Saturday, August 26, 2006

Successful Saturdays: Cracking the Code or a Fix-it Friday Fix

I did not post my weekly Fix-it Friday yesterday and not because I have run out of problems, far from it. I was just not feeling well so I didn't post. So today you just get me bragging about myself with the absence of putting myself down. If I do that too often my ego may get out of hand.

Anyway, last week I spoke about problems with my library's ILS. I had problems writing code into the system because there was complicated code to learn on top of proprietary code that I did not understand. To resolve this problem I went to a larger county system that had the same ILS and asked their advice. They provided it, but recommended that I do not touch any of the systems unless I have a training server. That way if I screw something up, I am not putting it out there live and breaking something. Right now, we are in the process of purchasing and installing one. After playing with the technology and having some good results and some bad results, I was going to take his advice and not try anything.

However, one of our server's crashed while we were in the process of creating a back-up server. So now we just have the server that replaced it with no hopes of getting a real live back-up for a little while. I decided that instead of waiting for the new installation, I would try a few new things I was playing with. The fun thing about technology these days is that to solve a problem, all you just have to do is to search for a solution on the Internet and people have already posted their free code solution. If I couldn't create code to do what I wanted, I could embed the code of others to get what I wanted.

So I made three significant changes right away. I changed the theme of the page to a modern theme. This is one of the easy features in the ILS, just pick one of five themes and you can make your page different from the others. I had made a change a few months ago just so my page would not look so generic, but it still did not help. The modern theme I chose this time was very plain, just white with very little color, but it worked well if I was going to make changes and it matched with our city webpage. The next thing I changed was placing the library's name on our catalog (no we could not do that before!). We were able to manipulate the system by creating a new image, then saving and naming that image the same as file that already exists. That way, I was able to change the vendor's label on my page to the library's name, plus I added a little background for color. As long as the pictures size was similar in size, it works great.

The change to white and the image change had an immediate effect. It made the site cleaner and we finally owned the site. The next steps were to put a calendar of events and possibly a photo slideshow on the site. I had been playing with Google Calendar for some time and created an account just for the library. I set up a Gmail account with the library's name, then created the calendar. The new features in Gmail are great and you can set up a calendar, excel spreadsheets, and put other files online so that you can share them with others. I set up a calendar and placed all of the library's events in the calendar, plus included all third party programs that were not library endorsed, but were held at the library. Originally, I had thought of just creating a link to the site on the library's catalog page. The problem with that is that it would take users away from the page instead of searching for books. However, Google Calendar has an embed feature when you go to the manage calendars feature. I just went to my calendar, clicked on manage calendars, clicked on my calendar, and then clicked on calendar address for html. This would have created a link to the calendar site. However, I also so a configuration tool in which it would provide a embed code you can place on your website. I copied the code and then pasted it in the portal page. IT WORKED! I was able to see the library's entire calendar of events on the catalog page. I also copied this in the events page. The training from the county library helped me find what file to place it in.
The calendar of events was a big problem for us for many reasons. One, many library staff did not have access to a live calendar because we are on different systems. They could see the calendar on the library's city webpage, but it is difficult to navigate (mostly because we can't control the content that much, but that is changing). We had to provide a paper copy and then they posted it downstairs to see it. Now, they can go online like everyone else and see the calendar in real time. They can even print it out!

After cracking the placement code, I was able to do even more with the page. I added a Flickr slideshow. I used this code here to embed a flickr slideshow on the portal page. It is really neat because it has the same functionality as going to flickr and playing a slideshow. It does all the same things, plus it does not say flickr on it. It just has the show. This works particularly well when you get into trouble placing company names on your site. It also does not link to your flickr, but keeps you on the webpage. Now we have a nice library tour on the portal page. I will probably add this to our events section and show all the library events in the loop. You can point to a particular set in flickr for your loop. Very neat!

Lastly, what is the library's catalog portal without books? One of the problems we had with the portal was the rotating book image. It was a nice feature, but we had absolutely no control over it. The problem was that is showed images from BookSense's bestsellers, but it showed hardcover, paperback, and mass market paperback. Since it just does an ISBN search, we could have that book, just not in paperback and it would not reveal that we had the book simply because we did not have that edition! This caused many problems as patrons sending in requests for books we already had. So we had to create our own links using another trick borrowed from the county library.

Our library subscribes to Syndetics Solutions enhanced content, which provides book images, book reviews, and many other items that searchers find useful when selecting material. Very nice! We found that we could manipulate the data that was in the catalog code for the book image. When you go to the catalog, you can right click on the book image, this will give you the image location and by adding a src img= (insert syndetics tag here) and then place html for the search for the book around the image, you can get the image with it tagged so when you click on it, you search the catalog for that book. So we could control the book image! Each week we put out a top ten list in the local paper. This week was top ten mystery and we could place the image for each book in a row at the top of the page. I was very boisterous so I added a row for top ten fiction, juvenile fiction, young adult, and more. I tried to do DVDs, but many of the catalog records don't have images for the DVD records. Even stealing the images from other sites would not yield an image in the system. It must be tied just to their code. I will probably figure that out and I am very excited about the prospects of controlling the site. Think of all the possibilities, we could now link a webcast, podcast, even sample music from the site! Now that we have control and I have cracked the code, there are a million things I could think of doing to the site now, it is only a matter of time, how exciting!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Successful Saturdays: A catalog fix or I found what I was looking for

As I was posting about catalogs this week, a funny thing happened to me. A patron complained that our catalog was horrible and that she could not find anything. What was she looking for? Integumentary System Information! The Integumentary system is your skin, hair, nails, and sensory system. Could you find that in your catalog? Probably not, search for it on the internet, the first hit answers enough for an essay. However she was instructed to find the information from a book. If she did not talk to a librarian, she would not have found her information. We had a Merck manual she could check out so she found what she was looking for. Sometimes you can solve a problem, but you can provide a fix that solves a part of the problem. Today's Successful Saturdays will cover how we improved the catalog through authority control and raised our successful browsing rates.

I had mentioned in the last post our implementation problems with our new ILS vendor. However, most of our problems with the catalog records were problems of neglect. We have had several different people catalog in our system with no formal training. This process has left the catalog a mess with some records just having and author and title, and some just having outdated information. To attempt to fix this problem we underwent a major weeding program and then performed an authority control.

The weeding ended up finding records for books that no longer existed and with the aggressive weed, we were able to get out all of the bad records. However, we still needed to fix the records that were still in the system, and this is where the Authority Control comes in.

Try to get funding from your authority and explain to them how Authority Control works. I am not sure how I phrased my proposal, but it ended up getting funded. Through my research I had discovered that the library had never undergone an authority control. In fact, a project attempted several years ago failed because all of the bids came in way over budget. I was able to fund my project fully by examining the costs of other projects and gathering information from vendors and other libraries. I was able to budget $5,000 for our project. In my proposal I explained that patrons will be able to find information they are looking for faster without having to contact staff. Patrons who cannot find information in the catalog will often turn to staff. If the patron had more successful searches, they will be able to find what they are looking for without having to rely upon staff to find their materials.

We have a way to track our catalog usage and successful searches. We do a survey during the last week of each month asking two questions. Did you have a good or excellent experience? Did you find what you were looking for? We always had a high good experience (in the 90% happy mark), but the successful searching was always low (in the 80% successful mark). We simply have a form at the desk and the patron just has to chicken scratch yes or no in both categories. If they feel the need to comment, there is a space for that too. After reviewing this information, I made the gamble that if we had authority control, the patrons would be directed to the right materials and the successful search rate would go up into the 90% mark.

I had attended a program on authority control at the last Arizona Library Association conference in the fall. I took my two catalogers as well. I understood the concept behind it. Authority control provides searches with the best terms to be successful. It will direct patrons to records that have the correct search terms from the incorrect term. For instance if I were to search for “bubblers” it would direct me to the agreed upon term, fountains. Another example is with the author J. A. Jance, some call her Judith A. Jance, some J.A. Jance, but we have to agree on one otherwise you will have a whole swath of records under J.A. Jance that may not be found because you did not use the correct search terms. I don't think my catalogers understood the concept the way the program was presented, but explaining it as I did above made it more clear to them. This is by no means an easy process. Next came writing the RFP.

Ever write an RFP for authority control? It is like writing another language. The City Attorney was asking what all the letters and squiggles were. Looking back I was surprised it was funded at all. Luckily when all of of my bids came in they were all under my budget mark.

The project began easily, give the company a sample, they provide it back and you make corrections. The funny thing about this project was that we had never done an authority control, so we HAD NO AUTHORITY RECORDS. Most of what the company ended up doing was changing our bibliographic records so that they have an accurate subject heading and information. It would be further backed by an authority control record that would re-direct patrons to the correct subject and book. Getting our records sent out and returned was not a big problem. Reloading them into the system was. It took six weeks to reload all of the records and then double check for errors. We still had some records that ended up being funky, but overall cleaner updated records. A lot of work, but would it pay off?

We completed the project at the end of May, we awaited our surveys at the end of the month. The catalog re-directed patrons and did what it was supposed to, but I had said that the successful searches would go up. In both June and July our circulation went through the roof, jumping 20 percent in both months and still hovering at the level for August. And the surveys? In the last two months we had a 98% successful search result. Very successful indeed.

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Catalog File Resources

From the LITA Blog I pulled this post, Cataloging Transformed: From Traditional to Emerging Models of Use June 30th, 2006 by Jennifer Smathers

What I learned from this is that the catalog needs to look and work more like Google and Amazon. Ideas from here I am passing on to my ILS vendor. We already have images from the books and videos provided by Syndetics Solutions (with reviews and excerpts), and I think Baker and Taylor does something similar. We can sort and limit by format, call number, or even popularity. I did a training session with staff on all the ins and outs on how to manipulate the catalog. However, even wit expert manipulation, we won't get better searches without a "search within the book" feature (like Amazon) or a feature that searches the book's index and looks for frequency of the search terms and ranks by frequency as it relates to the index. Maybe this is why Google is scanning all these books, so that they are indexed and searchable. I think that we have marc records with subjects; we only had so much space. Now that the format has changed and there are fewer limitations, we need to put the index frequency ranking in our records. I would also like a feature that corrects misspellings or can re-index faster. This file is a wait and see what the big libraries do.

The next file is A "Next generation" library catalog, which discusses how to make the library catalog better. Treating the catalog page like a separate webpage instead of a database hit is a great idea to combat the invisible web and findability issues. Another a part I liked was the ability for fans to write reviews like Amazon. It sounds great and I passed this on to my ILS vendor. However, not enough people would comment I would suspect. We have to think about why people write reviews and part of that reason is ego. It is a status symbol to be a top reviewer on Amazon or to be a significant poster on major forums or blogs and especially on wikipedia. People are making themselves instant experts because they have a hobby. We would have to have a way to engage these groups in order to get posts and comments which is where library 2.0 comes in. Multiple user reviews rounds out the perception and interest of the book. Many great bibliographies come from user fans, another way to harness this intelligence would to link to user lists of similar books or topics.

Dave Pattern's weblog provides results from a top five additions to the catalog for findability (I have edited the post to provide what he did, and then added my comment on how the catalog my library has compares:
Number 5 - Other Editions (if you sort by title you will get all books, audio, video and more with the title next to each other.)

Number 4 - Keyword Suggestions
(Nice to provide similar words, kind of works like authority control)

Number 3 - Similar Subjects
(Nice to provide similar words, kind of works like authority control, our catalog puts this on the dashboard beside the search results
Number 2 - Also Borrowed
(Like Amazon's also purchased, our catalog just sorts by popularity)

Number 1 - Spelling Suggestions
(Like Google)

Great suggestions the last two definitely need looking into.

User Centered Cataloging
Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records pull all comments reviews and different editions of a title all in one place. User comments helps identify the book using terms the public uses. Also get fan favorite comments, like people not liking James Patterson's Big Bad wolf or one of J. A. Janice’s series.

(Quoting from, Librarian in Blackwho is quoting from Steven at LibraryThing:)
"As one wrote on the blog, Isaac Asimov's Nightfall the short story collection, is distinct from Nightfall the novel and from Nightfall One. " (Just LiB here) Do libraries know that? Does Amazon? Wow! How can libraries and our ILS vendors leverage this kind of mass effort?"

After reading this we requested Syndetics Solutions to help provide a user comments section. Getting fans to help with collections and reviews helps everybody.

Best post about catalog future that is user centered

OLA Super Conference

post here
Presenter: Beth Jefferson, BiblioCommons

Post covers an ALA conference. Read the whole thing then save it. It covers all the ways we can interact with patrons using the catalog. It covers the items I have already mentioned with much greater detail. Much of it help solidify my thoughts on how to help patrons find books without necessarily using the catalog.

And lastly, from the techsource blog,

"How OPACs Suck, Part 3: The Big Picture
by Karen G. Schneider
A wonderful post (one of three parts) that does a thorough breakdown of the problems with OPACs, "First Literalism: The OPAC Is a Citation Index
One major problem is that the online catalog is merely a citation index. It doesn't index the book itself—only a mere handful of terms in its metadata. As librarians, we're accustomed to this. But our users aren't. The user of tomorrow grew up in a full-text world. For that user, the limitations of the online catalog make no sense."

Indexing the entire book and sorting by frequency and relevancy sounds good to me.

That's what I am reviewing for now. Next post will be Fix-it Fridays on my catalog.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Catalog files reviewed

Most of what is in here is related to improvements to the library's catalog or OPAC. I can't implement these ideas, but I can problem solve and then offer suggestions to my library's ILS for the next upgrade.

I subscribe to the philosophy to make the collection as browsable as possible, thus avoiding the catalog. Many users want to find a book, not learn how to use a computer, so to save time, it is good to learn how to browse and to teach browsing. Intuitive placement, good signage, instruction and routine are key pieces to save the time of the user.

One of my favorite things to do is to pull the exact book the patron needs without either the patron or myself having to use the catalog. It tells the patron that they could find that themselves if they learned the system. Teaching this technique along with providing catalog searching tips also helps. Patrons like to browse, help them do that. When you get stumped, use the catalog.

One thing we did to improve services with the catalog was to purchase a tablet pc to help with inventory and roving reference. This allows you to browse with the patron, then use the catalog without leaving the patron.

Much of the problem of the catalog is a confusion of purpose mixed with the inability to take advantage of technology. The purpose of the catalog is to find books, not information. A classic example is the patron who has come in with an illness diagnosed and is seeking more information. They type in the disease with no results, then they ask for help. We then refer them to Merck or a host of other medical resources that would not come up with the OPAC search. This is the key fault in the OPAC, it cannot give you all the information in every book. You are relying on the subject area. Due to lack of space on the original card catalog, a cataloger had to decide what the major subject of the book was. As a result, you or your patron will have to realize that the information may be housed in a larger book, up the category tree, and unfindable in an OPAC.

Next, catalog file resources.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Implementation Files

I keep a file called library technology plan for ideas regarding libraries in the future. It helps me plan for short range and long range plans and issues my library may face. Most of those resources came from the blogs you can see on my sidebar. I have categorized them this way to help me gather the information in the subject areas. Most of the resources I collect were created by these blogs, or they led me to resources. I will give a list of links to all of those projects and post them here, then provide a list of what I am using each for.

Some posts lead to actions, some posts lead to ideas for the future, and some I delete as unimplementable.
Right now there are five files, Catalog, General, PDF reports (big files), Spanish, Staff, Technology, and Youth.

I will post each project separately and provide one week for issues and my thinking on the topic. Some will just really be a single post.

Think of this as the tiny hair on the edge of the long tail. Or the last of the surf caressing the beach after the mighty wave has already crashed.

This week, Catalog files.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Successful Saturdays: Moving on UP or The Paperback Book Club

Successful Saturdays: Moving on UP or The Paperback Book Club

Today's installment of Successful Saturdays will focus on how we increased circulation at our library.

My library has a strange configuration. It is a split level building built in 1975. It is three stories tall, without the space. It has 16,000 square footage, but none of that is on one floor. 2,000 is in the downstairs area (which could also be referred to as the dungeon), and 2,000 square foot in the upstairs area (for administration, technical services, and other behind the scenes work), and 12,000 square feet on the main floor. We also have one elevator that connects all three that can often breakdown and mostly results in children playing in it. If you talk to most consultants about library building space, most of them will say that you don't need to consider multiple floors for a library until you reach 30,000 square feet. It is a simple question of access. Having multiple floors results in staff going up and down stairs and elevators to do their job, and requires patrons to do the same to access collections. This is an obvious problem if you choose to put anything downstairs, no one will know it is there.

Paperback books, audio books, music, and videos are typically your highest circulating materials. By rule, you should have these materials easiest to find as they will have the highest demand and the highest circulation. However, all of these collections were on the bottom floor out of site, which resulted in lower than average circulation for the entire collection. Money spent on these collections was also spent sporadically which is no way to promote your collection. If your materials are old, dusty, and in the basement with nothing new added month after month, your patrons will stop checking. I still remember a patron complaining that we did not have the Bible on audio book and asking what kind of library were we not to have that.

It was not that the collection development budget was inadequate, it was just that it was not properly spent. Before my employment at my library, the librarians were configured different so that only one librarian ordered all of the materials for the collections and none of the funds were spent consistently. It was a little here a little there. Money needs to be spent consistently on all collections with strengths in the highest circulating collections. You should not spend entirely based on circulation statistics, because then you will just be a bookstore, but circulation should be a major factor in how you spend money. When I became the Manager, we devised a formula that added up the number of volumes for the year and the number of circulation then divided each collection by the whole of the circulation. This allowed us to get a percentage of the circulation for the entire collection, we then multiplied the percentage for each collection by the total allocation of funds for the fiscal year. We then got a ball park figure as to how much to spend for each collection based on popularity. Another good resource is Collection Development Training for Arizona Public Libraries. This is a fantastic resource and if you are ever thrown into collection development with little or no formal training, this will make you look like you know what you are doing.

Even after spending funds consistently, we still had the problem with collections downstairs. It became an access issue since when the elevators were broken, those who needed it could not get the paperbacks and videos they needed. We decided to move the collections upstairs.

Now the library does not have an infinite amount of space and this project would involve the library closing for two days, they help of our City's Parks Crew, and the ingenuity and sweat of library staff. We got rid of our seating that was by our magazine section. (I touched on this in another post where we got rid of our resident transients by getting rid of this seating.) We placed all of our video collection by the magazine rack so when patrons walked in, they did not see a row of transients, but a row of videos, audio books, and music. Some people did not even know we had this collection. As a result, circulation jumped dramatically going from 16,000 circulations last year, to over 32,000 circulations this year and a turnover ratio of only six circulations per item to over 15 circulations per item per year. A great success, but the other collection, the paperbacks, is where we ran into trouble.

The paperback collection always had low circulation, to the point where we were not sure we were going to keep it at all. After discussion, we found that some of the collections did have high circulation, and after a heavy weeding to make space downstairs for our former upstairs seating, we received a lot of flak from patrons. We reduced the collection from almost 10,000 items to just under 8,000 in two months. Patrons were furious, “We can't find anything to read.”. I still remember a patron coming up to one of our librarians with book bag with only one paperback book in it, “This is all I could find today.” she said in an angry tone. We were playing with fire now.

Initially, we intended to move all the collections at once, but there was not the time or the space. Early the following year, we were able to use impact fees to buy tall shelving for an area in our Adult Fiction Collection (that was upstairs) to house our paperbacks. (Just another note, you should always put similar collections together so that patrons can find everything they are looking for.) We broke down the old half shelving and installed the new full shelving (the vendor provided the labor, thank goodness). Then we moved the paperbacks upstairs.

We still had to weed the collection even further to get the collection to fit in the upstairs section. We received additional flak as we reduced the collection from 8,000 items to 4,000 items. I thought the patrons were going to riot, but we never ended up weeding anything that was actually used. The turnover rate was less than 2 on average, whereas most libraries have double that rate for their paperback collections. Once we moved the collection upstairs, we discovered something, people began to find the paperbacks who had never used them before. “Where did these paperback collections come from!” Circulation ended up going through the roof going higher than it was even with almost 10,000 items and we ended up with a turnover rate of almost 5 circulations per item. Looking back, we discovered that our patrons wanted the paperbacks downstairs because they developed their own little paperback club. No one else knew about the collections so it was like their own personal library, which is great for the individual, but bad for the community. It is better that the majority of people could find the books, and discover new books, rather than a few people have their own personal library.

As a result of our moves, we increased circulation throughout the collection, but particularly in the collections involved in the move. We provided additional space for more computers, going from 11 computers to 30.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fix-it Fridays: A DVD in the Hand or I can't do it myself

This installment of Fix-it Fridays will focus on our problems regarding our self-check machine and our DVD collection.

As I have stated before, we are a small semi-rural library serving an ever growing population. This population has relied on agriculture for most of its existence and has only recently begun to get manufacturing jobs, retail, and other amenities that you would find in a larger community in the Phoenix area. As a result, we have to be careful in what types of technology we push on them.

I mentioned in last week's post about the dangers of putting everything on line without providing access to those materials. In a semi-rural community, the knowledge and availability of technology is very scarce. When we first purchased DVDs, we went very slowly since we figured they would not handle the technology or have access to it. Instead, we went to our local video stores and found that they had ditched almost all of their videotapes overnight and went almost entirely with DVDs. DVD players for sale popped up everywhere, some as cheap as $50. The technology, knowledge, and materials were all present. So here we were a library full of videocassettes in a world that was DVDs. After that, we made an assumption that the public would acquire the technology and knowledge they needed with our technology.

However, we encountered a problem during our Master Plan process. Some community members thought we were going to fast with technology particularly with our materials. We had purchased some on line databases in lieu of additional expensive reference resources. We eventually did get heavy use on the databases, but we took a lot of flak for getting rid of some of the materials. I remember when one of our pages was pulling an encyclopedia set getting grilled as to why we were getting rid of these materials. New technology and change is not always welcome. It becomes imperative that a library knows how to implement change and train patrons on how to use it. At this point, it was hard to tell at what technologies our patrons would learn, and which ones they would resist. So when the Friends of the Library proposed purchasing a $20,000 self-check machine, I was very happy to get the extra help, but I was concerned this system cause more problems than it solved.

After examining all problems that could exist with the self-check machine we took action. All of our books have the barcode in different places so we would have to re-barcode all of the books so that the patrons could find it in the same place (as well as speed up check-out for circulation). When we first rolled out the self-check, no one knew how to check out the book. Most people tried doing it on the ISBN since they could not find the library's barcode. We did provide instruction on how to use it, and the computer screen shows exactly how to do each step, but we do have a population that has trouble reading signs. This is evident by the amount of people who still walk out of the library where the emergency exit is. Even though the sign is big and red and at eye level, they still don't see. Needless to say, we ended up spending a lot of time educating users how to use the machine.

This summer, we held a big promotion and giveaways along with staff available to assist with the machine. Usage picked up; however, we discovered a new problem with our system. When we began purchasing DVDs we put security on the discs. We found that the security did not prevent patrons from walking out with DVDs, did not prevent them from jimmying open cases, or set off the security alarms. As a result, we took all the DVDs out of the cases and placed them in boxes with a corresponding number behind the desk. So a patron would pick up the empty case, bring it to the desk, and get the disk upon check-out. A great system and it was foolproof. A patron could not possibly steal a disc. Then when we received our self-check and ran our big promotion, we had a problem; we could not check-out DVDs.

This summer, we had a huge increase in circulation, more people than ever were using the self-check; we had an automated time management system for our public access computers and were handling the load of 20% more customers. However, we quickly found out that people stopped using the self-check because they could not check-out DVDs because it required a staff member to get it for them and desensitize it. We just have a primitive old block at our front desks and can’t afford a check-out or desensitizing machine, so all AV have to be handed around the other side of the desk, much like you would see in a video store. DVD circulation went through the roof with twice as much check-out as the same time last year. This ended up being a bad thing because they could not use the self-check. So we have all these systems to assist with the lack of staff, a self-check machine, automated telephony to notify patrons of holds and overdue items, a time management machine for our public access computers, but patrons can’t check out the most popular items in the collection themselves. In order to get the DVD problem solved we have to either implement a fool-proof security system, which may end up being RFID to the tune of $60,000, pay for new machines that can desensitize AV at the circulation desk to the tune of $24,000, or continue to have staff check out the DVDs and push the patron over to the self check for their other items.

I will say, the lesson that was learned about technology is that if it is candy, patrons will learn, if it is something they have to learn to get what they want, it will be proportionate to the difficulty in getting it to the desire of wanting it. If you have something they really want, they will learn the technology (like with our time management, quick learners to get on a computer), if you have something you want them to learn to make it easier for staff and not the patron, then they won’t want to use it.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Successful Saturdays: Library Public Access Computers Should be Public or Everything is Online

Computer access is one of the most important services libraries provide today. As I touched on in a previous post, people need computers in order to apply for jobs, file their taxes, or just to search for information. In Falling Through the Net (1995), it stated that less than 5% of rural households owned a computer and only 23% of them had Internet access. In 2000, a new Falling Through the Net documenting a rise to 45% in rural areas. In a report created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Toward Equity of Access, states that 60% of Americans have Internet access. Suffice to say, access has always been a problem, but technology marches forward.

In the last Fix-it Fridays, I talked about our attempts to create more access using thin clients, wireless Internet, and an open source time management software that all created problems. The following fiscal year, I requested funds for a Capital Improvement Project to replace all the existing computers and for additional computers. It was funded, with the budget I requested for the project halved and a caveat that I needed to filter the library's computers. The same problem existed before, a funded project with not enough funds for time management, filtering, and additional computers. After our problems with the last project, I was determined to plan ahead for all contingencies. I spoke with several vendors to get a ballpark price on the product. I worked with IT to set up a time line for all of the pieces of the project. Due to the fact that last project did not go well, this project was placed at the very end of the priority list. Even though library staff members were excited that we were to have more computers and a better way to manage them, they were disappointed that it would take so long to implement. After careful consideration, I knew I would not have enough to replace the Gates and add a significant number of computers. I was able to talk IT into replacing the existing computers out of their budget, but I was not sure what I was going to get.

Then a letter came from the state library announcing another round of Gates grants to replace all of the existing computers. YAY! Instead of using the funds to replace computers, I could use them for additional computers. However, when all the pieces of the budget were planned for, there still would not be a great amount of additional computers. Also, when I saw the time line, I could see that everything was scheduled for the same time period, June and July. We would have to move 11 computers, install time management and filtering, and purchase additional computers and install them in a six week window.

Everyone was very skeptical of the project and doubted it severely. After providing a Request for Proposal, we received three respondents. In the end, we chose one that on paper was the most expensive, but in reality, provided what we wanted more cheaply. Many vendors will respond to an RFP with a low-ball figure that does not really meet the needs stated on the RFP. It is important to look over all of their documents and think about what you are going to need before making a decision. Also, having it in the RFP that the lowest bidder will not necessarily get the bid, but the vendor that provides what the library needs at a reasonable cost. The two other vendors had extremely low bids and after reviewing what they provided (no technical support?) we decided on one that had everything we needed.

The big news for the project came in May right before the big install was to take place. We were shopping for new computers and I had budgeted for $1500 for each computer. It turned out that I could get the same computers for only $960. Another yay, I could replace all of my existing computers out of the city's capital improvement project and use the Gates money to buy additional computers.

The day came for the big install, we had just replaced all of the old gates computer with the new sleek (and even small) black ones. Flat screens, half gig memory, lots of programs and they were zippy. The funny thing was that before we replaced these computers, we had to reboot computers that used MySpace because of the memory issue. Once the new computers were installed, no patron had to ever bother us with a crashed computer, it was wonderful.

A big storm hit the day of the install, which was a good thing because we had to shut down all of our computers for the day. We had planned on two days for the install, but it was completed before the end of the day. All the library staff were impressed that it worked and worked so well. We still need to work out bugs, but it is such an ironclad system. A patron cannot get around it or manipulate it in any way. No more kicking patrons off of computers with complaints or anger, the computer takes care and make sure everyone gets an equal amount of time.

Lastly, with the new computers so cheap, I was able to buy 13 new computers as opposed to 5. When I became Manager, we had 11 old clunky public access computers that crashed and was managed by a clipboard and stressed out library staff. Two years later, we now have 30 brand new computers, with the exact same interoperability, thanks to Recommendations for Multipurpose Public Access Computer Configuration Using Windows Prepared by Lori Bowen Ayre, 10/3/2005, wireless Internet access, and space to bring our computer access to over 40 computers.

When I first began at the library and taught technology classes, we had to close the computer lab. This brought on arguments from patrons about how public is the library if the library's public can't access the computers. A patron came up to me yesterday and asked, where did you get all these computers? You only had a few the last time, and these are all new and zippy. As a Manager it is rare to get a compliment about good service provided, but it was nice to hear that patrons appreciated the new improved access so much, they had to mention it. That's good customer service and it was all do to proper planning, a little luck, and persistence.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Fix-it Fridays: Lack of Computers or Thin Clients Don’t Work

These days in order to apply for a job; you have to do it online. Safeway, Walmart, Home Depot and others all have this convenient computer kiosk to apply for a job, no more paper applications. Isn’t it great to be without paper? Until the computer breaks, then you head down to the library.

Libraries were blessed with Gates Grants many years ago that bridged the digital divide. A whole world of information was opened. Patrons began to rely on this technology, and then businesses did, then the Internal Revenue Service did, and then the Department of Economic Security did, and that is where problems began. In 1995, congress passed the Paperwork Reduction Act. Essentially, the use of paper for communication was to be reduced and an electronic format, preferably the Internet, was the preferred choice to provide information. It was great. You could get information from anywhere just by having a computer and Internet access. Many businesses are providing services online as well. Again, this is great if you have a computer and Internet access. After several reports, such as Falling Through the Net, people began realizing that there was a digital divide by creating this access. Before, you would have to travel far to get forms or call people on the phone, but since everything was online, there were no more forms, or people to call. The reply always was, oh well you can get that online… what’s that, you don’t have a computer? Well, then I can’t help you, sorry.

As information providers, public libraries stepped in and began offering computer and Internet access to the public. This move was further bolstered by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which essentially placed computers in most libraries across the United States. Problems did not arise until three years later.

This is where my library comes in. We had our original 11 gates grant computers. However, we had to teach people how to use these computers. The way our library is situated, we ended up placing all of our computers into one room with the exception of one. This led to obvious problems, as when class was in session, there was no public computer access at the library except for one computer. So we could not really teach the public how to use the computers without denying access to the rest of the population. We then began our experiments.

We received some operating capital funds from the city to provide us with a way to manage our computers through an automated system and to increase access. After shopping around, we came to the realization that this was not enough money to provide access and pay for a time management system. We came up with three solutions, one provide wireless internet access through Polaris’s Wireless Access Manager, use an open source product to manage the computers, and use thin clients to save money since we did not need full workstations.

The wireless worked great, at first. After some touch and go problems and with the system being down for an entire month after being available only for one month, it seemed to work fine. This saved some of the computers since during the winter visitor season as many of our visitors have laptops with wireless cards.

The open source product was a bust. We spent hundreds of hours working with the system for over nine months, only to have it blow up on us. Overworked library staff, overworked IT staff, and angry patrons only had one person to blame… me.

The thin client solution was the worst for us. Our IT could not get them to work the way they said they could. What ended up happening is that we just let people on them and told them they could only get internet access…but only if you are not using yahoo or hotmail…and you can’t print… and you can’t save anything…and…..and again, staff and patrons were frustrated. There is nothing like offering crappy service to the public. They let you know they are not happy and so will staff, and rightly so. You cannot offer a substandard service to the public. They will simply refuse to use the service. Our poor staff members with clipboards in hand monitoring the public were left trying to manage additional computers on two floors with some computers doing one thing and some computers doing another. With all the computers over three years old, the constant ctrl-alt-delete was giving them carpal tunnel.

It is always important when implementing technology to make sure all of the technology is the same and that the service is sustainable. Different computers with different abilities will only lead to disgruntled patrons, staff, and the general public. I was only saved in this process by another round of Gates Grants and a City funded project, which allowed me to replace all the thin clients with full workstations and the existing crappy workstations with brand new sleek ones.

So the moral of the story is not to implement technology without the ability to be consistent, having adequate IT staff support, knowing what your level of services is going to be, sustainability, and simply just knowing what you are doing. Technology is tricky and you should only provide what you can sustain. Also, make sure you get as much information as possible in order to make the best decision about what types of computers, technology, and other items to provide the best service available for your library.