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

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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Linking from the Catalog to Google Books

   May 24th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Today I'd like to gather peoples' opinions about something.

This coming weekend my consortium is migrating to the Evergreen ILS - so we're down to the wire to decide which features to launch with and which to turn on later, or not at all. One feature libraries are divided over is including a link to Google Books.

The link shows up in two places (below are some screenshots, but you can also test it live on our demo server). First and foremost, it displays for almost every book on the search results page:

Link to Browse Google Books in Evergreen catalog

Secondly, for some records (although not all), there are additional links to Google on the item details page - sometimes the "Google Preview" icon appears under the book cover, and sometimes the "Preview" tab occurs at the bottom. When patrons click that tab, the book's preview is embedded right in the catalog. I haven't figured out the rhyme or reason behind the Preview tab appearing - not all books have it, even books that are available free online.

Google Books preview embedded in Evergreen catalog

I'd really like to know what other people think about including these links in the catalog. For me, I knew instantly how I felt, but have been struggling to put my reasoning into words. Here goes:

  1. Google Books "Preview" tab on item details page
    • should stay
    • it is clearly adding value to the catalog and providing a service for patrons, to see into the book online
    • should be improved to include all books that have preview or full text online
  2. "Browse in Google Books Search" link on the search results page
    • should be removed
    • I don't like how prominent it is - more noticeable than our "Place Hold" link
    • from my testing, about 90% of the books with this link do not have any kind of "view online" option - which means this is nothing but a "buy it online somewhere" link
    • as far as I can tell, even though we're essentially linking to a bookstore, we're not getting any kind of kickback from driving sales to them (and away from our collection)
    • should we be linking to a bookseller at all? If so, why not the local bookstore instead?
    • when there is no online preview, all the Google Books page offers is reviews, similar books, and some other information - all of which we already have in the catalog
    • doesn't the link imply endorsement and approval of Google Books?
    • isn't the Google Books project still tied up in courts to determine how legal it is?

So this is basically where I am - what do you think?

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Displaying Circulation History in the Catalog

   May 19th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Catalog card with commentsMy last post and peoples' comments got me thinking about displaying the circulation history of items, and how it might make items more interesting.

I don't know how many library patrons consider the fact that other people have used an item before them (unless, of course, they find some evidence of that use). But if we started showing the cost-per-circ, it might prompt some people to wonder about the X number of people who also were interested in the same thing as them.

Obviously, libraries couldn't cross any privacy lines, but I do think there are ways to highlight the "shared resources" aspect of the library, and to emphasize a sense of community among our patrons.

Some ideas for what could be shown:

  • Detailed stats on cost-per-circ (including a breakdown on the library's cost for that item - price we paid for it, processing cost, etc) - and, as Walt said, this would be particularly interesting for databases
  • Number of local checkouts vs. ILLs and network transfers (along with current number of holds)
  • Along with number of checkouts, calculate the popularity ranking vs. total library items checkouts
  • Date the item was added to the collection, and date of last checkout (and check-in)
  • Some catalogs by default have an opt-in reading history for patrons; they should also have an opt-in way to make their checkout history public, on an item-by-item basis
  • Some catalogs, and some third-party plugins (like ChiliFresh and LibraryThing for Libraries), allow patrons to include their review and rating for items right in the catalog record
  • Ebook readers should be able to leave comments and notes in the ebook, which subsequent patrons could either turn on or off depending on if they wanted to see them

Some of this information is available in our staff view, and I use it all the time - why not make it available to the public, too?

One drawback to making this kind of item information available is that we might get a lot more "weeding suggestions" from patrons, on items they don't feel have provided enough value to the library (or that have been used too much). Of course, I get this to some degree already, so it's just a matter of having - and employing - a good collection development policy.

Does anyone's catalog include features like these? How do patrons like them?

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Reference Question of the Week – 5/1/11

   May 7th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Emporer TrajanThis week's question has a bonus happy epilogue.

A mom and daughter walk up to the desk. The mom starts to explain how the daughter has a homework project on ancient Greece, but the topic she originally was given was too hard so the teacher gave her a new one. The mom then blanked on the new topic, and so told the daughter to tell me what it was - the daughter said,

The Trojan Emperor.

I had never heard of an Emperor of Troy, or any Greek Emperors for that matter. But since there are lots of things that fall into that category, I took them down to the 938's and started looking through the indexes of books on Ancient Greece with them.

After just a minute or two of not finding anything at all, the whole thing just didn't feel right, so I told them to keep looking while I went back to the desk to try something else. In this case, the "something else" was to search the internet for "trojan emperor," thinking I would find a name or some other information to help with the search.

I did - Google's search result page prompted:

Did you mean: trajan emperor

Ha - I totally did. I knew "Trojan Emperor" sounded kind of right, but not completely. "Emperor Trajan" makes much more sense.

I walked back down to the mom and daughter to tell them what I found. As soon as I said it the girl recognized it as what her teacher had told* her. I switched them to looking at the books on ancient Rome (937's), and instantly the daughter had more than enough information for her project.

So that's great - the patrons were happy they got what they needed, and reference transaction over.


As I walked back to the desk, I kind of grumbled to myself...

So typically library - Google is smart enough to correct a mistake like that and suggest the right answer. Our catalog should be able to do the same thing.

By the time I got back to the desk, it occurred to me that I hadn't actually ever checked the catalog - I just knew where those books are on the shelves, and took the patron right to them. But I also know that our current catalog doesn't have any kind of suggestion feature.

However, my consortium will be switching to Evergreen over Memorial Day weekend. Our Reference Desk has gotten into the habit of repeating each patron search in the Evergreen demo catalog to see how it works (thanks for the idea, Katie), so I ran this search on our test server to see how it handled it. And guess what? It worked!

Few hits were returned for your search.
Maybe you meant: Trajan emperor

One problem with it is that it's just way too subtle at the bottom of the page, but the nice thing about open source is that I can lobby to have that changed. But just that fact that it's there at all is a huge step into the modern internet world. Yay for progress.


*This is why it's important for assignments to be written down. And why it's helpful to bring the assignment sheet to the library.

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Mobile Option: Boopsie For Libraries

   February 1st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Boopise for... LibrariesI don't know how I missed this before, but only recently Boopsie for libraries reached my radar screen - it's a company that will create a mobile version of a library's website and catalog.

There are other options* out there, but Boopsie seems like a great and easy alternative to creating your own mobile website. And even better, they also mobile-ize the catalog, which I couldn't do (although apparently non-catalog services are more popular with mobile patrons).

Pricing seemed reasonable (for what you get) - a library near me is in the process of signing up, and reported the cost is in the few-thousand dollar range (or, it would be roughly $10,000 for our whole 36-library consortium to sign up). Lots of libraries are already using them - Sarah has a good write-up on San Jose's experience, and WorldCat and ALA also use their app.

I'm not trying to pitch Boopise, so much as I'm pitching the importance of libraries having a way to serve mobile patrons - using vendors like this* are an option for libraries who can't do it themselves.


*Library Anywhere from LibraryThing is another mobile website+catalog solution, and seems to be cheaper than Boopsie

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King County Library System Launches Evergreen Catalog

   September 28th, 2010 Brian Herzog

King County Library System + EvergreenI found out yesterday that the King County (WA) Library System is now live on Evergreen. They did a lot of work to develop the online catalog, and many of their customizations will become part of the core Evergreen code.

Which is good news for many Massachusetts libraries, as we'll be following in their footsteps in May 2011. But development continues, and we can still customize beyond what KCLS has done - so if anyone has comments or suggestions, please submit them to Kathy Lussier at http://masslnc.cwmars.org.

And for the curious, these introductory videos show and explain a little more:

Yay for open source!

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