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


MA Libraries Moving Towards Open Source

   August 4th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Veruca SaltI've mentioned this in passing, but here's some insider information on the prospect of Massachusetts libraries adopting an open source state-wide catalog.

The update comes courtesy of my consortium's monthly newsletter, the August 2009 MVLC Connections [pdf]*. It's a good article, reviewing current OSS ILS options, how they differ from traditional library catalogs, and what it will take to get one in place.

However, one paragraph set off some alarm bells:

Once the platform has been selected, the second phase of the project – assessing user requirements and system development needs - will begin. This is the point in the project where library staff will begin to be heavily involved.

Here's what bothers me: shouldn't "assessing user requirements and system development needs" be necessary to select a platform in the first place? I'm just worried that the plan is for a lot of major decisions to be made before there is any input from front-line librarians. It's kind of like your mechanic deciding with the dealer which make and model of car you have to buy, then asking for your input on the color and whether or not you want power windows.

But don't get me wrong: this is great news, especially for MVLC libraries (the ILS we're using is woefully dated and inadequate). However, with this project as big as it is, changes won't happen until 2011 at the earliest - which means the time patrons and staff have to continue to put up with not-good-enough software is being measured in years instead of months.

So if I'm sounding like Veruca Salt**, it's because I have to apologize to patrons on a daily basis for such a difficult catalog interface. I know there are much better systems out there, and I can hardly wait. I don't care how, I want it now.

Read more about the pros and cons of OSS (via iLibrarian)

 


*Dear Irony: You have to download the newsletter from my server, because the original, containing this article about the future of libraries, is locked up on a password-protected "wiki," which no one is allowed to edit.

**I just noticed that the wall in the background of the photo is the same as my website background - huh.



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Library Catalog Wishlist (for a start)

   June 19th, 2007 Brian Herzog

I've been thinking a lot about ILSs and catalog interfaces lately. My library consortium currently uses Horizon, which SirsiDynix announced they will no longer support. So, although not necessarily immediately, we'll eventually have to switch to a new system.

Which I think is great, because Horizon frustrates me on a daily basis. I'm sure most other ILSs would too, in their own way. But, to prepare for evaluating new catalog interfaces, I'm putting together a wishlist of features. This list is mainly concerning the search interface (rather than backend circulation, cataloging, reservation, and other features), and is essentially a list of shortcomings of our current catalog.

Word is that we won't begin to review alternate ILSs for at least a year and a half, so please suggest other features you like about your catalogs, that I can try to get included in whatever software we choose.

  1. Item record pages should have URLs that are easily bookmarked and that do not expire
  2. Search criteria should be carried through on every search (for instance, a patron uses the advanced search now to do a title search for "cooking" limited to books only and Chelmsford. If that patron reviews the results and want to change their keywords, if they do so in the search box at the top of the search results page and click search, they lose the format and location limiters they originally used. Those variables should always be carried through unless a patron changes them themselves)
  3. On both the search results screen and the item record page, local call number should show first, if there are local holdings. If there are no local holdings, then a message such as "No Local Holdings - Request from another Library" should display. Also, on the item record page, all holdings should display, with local holdings first. Basically, get rid of the "Other Locations" button, and just show all of that on the same page as the local holdings. And again, if there are no local holdings, there should be a note that indicates this, rather than just leaving it blank
  4. Additional Info

    Summary:
    This book follows the Stein family as they journey from the Steppes of Russia to...
       Click for more

    Table of Contents:
    i. Introduction
    1. Growing Up
    2. The Long Road
       Click for more

    The enhanced content we pay for needs to be better integrated - I don't know that patrons ever see that information, because it's tucked where no one looks. This information should display prominently in a sidebar (see right), with the first few lines of each section and a "click for more" link. This would also be a logical place to insert the LibraryThing for Libraries data

  5. Each item record page should include an "Email this record" link, so a patron could email the link of this record to someone
  6. Whatever catalog we go with will not be a step forward if it does not include an integrated federated search feature
  7. Multiple rss feeds, for whatever a patron wanted to subscribe to - all new materials, new books, new dvds, fiction books, etc.
  8. Have the search function work smartly, like Google or Amazon, so that it can suggest alternate spellings or just search more places in the records (but, of course, be efficient, too, to prevent every search returning a lot of tenuous results)
  9. Having an opt-in circulation history. Similar to My List, but a patron shouldn't have to maintain it. They just choose that yes, they want the catalog to remember what books they've checked out, and the ILS will track it. Patrons should also be able to delete any individual item from the list at any time without having to opt-out of the list entirely
  10. Better search options - since I do mainly adult reference, it would help me and patrons a lot to be able to limit to just adult non-fiction books, along with books only at Chelmsford. This would get rid of all the fiction and kids books and make the search results a lot cleaner
  11. Also, being able to combine the "browse by..." and "search" would be great - as in, being able to do a keyword search within a call number range. For instance, searching for "low fat" within the call number 641 is a much more efficient way to find low-fat cookbooks than trying to do any kind of just keyword search
  12. When a search is limited to books only, this should also include reference books. Since ref books are excluded from the books only search, and we can't combine searching with "browse by call number beginning with Ref," there is currently no way to search just our reference books

These are just some things I came up with on one day - I'm sure I'll add more to the list, and please suggest anything I missed.

catalog, catalogs, ils, ilss, interface, interfaces, ipac, ipacs, libraries, library, opac, opacs, public libraries, public library



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Neat-o Catalog Interface

   June 7th, 2007 Brian Herzog

At the open source workshop yesterday, Joshua Ferrara of LibLime showed a Koha catalog interface designed for kids - amazing.

catalog, catalogs, childrens, interface, interfaces, ipac, ipacs, koha, libraries, library, nela-its, opac, opacs, open source, public libraries, public library



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The Patron-Centric Loan Period

   May 22nd, 2007 Brian Herzog

screen capture of book recordI understand that different libraries do things differently, but I've never seen this.

While helping a patron look for a book yesterday, I ended up searching in the state-wide library catalog, the Virtual Catalog. Since it searches "all" the libraries in Massachusetts, many of which are running different computer systems, you often see some oddities in the catalog records.

In the date field towards the bottom, most books will display the date they are due, if they are checked out, or just read "Available" if they are checked in. Imagine my surprise to see when this book was due - Never!

catalog, catalogs, due date, libraries, library, library book, terry marotta, the trail of bread crumbs, union catalog, union catalogs, virtual catalog



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CIL2007 Wednesday – Catalogs/OPACs for the Future

   April 19th, 2007 Brian Herzog

On the final day of cil2007, most of the workshops I attended ending up having a common theme – tailoring library services to patrons needs, based on patron input.

The first of these sessions was called “Catalogs/OPACs for the future,” led by Roy Tennant (California Digital Library) and Tim Spalding (LibraryThing.com). Tim followed up on points he made in yesterday’s presentation with some criteria that future library search systems will need:

  • catalogs should be fun - patrons should enjoy searching for and finding books and information
  • allow linking into the records - use permalinks so links to items will never expire or break
  • link outwards - everything in the catalog should be links (titles, names, subjects, tags, keywords, etc). Participating in the wider web means our entries are not dead ends for patrons, but helps them flow through our catalog to the information they ultimately seek. Tim also encouraged linking to sites Amazon.com and Wikipedia - they offer lots of information, and our patrons use them anyway, so we should not position ourselves as a barrier
  • dress up the catalog - this goes along with “catalogs should be fun,” and what he meant was that the catalog should be as visually-appealing as possible - loads of book covers, nice design and layout, useful widgets to display new books, recent searches, and even patron data (if they so choose)

Roy followed Tim, and also had general criteria for a catalog of the future

  • do not call it an “opac” – even “catalog” is getting outdated, because they should provide access to more than just the library books we own
  • searching should be simple – a single search box, placed strategically and logically on the page, should search in all available resources
  • individual libraries could get rid of local catalogs and use Open WorldCat as a single union catalog for all libraries. This would promote comprehensive searching and resource sharing, and is also better because it includes articles and web resources indexed through WorldCat (in the Q&A session, one librarian pointed out that WorldCat has a few important shortcomings [they stand to benefit financially from this model, they do not include many small public libraries], and she got a round of applause)
  • separate the ILS from the finding tool. The ILS will be smaller and just for staff use, and the finding tool will be an efficient and comprehensive search tool that sits draws together the ILS and other resources
  • communicates well with other systems, so data can be shared freely and all available resources (books, databases, websites, etc) can be searched
  • include sophisticated features, such as results ranking, faceted/cluster browsing, preference filtering, etc.

catalog, catalogs, Catalogs/OPACs for the Future, cil 2007, cil2007, libraries, library, library thing, librarything, librarything.com, oclc, opac, opacs, open worldcat, public libraries, public library, roy tennant, tim spaulding, worldcat, worldcat.org



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Catalog Down

   December 6th, 2006 Brian Herzog

Today, my library consortium is upgrading from Sirsi/Dynix's Horizon 7.3 to 7.3.4. Which means, our catalog is unavailable to both the staff and the public. Which means, I've been brushing off my Dewey knowledge and helping people by memory rather than relying on a computer.

Whew, I've worked harder today than I have in awhile.

More about Libraries Without OPACs:
It's hard to realize how much you rely on something until it's gone. But the good news is that the library didn't come to a standstill just because the catalog is offline. People are still coming in for storytime, reserving museum passes, using the meeting rooms, using the computers, etc. It's a nice reminder that, even though they're right there on the shelves, people do a lot more here than just check out books.

More about Online Catalogs In General:
When our catalog software went down, so too did our online catalog. Which means that I can't do keyword searches unless I use a neighboring consortium's catalog (just to find the right call numbers). But what if a library's catalog records were open to the entire internet, instead of hidden away in the little boxes we call the catalog?

To that end, I would like to congratulate Casey Bisson for his work with WPopac, and for being awarded the Mellon Award for innovative search software for libraries. This effort could make days like today a thing of the past. This is one small step for libraries, and one giant leap for patrons.

More about Horizon:
As noted, we're upgrading from 7.3 to 7.3.4 - regardless of the fact that the current version of Horizon is v8. I complain about this because all we're getting from this upgrade is the ability to handle the 13-digit ISBNs. Which, granted, is important and necessary, but I would have much preferred to fix a lot of the other shortcomings with the system to make being down all day more worthwhile.[/rant]

casey bisson, catalog, catalogs, horizon, library, opac, opacs, sirsi/dynix



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