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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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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Reference Question of the Week – 3/18

   March 25th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Sometimes, existing knowledge just does not translate well when things change. And, having worked hard to obtain that knowledge, people are sometimes reluctant to let it go.

This seems especially true in libraries. Some of the convoluted procedures and jargon we come up with are not just barriers to entry for new patrons, but also barriers to evolution for experienced patrons who have learned our complex requirements.

This week's reference question was posted to the Maine Libraries Listserv, but I thought it was worth sharing here. I thought it was both funny and sad, but also intriguing:

patron: Is there any way to interlibrary loan a downloadable audiobook?

(I've actually encountered this before myself, with the Boston Public Library's eCard program. My consortium subscribes to Overdrive, and so does the BPL. We have different downloadable audiobooks in our collections, so my patrons (since anyone in Massachusetts can get a BPL card) essentially has two collections to borrow from. It isn't quite interlibrary loaning, but it is worth knowing.)

Why it's funny:
This question makes me laugh just because it's such an unusual idea - right on the border between clever and naively optimistic.

Why it's sad:
As clever as this might be, it also sounds like someone trying to circumvent the system - which always bothers me. But too, it could just as easily be a case of the system failing the needs - if we can freely share books, magazines, videos, CDs, DVDs, and pretty much everything else in the collection, why can't we share digital audiobooks? Such strict copyright laws exist for electronic media (which laws covering other media don't even approach in restrictiveness) that it's frustrating to me to see this shortcoming. What this patron wants is possible with current technology, but is prohibited by the current business plans of corporations.

Why it's intriguing:
But even still, the idea of interlibrary loaning a digital audiobook is interesting. Aside from the file size, why shouldn't libraries be able to loan around their digital audiobook collections? They could be emailed or made available in a password-protected section of our website. This is another case where, if libraries banded together and spoke with one voice, we could possibly force change so we can get the tools we need to best serve patrons, rather than just take the tools that vendors develop.

Like with opacs - as companies like Sirsi/Dynix decide to drop entire product lines [pdf], librarians are developing tools like Evergreen and Scriblio (formerly WPopac) that actually address the needs that exist, not just make sense in a boardroom.

audiobooks, digital audiobooks, downloadable audiobooks, dynix, evergreen, libraries, library, opac, opacs, overdrive, pines, public libraries, public library, reference question, rome, scriblio, sirsi, sirsi/dynix, sirsidynix, wpopac



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Librarians in the Digital Age

   March 2nd, 2007 Brian Herzog

Congratulations to Casey Bisson and Lichen Rancourt for their NHPR interview last night.

Lichen reviewed the interview, which ranged from why libraries need to provide better electronic access to their collections to Google's book project to what libraries and librarians should be like in the near future.

They also highlighted their Scriblio project, and how they are working with the Cook Memorial Library in Tamworth, NH, as a beta site. Part of the benefit of Scriblio is that it is a huge improvement over the typical and traditional library website - in fact, it turns the library's website into both an efficient tool for finding information and an information resource itself. Plus, using Web 2.0 standards, library websites become easier to update and maintain, and become interactive and responsive, as information flows freely from the library to the patron, from the patron to the library, and from the patron through the library to other patrons.

I got to thinking about why this is different than what's been going on. To me, the core library function is to provide access to information. In the past, that information has been in print (books, newspapers and magazines), but that no longer necessarily the case. In response, libraries need to adapt to provide access to all types of information in all types of formats, be it printed or electronic (especially since so much information today is native to the electronic world). But also, this information is not limited to just reference or fiction information you'd traditionally find in books - it also includes community information, such as events, as well as the transaction of information, between community members, of which the library is one. Communicating not only the information we house as an institution, but also facilitating communication within the community, is what the core library function now encompasses.

There's my little sermon for the day. Good thing there are people like Casey and Lichen to actually put some of this stuff into practice.

casey bisson, cook memorial library, libraries, library, library 2.0, lichen rancourt, nhpr, opac, opacs, scriblio, tamworth



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