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


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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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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RYO OSS ILS, or, Ideal Catalog Features

   December 3rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

Unsheved comic stripSince I first heard about it, I've been yapping on about the Mass Libraries Open Source Project, trying to publicize and chronicle its progress. It became official a couple weeks ago, when the membership of the three consortia involved (MVLC, NOBLE and C/WMARS) each voted to go with the Evergreen ILS.

Now that the software has been chosen, the next step is to define the features we want. See, with open source, you can shape the software like clay to mold to your situation, rather than being handed someone else's idea of what you need.

In order to figure out what we need, the December issue of the MVLC Connections newsletter [pdf] asks staff to create an list of ideal features (questions below). Obviously, one source of ideas is likes and dislikes of our current ILS (SirsiDynix's Horizon), but they're also encouraging staff to pull great ideas from other industries and websites - at this point, the sky is the limit.

I think we should also ask the larger library world - what do you think are important ILS features? If the questions below were handed to you, how would you answer? A quick internet search found some information on what an ILS/OPAC should really do. But if you have any ideas, please leave a comment below.

  1. List the three most annoying “features” of Horizon in regards to Your Specialty and describe how they could be made less annoying.
  2. What process or activity in Your Specialty is the most time consuming or frustrating and describe what it is that causes the problem. Is there something that the system could do to help?
  3. Are there any procedures or policies in Your Specialty which seem cumbersome or awkward because they are based on what the system can do and not what is logical or needed?
  4. As you are using the Internet copy the url or print out those sites which are exceptionally user-friendly or really cool. Also, are there any times when tie-ins with communication tools such as Twitter, email, or a blog could be useful to Your Specialty activities?
  5. You are the librarian on the Starship Enterprise. Everyone knows that Your Specialty can not be fully taken over by the ship’s computer...it is much too complex for that. However, as long as you walk the computer through the process, the computer can do a lot of the nit-picky stuff for you. Outline some of the most tedious or complex procedures that you currently do and show where you need to "ask" the computer to do something and what it is that it should do.

Unshelved Answers logoI'm also giving this a try on the new Unshelved Answers website. It's similar to other question-and-answer websites, but is a forum specifically for librarians. I didn't find any related questions, so I asked one, but was informed it might get deleted because "we prefer questions that can be answered, not just discussed."

This will be a long process, but at some point I'll try to make sure all the various features and pulled together in a single list. Yay for having input.



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MA Open Source Info Session Notes

   October 29th, 2009 Brian Herzog

MA Open Source ProjectI attended the 10/29/09 information session for the Massachusetts Open Source Project. My notes are below, and I hope they make sense - there were about six speakers, and all their presentations slightly overlapped, so I tried to distill things into a coherent single overview. The presentations started with the basics of open source software, then got into the specifics of the MA project.

Massachusetts Open Source Project
Information Session - 10/29/09

The Open Source Task Force consists of three MA networks (and MBLC) looking to cooperatively move to an open source library system. The key personnel of this task for so far are:

  • NOBLE: Ron Gagnon, Elizabeth Thomsen, Mark Martha Driscoll
  • C/W MARS: Joan Klakinski Kuklinski
  • MVLC: Jason Stephenson, Tracy Swaim, Larry Rungren
  • MBLC: Paul Kissman

Why even look at an Open Source Library System (OSLS)?

Open source software is free. However, like "free kittens," there's still the ongoing maintenance costs (which is true whether you paid for the kittens or got them free). Free = freedom to:

  • download - you want it, you got it
  • view - (seeing the source code is huge) everyone can see exactly what's happening, and nothing is hidden
  • share - have as many copies as you need (no registrations or license fees)
  • modify - the code can be edited (but do you know what you're doing?)
  • you also get more freedom in support options - you can support it yourself, or contract out with numerous companies, or rely on the user community for help. This is great because you're not locked into one provider

Open source has a participatory culture - people want to develop and share their improvements to make the system better, not to make money (people can charge for support services, not the software). The online community of the internet makes this possible, and so does "versioning software" (keeps track of what version you have, what's new, and whether or not you need to upgrade).

Open source communities are generally self-defined - you make yourself a member by showing up, participating, and contributing:

  • software development
  • bug fixes
  • testing (looking for bugs)
  • documentation and training materials (tech and style/design skills needed)
  • spreading the word
  • discussion of the software, both official and unofficial (no artificial proprietary limits on what you can say where)

This is messy, yes?

  • tight controls protect the core code (you can edit your own version, but changes to the general software get reviewed and approved to be included in the next release)
  • Release managers review and decide what changes will go into each new release of the core code
  • Committers are developers with the ability to add (commit) new code to the core
  • these positions must be earned by contributing and participating

Fear of Forking - forks are separate, increasingly incompatible versions of the software

  • although it's possible to customize your own software, as soon as you change it, you're unique and the community is less helpful (because their core software is different than yours)
  • there is pressure to work within the community - there are guidelines for discussing and submitting changes
  • but when one group funds development, everyone benefits from that investment

Who uses OS?

  • everyone (at least indirectly) - Amazon, Google, US Navy, Gov. of Canada, Ticketmaster, Firefox, ebay, Open Office
  • many companies and organizations run a combination of proprietary and OS, and contribute back to the OS community

Vision for the MA Open Source Project

Wouldn't it be great if all networks in MA were on the same ILS? This would allow

  • collaborative staff training, patron ease of use, financial cost sharing
  • leveraging state and local resources during this time of statewide budget problems. Instead of sending money out of state (to vendors), keep it in-state by providing jobs for support and development

Why now?
We are all frustrated with traditional vendors. Despite this, well over $500,000 goes out of state each year for systems that do not meet our needs. Open source software has proven itself as a successful business model (see above partial list of open source software, and the companies that rely on it). Also, open source library systems have proven themselves to be stable and practical (namely, Koha and Evergreen).

What are the advantages of adopting open source software now?

  • we can engage end users in design and testing
  • we will have control over development and can establish our own priorities
  • collaborative development and support will reduce overall costs
  • the openness of open source means we can adopt a transparent development process
  • the openness also avoids locking us in to one vendor (multiple support companies out there)
  • we're not "buying blind" - staff can kick the tires and evaluate all aspects of each system before we choose (all three networks have downloaded Evergreen and Koha and played and tested - don't need to take salesmen at their word on how the system works)

Creating the system we want

The task force reviewed existing ILS' and determined that no proprietary system meets our needs - they are all very expensive, very slow in development, falling behind patron expectations, and there are concerns about corporate stability (Horizon got cancelled, Sirsi is being sued).

Libraries in Georgia created Evergreen 4 years ago, because all vendors fell short after a comprehensive review. Instead of developing a new system for Massachusetts, we adopted Georgia's system and invited all 9 MA networks to participate. C/W MARS, MVLC and NOBLE opted in.

These networks were awarded a $412,000 LSTA grant from MBLC to Investigate, Select, Develop and Implement an open source library system to replace the current systems.

Investigate

  • review current state of each network
  • brought in both LibLime (Koha) and Equinox (Evergreen) for demos
  • did lots of independent research and local testing (since a traditional RFP wouldn't suffice)
  • talked to actual users of both systems

Selection - Decision Criteria

  • Multiness: ("have it your way") ability to support multiple sets of circulation parameters and network transfer rules
  • Scalability: how well can the system handle the load of many large libraries and networks
  • Extendibility: ability to play nice with other software libraries rely on (self-check machines, time limit and print management software, museum pass software, etc). Also, how well can the system be customized to meet our needs?
  • Current customer base: are the current users like Massachusetts networks? Evergreen came out ahead in this criteria - Koha user seemed to use one set of rules for all systems

Based on these criteria, the Task Force recommended Evergreen as better suited as a consortia system

A lot of data came from Marshall Breeding's librarytechnology.org - some stats:

  • Koha: developed in 1999 in NZ for small libraries with limited telecom capacity
  • Evergreen: developed in 2006 in GA for 252 libraries
  • Evergreen customers are more like us (MVLC has fewest bibliographic records of the three systems, but more than the biggest Koha customer)
  • Of Liblime customers, 28 have migrated away from LibLime, but 21 still use Koha and 7 moved to Evergreen
  • 0 libraries have migrated away from Evergreen

Similarities

  • Both systems run on Linux, Apache (my)SQL, Perl
  • Both have mature circulation and cataloging
  • Both have immature serials and acquisitions

Evergreen

  • flexible hierarchy, allows for different levels of library structure (library, branch, system, network, consortia)
  • Rule and parameters are associated with hierarchy (can apply to different levels)
  • Cluster-friendly architecture - allows for load-balancing throughout entire network

Koha

  • Separate loan rules for each branch
  • Most other settings are single system-wide (funds, notice templates, calendar [days open/closed], borrower mandatory fields, ceiling due date)
  • Hierarchy structure coming in v3.2 - but a lot of this is in the form of "yes, it will be able to do that" but no one has seen it yet

Evergreen is the winner for us

  • Unanimously selected by three networks
  • Can provide scalability and meet the complexity required by our networks
  • released under the GPL - designed to spread beyond Georgia
  • designed from the ground up to support and scale to a state-wide library consortium
  • Customer list most resembles our networks
  • The developers asked the right questions: "is the data driving the procedure or is the procedure driving the data?"
  • Developers worked with front-line library staff to develop all aspects of software

Where do we go from here?

MassLNC (MA library network cooperative) created by administrators of the 3 networks to drive this project - http://masslinc.cwmars.org

In the First Year:

  • Hold information sessions on open source and this project
  • Get network approval of Task Force recommendation by Boards of each network
  • Hire a Project Coordinator (job listing)
    • will take the load of network staff
    • will work closely with networks to guide the project moving forward so that systems are as similar as possible
    • will review development options
    • be point of contact between networks and vendors
  • Track development of ILS software
  • Draw up development requirements via user involvement
    • establish functional requirements, which will be compared to what the system can do
    • there will be an online database of potential features - OpenRFP, but not quite ready
    • committees within networks will evaluate current Evergreen modules and suggest improvements or modifications
    • survey patrons to get their input, to rank what is important to them (placing holds on all items at a time, or social tagging, etc.)
  • Develop helpdesk and intranet support infrastructure and procedures
  • Develop database migration tools and procedures
  • Beginning of development - can hire support vendor (Equinox [spin off from PINES], Alpha-G in Utah (lots of former Sirsi staff), local developers, train/hire network staff, work with other Evergreen users on joint projects)

Second Year

  • Continue development
  • Staff training
  • Data migration of first network (likely MVLC) - spring/summer of 2011
  • Migrate other two networks afterwards

The Future

  • Get more MA networks involved
  • Creation of statewide support organization

Closing thoughts

We will be the "owner" of our system, not a "renter." We won't have a landlord to rely on, we'll make our own decisions on our schedule, depending on resources - but with more control comes more responsibility. Think of open source as buying a fixer-upper - sound underneath, and we can customize the surface.

  • Cost savings will be in
    • not having vendor contracts
    • running system over internet, instead of dedicated telecommunication systems
  • Disadvantage/caveat
    • OS won't solve every problem we have
    • We'll still have policy issues, but we will have more control over implementing our resolutions

Questions and Answers

How do we develop modules if we can't change the core code?
-We'll play by the rules of module submissions, and we don't currently have plans for radical changes. And we plan on working with other major customers

Based on research, what are the function that are ready to go, and which need more development?
-Basic modules are in a pretty good place. Acquisitions and serials are in development. The two areas of most concern are workflow issue with the circ client (we'd prefer it as a browser) and the "curb appeal" of the opac - King County is also focusing on these two modules. Also, we need to make sure it works with 3rd party software and Virtual Catalog

Evergreen works across the internet - are we susceptible to downtime and attacks?
-We have more problems now with dedicated circuits than internet connection. As for attacks, Evergreen won't make anything different - firewalls will still protect us like we do now, using SSL encryption between servers

From individual libraries point of view, does PC requirements change?
-As long as it runs a web browser, you won't need upgrades

Updated info on how King County migration went?
-They're still in the thought process. They got a $1M grant, but haven't really started development. They're just a little ahead of us.

Have any Evergreen libraries migrated from Horizon or III?
-Yes, and this information is readily available (unlike with proprietary vendors). No migration is flawless, but the system that gives the most problem has been from Koha. Lots of Alpha G employees are former Sirsi employees, so they are familiar with our systems. Evergreen also has a development roadmap, to show where they plan to be in the coming years and beyond.

On the timeline, Spring/Summer 2011 is the first network - when are the next? And how does this affect the network fee structure?
-Depends on how well the first migration goes.
-Initially, it won't affect fee structure at all - they should stay the same until things stabilize, and then will likely decrease when the support system has been established. In the short run, maintenance dollars will go towards development, and then shifted back to support.

Will it require additional tech support within individual libraries?
-Probably not, in fact perhaps less

Will these presentations be online, with links to what Evergreen looks like?
-It will be available on the MVLC wiki, everything will be on the MassLNC website. An Evergreen demo is also available on their website.

Since Georgia did this, has there been research into what other states have done as far as statewide proprietary systems?
-The shortcomings of proprietary systems are pretty much the same across all vendors, and the biggest shortcoming is in "multiness" - the number of sets of rules you can use. The only system that could have met this criteria was Horizon 8, which was cancelled and now Sirsi is being sued because their resulting product is technologically inferior to the Horizon 8 specs.

Can you talk more about the development of the Acquisitions module?
-It is one of the modules in the later stages of developments, and has a lot of activity. We can mirror the good features of other systems, like Overdrive's automatic purchasing when hold/copy ratio reaches a certain level. We and King County plan on doing a lot of work on this.

What are the downsides of OS, and is anyone considering leaving Evergreen and why and how easy is it to transition away from Evergreen?
-It is a relatively new system, so it's not fully mature in all areas. It's a different involvement model, and change is always tough, especially when it required a complete rethink. It will require more involvement from us. An anti-downside is that we won't have to bend our policies to fit the system anymore (as much). Two people are thinking of moving from Evergreen to Koha because they are single libraries and Evergreen is more complicated than they need, but since it's all open source and standard formats, migrating shouldn't be a problem.

Is each network voting in November and is that all we need for a green light?
-Yes

When you spoke to other libraries, how did they negotiate what developments they wanted and got - how did they set priorities for development?
-Evergreen has a document for the process for an enhancement, that gives guidelines for how much work is involved, how long certain changes take, etc.

Why didn't the other six networks want to join in now?
-Minuteman is taking on major RFID project and so it's not the right time to switch vendors. Others are happy with their current systems than the three of us are. One network has a homegrown system and is skeptical of OS. Many didn't want to be the first to do it, so are waiting to see how it goes for us - especially in the areas of staff reconfigurations and cost savings. Other networks don't have the same economic pressures, so can sustain their system for a few more years, because their systems are little newer than the OS3's networks. One network just launched a new opac to address curb appeal.

Do you get the impression that we'll have a lot of influence since we're three networks working together?
-we'll be better off working together because we'll have more funding, but it's also why we're trying to work with Bibliomation, King County, and whoever else we can. We're also trying to talk up developments now, so they might be ready by the time we come online.

What does the new cluster of networks look like?
-roughly half public libraries in the state

Question for attendees: What do people want to see?
-non-cludgyness
-better opac (less embarrassing)
-happy that the focus in on the patron
-staff-time saving features (but staff can be trained to do workarounds)
-getting the whole state together for better resource sharing and interlibrary loan
-a system that doesn't slow down during peak times

UPDATE 11/5/09: There's a great summary of the project so far in the Nov09 issue of the MVLC Connections newsletter [pdf] - it includes more stats that I wasn't able to get while I was typing during the session.



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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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