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




MA Open Source Info Session

   October 8th, 2009 Brian Herzog

For librarians in Massachusetts, and anyone interested in the Massachusetts Open Source Project, there will be two information sessions in October.

Dates, Times, Locations:

  • Oct 21st, 10:00 AM, Palmer (MA) Public Library [map]
  • Oct 29th, 10:00 AM, MVLC headquarters in North Andover [map]

The sessions are planned to last about three hours, and cover both the concept of open source in general, and how open source software can be applied to network collaboration amongst libraries in Massachusetts. Staff from MVLC, NOBLE and C/W MARS will give presentations on the progress, plans and goals of the Open Source task force, as well as discuss Evergreen, the OSS ILS they recommend.

Organizers are encouraging as many library staff as possible to attend. But, since they'd like to have an idea of how many people to expect, please RSVP to Laura Spurr (lspurr@mvlc.org).

Hopefully I'll be at the one at MVLC, and it should prove to be interesting.

UPDATE 10/13.09: Check out the MassLNC website for project information. h/t back to j's scratchpad for finding this link.



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Tracking ILL Requests

   September 15th, 2009 Brian Herzog

library mailMy brother sent me a package via UPS on Thursday, and it arrived on Monday. The neat thing, of course, is that we both could track its progress online (backup link).

It occurred to me that this would be a great feature for a library ILS. Most systems I've seen will only give the current status of a request, which is often cryptic to staff and totally indecipherable to patrons (ie, "recieved," "transit," "recorded," "check shelves," etc).

But sending patrons a link via email or text to track their request step-by-step in plain English could benefit them to no end. Not only would it give them an idea of where their item is and when to expect it, but it would also expose what all is involved in delivering their request to them. But it would be invaluable for staff, too, being able to see all of this information at a glance, for both assisting patrons and troubleshooting the delivery process.

And I bet some patrons would also be please to watch their request be returned to the library of origin after they're done with it.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of this, but I'm definitely going to lobby to include it as a feature if my consortium adopts an open source ILS. And this feature will be exponentially more helpful if, as planned, the entire state moves to that same ILS.



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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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GMILCS Gets Fresh

   January 29th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Reader Ratings with Chili FreshLast week, the Greater Manchester Integrated Library Cooperative System (GMILCS to its friends) became the first large library system to integrate Chili Fresh into its online catalog.

I talked about Chili Fresh last September, when I was helping with some initial testing and design. Unfortunately, my consortium was not in a position to pursue the product at the time, so I'm glad the progressive and flexible GMILCS was able to step in for final testing and be a beta site.

Chili Fresh is neat because it doesn't require sweeping changes to a library catalog to bring about improvements. It is a plug-in that allows patrons to add comments and reviews of books right into the library's catalog, for other patrons to read. We need more tools like this.

A link to the ratings and reviews is shown on both the search results page and the item details page, and the reviews are displayed in a popup window. Although all the data is stored on Chili Fresh servers, the way it is displayed can be customized to match the look of the catalog.

This concept not only provides a valuable readers advisory service, but also gets patrons engaged in the catalog - and, by extension, the library.

I don't want to sound like I'm selling this product - I'm not. But I am selling the idea. ILSs are huge, cumbersome and complex, and often wholly lacking in necessary features. Small plug-ins like this (and LibraryThing for Libraries) add tremendous utility to the tools we provide our patrons, at relatively little cost and involvement from libraries.

Chili Fresh Admin PanelA screenshot of the Chili Fresh admin screen is shown here - click to see a larger view, and for a description of what it allows you to do. More screenshots are on flickr.

Please leave a comment if you know of other tools like this - I'd like to make a list of catalog plug-in tools, because until ILSs catch up with patron needs, libraries need a way to provide these features.

catalog, chili fresh, chilifresh, gmilcs, ils, libraries, library, opac, plug-in, public, reviews



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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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NELA-ITS Spring Program 2007 – Joshua Ferraro

   June 6th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Joshua Ferraro speakingJoshua Ferraro, LibLime
Although representing a support service company, Joshua was really here to talk about the Koha ILS. I didn't know much about Koha before this, but during Josh's sixty-minute talk, it became my favorite library tool.

It originated in New Zealand, but has since been implemented in American libraries, too. The beauty of its open sourceness is that libraries are not tied to a single vendor for support and developments - we can do things ourselves, or benefit from the contributions of others in the community, or pay companies like LibLime to do the development for us.

And of course, this is all to our specifications and on our timetable, rather than that of a vendor who is more interested in profiting off of us than in serving our patrons.

Here's a few things I really liked about Koha (using the Nelsonville (OH) Public Library's catalog as an example):

  • Intelligent ("field-weighted") searching works like patrons expect: searching for "it" returns relevant matches, rather than junk. Also, searching for "Stephen King" returns different matches than "King, Stephen," because the catalog presumes the latter is a search for books by King, rather than information about and by him
  • Facetted search results show on the left, to let patrons easily and quickly refine their search
  • Native rss feeds available for every search (allows people to keep up to date with new acquisitions)
  • Multiple sort options, including currently available items only (and that's live data, not based off an indexed file)
  • Extensive and powerful advanced search options
  • Records and editions grouped via FRBR and xisbn
  • Book jacket images, reviews, description, and more right where patron can find it, from Amazon (for free) or companies like Syndetics (for a fee)
  • "Virtual Shelves" for both award winners, best sellers, staff-generated lists, etc., and patron-generated lists (once they've logged into their account)
  • Patrons can also submit purchase suggestions
  • Supports multiple data formats, not just MARC - even websites
  • Offers built-in federated searching with something LibLime calls MasterKey

Obviously, I took good notes on this section. My library has been reviewing another open source ILS, Evergreen PINES, and since LibLime supports both, it was interesting to hear Josh's comparison of them. It basically broke down like this:

  • Evergreen: 1.5 years old, used by 1 library system, and is designed for top-down control (a single decision is made by the administrators for the entire system)
  • Koha: 8 years old, used by 500+ libraries, and is designed for local control (each libraries can make custom interface changes independent of the others in the consortium, while still sharing data)

Koha also offered some other cool features, like a page translation option, varied interfaces for adults, kids, etc., and much more.

Speakers

evergreen, ils, joshua ferraro, koha, liblime, libraries, library, nela, nela-its, open source



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