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




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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On Open Source

   February 18th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Site Made With Recycled Code logoI meant to post this last week, but better late than never, I guess.

I read on Slashdot that Saturday, Feb. 9th was the 10-year anniversary of open source. The hows and whys of are explained well by Bruce Perens in his State of Open Source Message: A New Decade For Open Source.

But when it comes to open source, I'm more interested in the end result, the applications other people built that I can use; I just take for granted that Open Source is alive and well and will continue to be (I know this is a dangerous assumption, which is why I try to contribute in any meager way I can).

Which brings us to another post I saw last week, this time on iLibrarian, highlighting 50 open source alternatives to propriety software. It's amazing when you look at them all together, but there seems to be an open source option for pretty much any computer-based task. The category list is:

  • Basics
  • Office Suites
  • Office Tools
  • Productivity
  • Graphic Programs
  • Web Editors
  • Publishing
  • Communications
  • Media
  • Utilities
  • Security
  • Financial

Using open source isn't just about using free software; it's about being able to build on and customize software according to how people work, and about sharing with people instead of profiting off them.

Without open source software, you wouldn't be reading my blog right now. As my little icon above says, this is a site made with recycled code. Thank you, open source developers.

update: And to bring this all back around to libraries, Tame The Web just linked to LibLime's Open Sesame blog, devoted to using open source software in libraries.

update 2: This has appeared in a few places, but I thought it fit in with this post, too - Open Minds, Open Books, Open Source describes library using (actually, embracing) open source tools.



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