen developers, but anyone who can contribute to development is greatly appreciated.

And also, a bit of a warning: the MVLC underestimated what it would take to support an open-source catalog. With open source, we're in charge of everything, not just the data - as a result, our list of problems to fix, features to add, and just things to figure out grows daily. Whoever accepts this position will have no shortage of things to do.

Customer Service Technician

The Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC), a group of 35 public libraries in NE Massachusetts, is looking for a service-oriented individual with excellent trouble-shooting, interpersonal, and communication skills. This is a temporary (approx. 9 month) position that will focus on providing customer support to member library staff for the library catalog and online applications. As part of the network support team this person will be the primary helpdesk contact involving the reception, organization, and resolution of problems, and actively contribute to the growing knowledge base. This person will also have significant responsibility for the design and configuration of the public catalog and network Web sites and provide support for database and third-party products that integrate with the library system.There is potential for this to become a permanent position.

Required

  • Bachelor's Degree
  • Proven customer service orientation
  • At least two years technical experience with automated systems or databases
  • Knowledge of HTML, CSS and other Web services tools
  • Substantial knowledge of PC environment
  • Excellent oral, written, and interpersonal communication skills

Desired

  • Library experience desired
  • Understanding of User Interface design
  • Database design (SQL)
  • Linux experience
  • Program languages such as Perl, Python, etc.

Salary: $22.17/hr

Please forward cover letter and resume to:
Lawrence Rungren
Executive Director
Merrimack Valley Library Consortium
1600 Osgood Street
North Andover, MA 01845

or lrungren@mvlc.org



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Update on our Evergreen Migration

   June 30th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Evergreen logoOver Memorial Day weekend, the Chelmsford Library (where I work), along with the rest of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC), migrated to the Evergreen ILS (from SirsiDynix's Horizon). Now that we've been up and running for a month, and the dust of the initial shock has mostly settled, I thought I'd answer the one question I keep getting: "so, what do you think of Evergreen?"

To hopefully makes things more clear, and perhaps be a resource for future migrations, I'm making separate sections for "Evergreen" comments and "Migration" comments. Every migration is bound to be different, and some of what we experienced may not apply elsewhere.

Also, I have a feeling this post is going to sound very negative - I don't mean it that way. It's much easier to talk about the "to do" list and the sore thumbs that stick out, than the "done" list and things that aren't a problem. I'll try to present both, but just keep in mind that I'm a whiny reference librarian who wants everything his own way.

Also, let me say this: I am a huge fan of open source, and am very happy we moved to Evergreen. I think I'll be much happier in a year or so when a lot of what I'm about to complain about has been worked out, but I'm happy that open source software gives us potential, which is not always an option with vendor software.

I'd also like to congratulate and thank the PINES developers (and all open source developers) for building this tool out of thin air and giving the library community something incredibly valuable.

Oh, and my comments below are numbered only for reference purposes, not for a ranked hierarchy or really any particular order.

Comments Relating to Evergreen

  1. Being that Evergreen is open source, one of the biggest advantages of it (and any OSS) is that everything is changeable. This is a selling point we heard all through the ILS selection and development process. And it's true, and it's great. However, it can also be a huge problem: saying that anything can be customized leads to pie-in-the-sky expectations, many of which are entirely unrealistic.
  2. Because Evergreen is so customizable, I have the feeling that just about every Evergreen installation is different. Because of this, I don't really know how much of what we use is "Evergreen" and how much is "MVLC Evergreen." This, I think, is especially true of our public catalog - since there are various "skins" available, I don't know which features are available in general, which are special to us, where potential for development lies, and what might just simply not be possible. I won't comment much on it because it is so context-dependent.
  3. The ability to customize and make changes has been evident during our migration process. On both our demo version and our live version, staff from all the libraries have been able to submit problems and suggestions, both minor and major, and sometimes see improvements on the same day. Sometimes it's week, or longer, and sometimes the answer is no, or we don't know, but the fact that library staff can be in direct communication with developers, and developers have the ability to make significant changes, is huge. Granted, since we just launched there have been a ton of problems and suggestions, which takes prioritization and some research, but still, just the fact that it's possible is incredible (it shouldn't be, but it is).
  4. Like most open source software, there is a user community all contributing to the development of features and functions - and the Evergreen community seems particularly strong. This is great for libraries who may not be able to do much development work themselves, as they may be able to freely adopt the work of someone else after that someone else releases their code to the community. However, the flipside is that, if you're waiting for someone else, you never know how long you'll have to wait, or what something may ultimately look like, or how it will work. If you can't do it yourself, you're still at the mercy of other people (like with vendor software), but if you have the money you can pay developers like Equinox for custom development.
  5. One of the most notable things about Evergreen, from a user's point of view, is how s-l-o-w it is. I don't know why this is the case, or if other Evergreen libraries also see it, but it is one of the biggest drawbacks to our system. Something else weird is that about 1/3 of the time, pages don't load, and you have to click the "Reload" button to try again (which, again, doesn't work about 1/4 of the time). This is incredibly frustrating when helping a patron at the reference desk - and I can only imagine the patrons' confusion at home.
  6. I know I am still very new to using Evergreen, but on the whole I find the staff client interface a little clunky. Different modules seem to be in different phases of development - the Circulation module seems like a very mature and powerful interface, whereas Cataloging and Searching seem to be lagging behind (we also previewed the Acquisition module, which appeared to be still in the very early stages of development - at least, based on our processes and needs). This will inevitably improve over time, and probably so will everything I'm complaining about, but I am glad that the Circulation module is the strongest, because that is the busiest desk with the least amount of time to fool around.
  7. One module that seems missing entirely is a reporting module. Right now, we are totally unable to run shelf lists, weeding reports, missing item reports, etc. This is major omission, since many of these reports our staff ran and pulled on a weekly basis.
  8. Something that I think is very weird about Evergreen is the way item records are structured. In our old catalog, there would be one "master" record for a book, and then individual "item" records for each of the physical copies we owned. So if we owned five copies of a Harry Potter book, there would be one main record that would show up in searches, which would indicate we had five copies of the book. In the example below, we have two copies of the book in Childrens and three copies in YA:

    + Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
      - J/Fic/Rowling - 31480000000001
      - J/Fic/Rowling - 31480000000002
      - Y/Fic/Rowling - 31480000000003
      - Y/Fic/Rowling - 31480000000004
      - Y/Fic/Rowling - 31480000000005

    The two levels caused a few problems, but makes sense and I don't know how to simplify it.

    Evergreen however, actually has three levels. The two in the same hierarchy described above, but with a third level in between them. This third level is the "volume" level, which seems to serve no other purpose than to store the call number.

    + Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
      + J/Fic/Rowling
        - 31480000000001
        - 31480000000002
      + Y/Fic/Rowling
        - 31480000000003
        - 31480000000004
        - 31480000000005

    It's an entirely different way of thinking, and definitely takes some getting used to - for catalogers, that is: the way items display in the public catalog is pretty much the same, so this is just a records management issue. But does mean that data interrelates in different ways, so you have to be careful what gets changed when, and always be aware of editing Items versus editing Volumes. It also means that if you wanted to change the call number for just one copy, then you have to create an entirely new Volume level to accommodate it

  9. Evergreen is based on Mozilla Firefox, which is both good and bad. I've been using Firefox for a long time, so I am familiar with the interface and keyboard shortcuts. However, Firefox isn't without problems, and the same is true of Evergreen - things don't always work right all of the time. Having to frequently "reload" pages that didn't load is one example.

    But something else about the interface is that it is very much a Windows interface, and requires frequent use of the mouse. I'm usually fine with using the mouse or the keyboard, but I find that having to switch between the two slows me down - but that is necessary with Evergreen: some thing you can do just by typing, but some things require mouseclicks. It's minor, but enough to be noticed (especially by our cataloger, who is a primarily a keyboard user. She also wasn't placated by the keyboard shortcuts, as some require Olympic-level finger gymnastics).

  10. Oh, but even though this is a Windows program, something that I use all the time - right-click - isn't always active. It does work in many places, but something as basic as the search box in the staff client is not right-clickable. This frustrates me to no end, because I often copy text from websites or emails (titles, authors, keywords, whatever) and want to paste them into the catalog to search. Instead of right-click > Paste, I have to click in the search box, and then Ctrl+V or Edit > Paste - which again is a nagging keyboard/mouse combination or involves extra steps that just takes that much more time to accomplish.
  11. Something else about clicking is that I find I do a lot of clicking. A great deal of information is buried layers and layers down, and it takes many clicks to drill down to find it. I'm sure this will get better as we learn the pathways to the information we need, but it seems like a lot of this could be streamlined.

    Another click-related annoyance (for me) is the number of confirmation dialog boxes that seem to always pop up. This scenario happens frequently:

    • I click to do something
    • Box pops up: "You are about to do something" OK - CANCEL
    • I click OK
    • Box pops up: "Are you sure you want to do something?" OK - CANCEL
    • I click OK
    • Box pops up: "You just did something" OK
    • I click OK

    Not horrible, I know, but a couple clicks too many for my taste. Plus, I know we're talking seconds here, but all those extra dialog boxes and mouseclicks take time - especially since Evergreen is slow to begin with.

  12. Another interface oddity is the randomly ambiguous wording: some screens have a "Reload" button while others have a "Refresh" button; for Loan Duration options, you have Short, Normal, Long; similarly, for Fine Levels the options are Low, Normal, High; and instead of a consistent "Save" button, that same function is alternately labeled All Modify, Modify copies, Modify/Create copies, Edit then create, Create with Defaults, Apply - all with the same effect.

    A funny anecdote: one of my coworkers was having difficulty canceling holds. She'd find the hold she'd want to cancel, click "Cancel Hold," a confirmation box would come up, but then the hold wouldn't disappear from the screen. It turns out, the confirmation box has two buttons: "Cancel" and "Apply." Since she wanted to cancel the hold, she (logically) clicked the "Cancel" button - but that was actually cancelling her action, not the hold. To cancel the hold, she had to click the "Apply" button. When I pointed this out, she was not amused.

    Using relative words like this allows different libraries to build in whatever meaning they want, but since our "Normal" loan period is always "3 weeks," it would be more helpful to just spell out "3 weeks" instead of staff needing to remember what the code "Normal" means in this case. Although, considering how rigidly precise library stuff is most of the time, the ambiguous wording does kind of make me laugh when I encounter it.

  13. A major customer-service-related complaint I have is that staff doesn't have access to all settings of a patron's record. For one thing, Evergreen stores all patron passwords/PINs in an encrypted format, and they cannot be viewed by staff. Meaning, if a patron calls in and asks us to look up their password because they forgot what it is, we can't - all we can do is reset it for them. Which is okay, and blah blah blah internet security, but it's annoying to say, "sorry, they system won't let me do that."

    Another thing the system won't let staff do is set the patron's preferred method of contact for holds notifications. Right now, patrons can get notification of their holds by phone, email, or both - and annoying, the default method is both. As in, unless a patron logs into their online account and chooses one of the other, they are going to get both a phone call and an email message letting them know it's ready for pickup. It's nice to offer both as an option, but I don't like that it's forced as the default - and that staff can't change it. There's no option for this in the staff interface, and we can't log into patrons' accounts because we can't just lookup their password.

    But something good (and new for us) about patron accounts is that Evergreen allows patrons to create a custom username to log into their account it. So, instead of having to remember their barcode to log in, they can create something memorable, like iamthebestartist, and use that. Neat.

  14. One of my favorite Evergreen features is that, in the staff client, you can adjust on the fly which columns appear in your display. So, if you're looking up an item that someone has on hold, the standard columns might be title, author, position in hold queue, etc. But in many screens, there are 20 or more additional columns of data you can display. So, when you're helping a patron and they ask something obscure about their item, often you can check out what other data is available for viewing and answer their question right then - unlike vendor software, where usually what you see is what you get

Comments Relating to the Migration

Just like I think most Evergreen installations are different, the whole migration process probably varies widely from library to library - perhaps even moreso. So again, take everything I say with a grain of salt, because it may or may not apply to anyone besides us.

An example: the same weekend MVLC migrated from Horizon to Evergreen, the Bibliomation library system in Connecticut also had a major migration of their BibliOak project - also moving libraries from Horizon to Evergreen. I know staff of the two systems were in communication before the migrations, but it turned out that our migration took three days (as planned) but they encountered problems and were down for over a week. Why? Because migrations are highly localized.

Although our migration process - planning-and-training beforehand to learning-as-we-go with the live system - has had problems (which I will complain about shortly), the hands-down shining moment of the entire process was the actual migration process itself. Our development team planned to be down for three days - Memorial Day weekend, since all our libraries would be closed on Monday anyway - and that is exactly how long it took. Tuesday morning, our system was up and running, and that feat can't be underestimated.

But as I said, we did have our problems, so here is a bit of hindsight that might be beneficial to other migrations.

  1. Know what you're getting into - which is especially critical with OSS. When you use vendor software, all you're really in control of is the data (item and patron information) and local rules (loan periods, borrowing policies, etc). The vendor dictates the interface, and there isn't much you can do or change about it.

    With open source software though, especially one that is as new and evolving as Evergreen, you're not just in charge of the data and local rules, but you're also responsible for the interface - both staff and patron. Most of our data and rules migrated well to the new system (one notable problem was that all reference materials migrated as circulating items), but as soon as we went live, we got slammed with patron complaints and usability problems, because our interface wasn't very high on the priority list during development.

    You can't get very far without good data and rules, but migrations also need to spend considerable time developing the interface - if people have trouble using the catalog, the data and rules don't mean much. Interface development is an entirely different mindset from data and rules management, so if you need to, hire new staff specifically for this purpose - it's hard to just pile the huge responsibility of interface development on existing staff who have never before been responsible for an interface. And if you do hire new staff, do it sooner rather than later. The new person will take time to adjust and contribute, which really is only possible in the early stages of development. Once you're just a couple months out from launch and you realize you need help, it's too late to hire someone because the existing development staff won't have the time to train the new person.

  2. When it comes to the interface, ask front-line librarians and patrons what features are important to them. This is especially true of patrons, because they might be using features in your existing system that you don't think much of, and which might not be replicated in the new system. Find out from the people who actually use the system what they use and how they use it, and then make sure those features are available in the new system.
  3. We over-trained patrons, but under-trained staff. My library spent a lot of time and effort focusing on making the public aware we were migrating to a new catalog, how it would work, what some new features were, etc. On the whole, it seemed like few people noticed or cared, and mainly seemed perfectly capable of figuring out the new system once it was launched (that is, except for when the features they had used heavily in the old system were not available in the new one - then we heard about that, over and over and over).

    Definitely make an effort to let people know things will be changing, but do it at normal catalog touchpoints - as in, put obvious notices in the old catalog that things will be changing. We may have (unknowingly) gone overboard with newspaper articles, webpages, tweets, blog posts, email newsletters, posters in the building, signs on computer monitors - all of that took a great deal of time and effort that may have been better spent.

    Another anecdote: During the first few days after the launch, I fielded many phone calls from patrons asking if "the system" was back up. When I said yes, their response was always something like, "oh great, so I can come in and use the internet?"

    This told me that we definitely got peoples' attention with our announcements, but we communicated the wrong message. We tried to clearly say that our materials catalog would be unavailable, but to many patrons, anything computer-related means "the internet," which they took to mean they couldn't get on the internet. That wasn't true, and it was an unexpected failure on our part.

    We also did a lot of staff training, but by the time we launched, it didn't feel like enough. Most staff were mostly ready, but on launch day, no one was feeling 100% confident that could help patrons.

    I think this was due to the limitations we faced with training: primarily, that no library staff ever saw the actual version we would launch with until it went live to the public. For months beforehand we had a demo server set up with an earlier version of Evergreen. Staff was encouraged to use this to get to know the system, but since it was a demo and always in development, it was never stable and was always changing, and we were never certain if something was acting oddly because that's was just how Evergreen worked or because it was in the process of being changed. Also, we contracted with Equinox for hands-on training, but instead of using even our demo version during that training, we were trained on their version of Evergreen - which was even more foreign to us and had many components that we wouldn't have.

    So when it comes to training, it would be best to provide staff access to train on the stable launch version before the launch. Even though our staff handled things very well, their confidence level was way below where it should have been, because the actual launch version was essentially a mystery to them - and I'm sure their fear, uncertainty, and doubt unintentionally got conveyed to patrons.

    Maybe the goal here should be: train staff to handle anything, and develop a system that any patron can use without training.

  4. Focus on providing clear and open communication. This is true for library staff communicating with patrons, as well as library staff communicating with development staff. Patrons/library staff know what is necessary, and development staff know what is possible, and there needs to be a continuous feedback loop so everyone is on the same page.

    It is also important to establish these communication lines during development before the launch, and then continue to use them after the launch. Things will be coming up all the time, so patrons need a clear way to communicate issues with library staff, library staff need a way to report issue to development staff, and development staff need a clear way to communicate system updates back up to library staff.

    One of the communication methods we used was a help desk ticketing system. Any library staff could "open a help desk ticket," which essentially posted whatever problem/question they were having to a forum. Development staff (i.e., the Help Desk) would check the forum and respond to tickets (although as launch time approached, response time flagged as the help desk staff got overwhelmed with the number and complexity of tickets). The forum was also open for browsing by any library staff, so people could see what issues other libraries were having, and what the resolutions were.

    Our problem is that our ticketing system is somewhat primitive. The ideal system would make it easy to search for existing tickets before submitting a new one, make it easy to keep up on what tickets were being submitted, make it easy to follow tickets of interest, and make it easy to "+1" or "like" an open ticket if you were having the same problem (instead of having to submit a new, identical ticket). This system needs to be easy to use from start to finish, because some people submitting tickets won't have much computer expertise beyond using the library ILS. Another requirement is that the ticketing system be scalable - once the system goes live, the number of tickets submitted per day is going to shoot up, and can quickly become overwhelming if there aren't enough development staff to address them.

    Another key area of communication is in establishing development priorities. Very, very early on in the development process, we held focus groups with library staff from each department to find out what their needs and wishes were. Many people expected the results of those meetings to be the development priorities moving forward, but quickly development began to focus just on what the system could do, not what we needed it to do. Right from the beginning, and carrying through after launch day, there should be a development oversight committee that considers all the development needs, and is responsible for setting development goals. This was almost entirely lacking in our migration, and caused unnecessary animosity and tension.

  5. Expect development to continue after the launch. It would be ideal to have everything ready to go by launch day, but that probably isn't realistic (especially with a continuously-developing product like Evergreen). A better scenario would be to establish the absolutely required features and functions necessary for launch, and then a development schedule for all the bells and whistles to be developed after the launch. The launch should not happen until the minimum launch requirements are met, regardless of timetables - even if it means delaying the launch. There is nothing more discouraging to patrons and staff than to launch with a brand new catalog that doesn't work right, and requires staff to apologize constantly to patrons and promise, "it'll get better eventually - we don't know when, but they tell us they're working on it." Patrons will resent it and resist the migration, constantly asking why they can't go back to using the old one. I think it's better to launch late with a stable and working product than to launch on time with one that doesn't work well.

    And the same is true of specific features and functions - less is more in this case. If the catalog has some really neat feature, but it's not quite working perfectly, turn it off until it is working perfectly. Patrons and staff will have enough to learn in the new interface without also having to face problems and learn workarounds on day one. Slowly rolling out additional features as they become stable and available spreads out the amount of new things patrons and staff are forced to learn all at once.

I think the most important takeaway is the need for communication. Developers need to know what staff needs are, and staff needs to know what developers can deliver. Otherwise, there will be tension and inaccurate expectations, which leads to unnecessary conflicts and problems.

A new catalog should be exciting, because the occasion should be a huge leap forward in library services. I know we'll get there with Evergreen, and I'm looking forward to it.



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We’re Live on Evergreen!

   May 31st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Our brand new Evergreen catalog went live last night about 7:00 PM, and today is the first day staff and patrons are seeing the new catalog. Each MVLC library has its own search interface, and here's ours:

New Evergreen Search Interface

The consortium network staff in charge of the migration chose Memorial Day weekend so they'd have an extra day to work on everything, since libraries would be closed anyway. Although you always plan for the worst with major changes like this, it seems like everything is more or less going according to plan.

My library chose to open late today (1:00 PM instead of 9:30 AM) to give staff time to get caught up on checking everything in from the weekend (since the catalog was totally off-line during the migration), and to also give us time to get familiar with the new interface before we started using it to serve patrons.

The last couple month have felt like a mad scramble to test what we could, suggesting as many changes as possible to make the catalog more staff- and patron-friendly. The great thing about open source software like Evergreen is that new features can constantly be developed, but nothing happens instantly, and everything needs to be prioritized.

We're not launching with the perfectly ideal catalog, but we have been trying to reframe our patrons mindsets to the new "perpetual beta" approach to feature development in our catalog. I also expect a stream of training and how-to blog posts and maybe videos, but that should be par for the course for any migration. If you feel so inclined, please try it out and I'd love to hear feedback and suggestions.

Newspaper headline: Titanic Sinks; 1500 DieOh yeah...
A colleague at another MVLC library pointed out that today, May 31st, is also the 100th anniversary of the launching of the Titanic. That is not foreboding at all.

Now, time for vacation
Although I know it's bad timing, I'm going to be traveling this week and next for a family wedding and niece- and nephew-seeing. I'll have a couple days with the new system before I leave, but I'll post again in a couple weeks with an update on how things are going.



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