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

RYO OSS ILS, or, Ideal Catalog Features

   December 3rd, 2009

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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6 Responses to “RYO OSS ILS, or, Ideal Catalog Features”

  1. Jeff Scott Says:

    Don’t take the Unshelved Answers reaction too seriously. They are a bit more aggressive in controlling comments and content, but most users are overriding that. Questions like these are great for discussion and helps everyone who uses the site. I was a bit off-put at first by their actions, but I understand what they are trying to do. Open ended questions for discussion are better for their site along with “right answer” ones.

  2. Graeme Williams Says:

    This seems like a great opportunity to make a great leap forward. I’m mildly frustrated that the Minuteman Library Network isn’t taking part.

    Star Trek and the 24th century is a fine fixed point for the indefinite future, but in all likelihood, you’ll still be using this software in 2020. 2020! As Bruce Sterling says, 2020 will be as different from now as now is from 2000.

    The iPhone isn’t quite two and a half years old, so 2020 might be four iPhone-sized jumps away.

    On a more mundane level, is it a given that the three consortia will continue to maintain separate catalogs?

  3. Gem Says:

    Oh, there are so many it’s hard to pick.

    1) I think Horizon should be able to collect more stats. It’s tricky to balance patron privacy with more stats but I think a lot more could be done in this area. We seem to spend a lot of time hoping an idea will work but don’t have much ability to actually track it. For instance, it would be nice to know how much “on display” items check out. Or, even better, be able to tag various “on display” collections so you can see if the x collection was more popular than the y collection.

    From the patron side, a good spell check is essential. I did a snapshot of searches patrons performed and 13% of them were misspelled and as a result HIP returned no results. Of those misspelled searches, Google was able to offer a correct suggestion around 80% of the time. I wasn’t as impressed with the library-specific spell check solutions I saw (such as Aquabrowser, etc). It would also be nice if the catalog returns no results to offer alternative search suggestion and an integrated ILL request form.

    This last one is petty and I don’t imagine it’s a problem in Evergreen but it drives me nuts that I can’t copy and paste a lot of the data in the staffpac. The ability to highlight data (such as a barcode) and send it directly to another module (like cki/cko, etc) would be great.

    2) I hate that HIP doesn’t seem designed to stay up all the time. We have to take it down for “mass indexing” at least once a month and every little change to the interface requires a restart of JBOSS which makes it unavailable to the patrons for a couple of minutes. I wait to make major changes until Sunday morning when we’re closed but I know people are still using our catalog from their homes. I hate our system looking so flaky to our patrons.

  4. Gem Says:

    Oh, and this is probably more information than you want to wade through but just in case, when we were working on ILS selection we created a wiki listing “Must haves,” “Strongly Preferred,” and “Nice to Have.” You can see it here: http://wldils.pbworks.com/ (scroll to the bottom and choose a specific section).

    It turns out we decided to stay with Horizon for the next couple of years. SD still hasn’t announced an EOL and we couldn’t justify the cost of transitioning to another system yet.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jeff: I guess you’re right – it was just featured as one of the Questions of the Week

    @Graeme: I hadn’t thought of it like that, but four iPhone-sized jumps is a reasonable forecast – wow. I’m also sad Minuteman isn’t on board, but it sounded like you’re still getting your money’s worth out of III. As for the joint catalogs, I think the word is that they’ll stay separate for now, but cross-seachable with an extra click. Similar to the Virtual Catalog, but obviously easier.

    @Gem: Man, it’s scary reading about someone else having the exact same problems as me – it’s like you’ve been watching me work. Thank you for the suggestions and link.

  6. Jessica Says:

    I just wish Horizon would let me open multiple search results at the same time. Patrons often ask about a few different authors as they are digging for their card and it’s time-consuming to keep going back to previous results. It’s a small thing that would make my life easier. I can’t wait to try Symphony when we move to the new system in the spring.