Friday, August 18, 2006

Fix-it Friday: Your Portal to Nothing Or a Prisoner to the system

To cap off my thoughts on the catalog and where it is going, today's Fix-it Friday will cover my struggle with the catalog.

Before I became the Manager at my library, I was a librarian. For a time, the former manager retired and with troubles getting someone hired, we had no Manager for three moths. During that period, we had to select a new Integrated Library Service (ILS) vendor and implement it. We ended up select the same vendor we had and just upgrading the software, mostly because it was the cheapest one and also because we knew all the staff. We also were only allocated $80,000 for our Capital Improvement Project, which also forced to buy the cheapest one.

The obvious lesson is that you should allocate more enough for your highest bidder and get the software that is best for the library as opposed to doing it on the cheap and being stuck with something that will take years to rectify. I was just happy to get an ONLINE catalog since the previous one was DOS. I remember asking them in my interview, “Where is your catalog.” The reply, “Oh we are stuck in DOS.” DOS what the heck is DOS you mean that stuff that was on my computer when I was like in elementary school? I remember afterward being a little confused about how that worked and then I used the catalog after my interview and it was indeed a green screen with green letters. (The Horror!) It was not available on the web so of course you could not access any databases unless you used the computer specifically for it in the library (and they were wondering why it got so little use.)

Getting the library online was a major goal of the library and mine. Once I was hired I realized that they had made an attempt to go online the year before, but it did not get funded. I was never sure why. The worse part was that the county library system was already online. They had been online since 1998 and this was 2002. The city could have easily paid to get in with the system. The major costs of upgrading a system, cleaning up the DOS, and all that fun stuff could have been partially paid by the county, with their help and expertise guiding us. I never knew why we never did that, but my hunch is that it came down to politics and control. The ironic thing is that when I did a TechAtlas technology assessment it recommends investigating joining our catalog with the county or with other libraries in the area, doh!

So we began implementation with no one in charge and just myself and another librarian. Both of us had been on the job for six months and the third librarian, the youth librarian, had just quit. Essentially we had no organizational memory of how things worked. Implementation was rocky, but it worked all the same. We still did not have web access within the first three months since we did not give our city IT in on the project early enough. Once enabled it worked fine, however we soon learned of a consistent problem with web access, we could not control any of the content.

We had accomplished our goals, online web catalog, check, better way to catalog books, check, ways to access databases from home and within the library, check, but we were stuck with the vendor’s name on the top of the webpage and this fresh out of the box look for several months, and now years.

We used to have the catalog search function as the first page you see when you went to our catalog. It was very boring and not useful unless you just wanted to search for books. We changed it to the “portal page” so that users could see we had databases, show our top ten lists, and provide information on the central page. We took several trips to a larger library system that was able to manipulate the system. We crashed the webpage a few times since we had no back up. We attempted to make changes to pretty up the main page. After many attempts, training sessions, and requests for help, we were still stuck with this blank page. The ironic thing is that it states “Your portal for more information” and immediately after that a big white blank space, right in the middle. It’s like having a library with nothing in it. I go online and read about Library 2.0 and all these functions, and I can’t even get events or library information in that spot. I realized too late that I couldn’t manipulate the data on this page because if I change it and screw it up, the ILS vendor will charge me through the nose to change it back. I don’t have the knowledge or the expertise to change it and the system is very strange to work in and manipulate. However, I do see this same page across the country with the same fresh out of the box feel. The vendor has provided many Library 2.0 items; book images, patron account management, RSS feeds, more intuitive search functions, a google-like search page, and a search by popularity. However, most of the neatest Library 2.0 functions are beyond my reach because I don’t know how to use their system or change the information. I have to have the knowledge of the code or software PLUS knowledge of their propriety software that only a hacker or someone totally dedicated to the project could do. So I am stuck with a blank page and am a prisoner to my ILS. I need to pay someone to fix this J

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