Sunday, September 7, 2008

Is OSS the Answer?

Ok, I know - It's been a long time. Too long. (Shout out to Erik the Tall!) I'm currently reading Notes to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Persuits by Samara O'Shea. While ruminating after I turned off my light last night, it occured to me that blogging is, in effect, journaling. So here goes...

A little bit of history...Georgia PINES libraries have been using Evergreen, open source software, since September of 2006. In late 2006, the original developers, employees of Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS), formed their own company, Equinox Software, Inc. They left their positions with GPLS in the Spring of 2007 to tend to their growing company.

GPLS now has a contract worth over $500,000 with Equinox for support and development of Evergreen. At the most recent PINES Executive Committee meeting, it was mentioned that their was a "no vendor rule" on PINES listserves. I asked if Equinox had access to PINES listserves and was told that they did, although it was read-only, for developmental purposes. I do not believe this was the case with our former ILS vendor.

The next day I raised the question on the PINES General Discussion List - Does this practice give Equinox the advantage in a competitive bid process?

My question was met with both positive and negative feedback. Mostly negative. GPLS defended the decision, citing that Equinox had nothing to gain financially since another bid wouldn't go out for 3 years. Huh?

Many of the negative responses were due to the fact that communication was cited at the previous day's meeting as being the #1 problem in PINES. Many felt that closing the lists to Equinox would only further hurt communication. While I agree that communication is a big problem, I don't think their presence on the listserves has helped us thus far. I think the type of communication we were receiving was the biggest problem. We always received an email when a baby was born (and please, I love babies) or when they gave a big presentation somewhere about the success of Evergreen, but we heard very little about what they were doing to benefit PINES libraries directly. Meanwhile, library staff in the field were suffering, as were the patrons.

Now - I need to say this up front. For the most part, I think Evergreen is ok. It has some nice features. For instance, I love being able to access all the functions I need right inside a patron's record. But my biggest complaint, at least with the software, is speed. We now have 3 T-1 lines and speed has improved very little. (And yes, all of our computers are new.) On a scale of 1-10, I'd give improvement of speed a 2. I was not too surprised to learn at the meeting that we were not the only library to see little or no improvement with the additional T-1 lines.

But back to the issue at hand - ethics aside, it makes me a little uncomfortable that Equinox has access to PINES listserves. A very insightful individual on the list noted that so few staff participate in listserv discussions because they are afraid of negative feedback and/or the potential of creating an adversarial relationship with Equinox. I have been the target of personal attacks - not from Equinox or GPLS - but from my fellow colleagues in the field. Maybe I'm stuck in the old model of vendor relationships - we keep them at arm's length and GPLS serves as the go-between to communicate our needs. Some say that old model doesn't apply in this situation. Some of the terms that have been thrown out there to describe open source software culture include "family" and "partnership." Sounds great, right?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Some random thoughts:

1) We are currently winning in Music. In fact we have a 10% lead over the Music branch. Cool beans!

2) I visited a library that is 100% self check-out. I'm currently pondering this as a possibility for our service. This is a good read, on how to accomplish such a feat:

I'll write on it after I've thunk on it.

3) Visited a Koha library and the fine folks at LibLime. I like lots of what I see. I'm a little worried about circulation speed, but I'm hopeful version 3 of Koha will rectify my concerns. Props to Owen at the Athens Public Library (Ohio) and Ryan at LibLime for accommodating me on short notice.

4) One thing pretty cool about the Athens Public Library is they have most of their shelving built locally by a carpenter. At first I thought that was insane having custom shelving built. Then I started thinking about it and realized that shelving is expensive, especially metal shelving. Custom built shelves might not be a bad idea. Anyone who has spent a few months waiting on shelving to be manufactured, delivered, and installed might agree. This is another issue for me to thunk on.

5) I've been pondering the future of public computing. I've written a blog post on it twice now just to reject it before hitting the publish button. My New Years resolution is to post my thoughts early in January.

6) My second New Years resolution is to beat some posts out of my contributors. Yeah J Pickle, JetskiDude911, zx81basic, and Cat the Great I'm calling you out.

7) If you need to fly try This is a great low cost airline. Highly recommended for minimal crap, and great pricing.

8) The firemen made me an honorary fire chief. Being as how my great grandfather was a fire chief I'm kinda honored to follow in his footsteps.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hacking the library: Impromptu Marketing

Everyday there are opportunities to market the library just waiting to be used. Today we had a staff member have the misfortune of her car catching fire in the library parking lot. We called the fire department and they quickly came and extinguished the blaze. I must compliment our local fire and police departments. They come whatever the reason, as quickly as they can, and have always been helpful.

While the fire department was rolling up the hose and doing paper work I had an epiphany. A fire truck is a great marketing tool. I sent a staff member to get the digital camera. I grabbed the Bill Engval Christmas CD, a Danielle Steele movie, and "Gone with the Wind". I had Christmas, steamy romance, and fire represented in my choice of materials to compliment the fire truck. I offered the firemen and the firewoman the opportunity to hold the materials in front of the fire truck, but they declined. As a compromise they let me borrow a fire hat. So with my borrowed hat I squatted in front of the truck holding the materials and had a picture taken.

We then posted it on our website with the caption "Smokin' Hot Music and Videos at the Library". Opportunities like this make my job more fun than work.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hacking the library: Marketing Music

One of the greatest opportunities my job provides is the ability to focus and tackle specific problems. For several years my boss has been heartbroken that one of our branches out circulates the headquarter library in music. He has a true love of music and would probably be happier as a full-time musician rather than as a library director. Since taking over as branch manager I've been able to work a little magic on various areas of the collection. Part of the success has been my effort, part my boss allowing freedom, but mostly it goes to some incredibly talented staff who make my ideas work. They figure out how we are going to take the hill while I decide which hill to take. You can go far with limited resources if you have the right people.

One day I was taking a gander at last quarters statistics and determined that the "music" branch out circulates us by a ratio of 5 to 1. Yes, they are winning, but heck I haven't spent one dime on music in the past year. To the best of my knowledge we haven't spent money in the past 5 years on music. Well the little wheels started turning and I started realizing that we could win in music circulation, if we wanted too.

So I polled my valued staff members and listened to what they told me:

1) We needed to do a better job buying music that patrons wanted.

2) Dewey for music isn't helpful to a patron browsing.

3) The music display is over crowded.

4) The music display is too easy to overlook.

With that input in mind I started mapping out a strategy. To solve the first issue I had to determine what music my patrons were interested in. The only place I see people buy music is Starbucks, and Cracker Barrel. So after some more discussion a staff member and myself went over to Starbucks and bought a copy of every CD they had. The folks at Starbucks were pretty nice. They honored the library tax exemption, gave us a discount, and provided several hundred iTune download cards for the library to pass out to patrons. So now we had a collection of music patrons might want and a steaming Cafe au Lait. To supplement these new CD's We picked through the existing collection for a few diamonds in the rough. To our surprise we found some real gems. Most of our music collection comes from the great music industry CD settlement of 2004.

Since Dewey for music isn't helpful we decided to switch to genre based shelving. We already had the music arranged in genre specific statistical categories so that was a relatively pain free switch. Though the grumbling of staff members making labels can be deafening at times.

Fixing problems three and four was just a matter of ordering a new display and putting it in a place that could not be overlooked. The display pictured below was around $150 to purchase, unfortunately it cost $150 to ship so it ended up costing more than I wanted to pay but, that happens. Placing it was simple, smack down in front of the circulation desk was a no brainer.

Now for a total investment of less than $1,000 we have a wicked new music collection that people cannot miss. The results are already showing an uptick. Last quarter music circulation was a mere 22% of the "music" branch. This month we have circulated 38% of the total music circulation of the "music" branch. Not bad at all for a 2 week old project. Small focused projects that make a noticeable difference are what I like most about my job.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

What could PINES affiliation look like?

My previous post generated more interest than I could have imagined. Obviously, emotions on the subjects discussed are running high. There is nothing wrong with spirited debate--it's healthy, productive, and necessary.

One of my statements, "Right now, half of Georgia's library materials are unavailable to half of Georgia except via ILL," generated the following response:

"What would you recommend here? You could help fund OpenNCIP, which could be used by both Koha and Evergreen, but even automated ILL is still ILL, and would be subject to political agreements."

I'm not shying away from a political agreement. My issue with accepting a new circulation policy book, one that I have limited ability to influence for my library, does not mean an unwillingness to reach an accord. I'm not naive enough to think a PINES affiliation agreement wouldn't be a compromise. The difference is I feel many of my concerns are shared by many libraries interested in some form of less-than-full PINES membership.

At present, Inter-Library Loan isn't really automated in a way that is directly patron accessible. Patrons aren't placing their own ILL requests without librarian interaction. Statewide automated ILL would be a benefit to PINES and non-PINES patrons. I really don't think anyone should discount ILL. It has real potential to solve problems and address the current inequities.

Because many non-PINES libraries desire PINES benefits that their patrons fund (all patrons do statewide), and a few PINES members would reconsider their membership level, if other membership levels were available, it might be helpful discuss what a PINES affiliation, could be. I believe all the benefits of PINES should be available a'la carte.

I do want to touch on the statement about funding OpenNCIP. I fail to see why my library should fund the development for the open source implementation of the National Circulation Interchange Protocol (NCIP) to allow my patrons transparent access to state-funded services. It is my opinion that funding OpenNCIP is the responsibility of the Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS). It's fine to tell me how you're developing a feature to improve some module. With library systems servicing half Georgia's population, and providing half to two-thirds the states circulation sitting on the sidelines, it seems development of a protocol that would allow the rest of Georgia to receive the benefits they pay for should be a priority. My non-PINES patrons contribute just as much funding as the patrons of a PINES member library. Why shouldn't they have the opportunity to receive some benefit in their local community without the library having to surrender the independence that provides their service? If my board stops making circulation policy, how can they effectively serve as the community representatives when they no longer have input on how a basic library service is provided?

I'm going to give a description of how this might work. I'm not going to go into technical details, because I find talking about them imposes limitations. The description should be the same for PINES and for Not In PINES Yet (NIPY) libraries.

I want my patrons to be able to:

*Search my catalog and all the catalogs in Georgia.

*Choose items that fit their needs and wants.

*Collect those items at their library, and if it's an item we do not own, or possess an equivalent, then I want them to be able to request this item from another library.

*Have the other library honor this request and immediately, upon availability, send it to my library, where the patron can retrieve the material.

*Walk into any library, present their local library card, provided it's valid and in good standing, and have it honored.

This should allow them to directly check-out materials from the honoring libraries and use other library services, such as computers. I think all librarians should want this for their patrons. Heck, I want it for me as a patron. However, I'm not willing to do it by surrendering my library's ability to change local circulation policy such as a longer lending period. I'm not criticizing libraries that have agreed to full PINES membership. I simply value the ability to implement local preference and policy. I have seen the effects that a change like a new check-out period, adjusting fee and fine levels, and yes, whether or not to require a library card makes, on circulation.

We should be able to reach an agreement and implement communication protocols that can make this possible. It should be as transparent as possible for the patron. There is nothing wrong with needing intermediary systems to make this happen. It may require another system to bring the different individual ILSs together, or a brand new module in Evergreen might provide this glue. The point is, whatever the mechanism, I should be able to serve my patrons and have the option to serve PINES patrons without limiting my board's ability to enact and modify local policy addressing the needs of patrons residing in their community.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why My Library Is Looking At Koha.

This was largely posted on the Georgia Library TechTalk list-serve. Based on off-list comments several people indicated they would love to comment but, feel they may face some form of retribution. Due to that concern I am posting an edited version where anonymous comments will be allowed. I sanitized my library, region, and boss's name from this version.

After getting several emails concerning the rumor that the we will be migrating to the free open source Koha Library System I felt it best to respond to the Georgia library community as a whole to address the rumor. As many of you are aware, we have submitted a letter of intent to leave the Regional Library System and form a single-county library system as of July 1, 2008. My boss has very succinctly covered the reasons why via the Directors Discussion List, and, in person, at the recent RPLAC meeting. While joining PINES is an option, we have legitimate concerns, that I will list in greater detail below. We feel it is in the best interest of our patrons to investigate other options. We have not made a final decision on whether to leave our current circulation system, switch to Koha, or to join PINES. We have decided to explore all options including evaluating whether Koha is suitable for our patron's needs. With that said up front, I'll go into the reasons why we are considering Koha.

Currently, the Regional Library System runs a Sirsi Unicorn circulation system. This system has been in place for 10 years and has served the needs of the library system extremely well. As with any software there have been problems, but day in and day out, it quickly checks the books in and out. We currently pay less than $9,000 in annual maintenance to continue running a Unicorn server. Unfortunately, in leaving the regional library we have to look at every expense. The Library will be facing a reduction in staff. The amount of money we currently pay for a circulation system could be a part-time staff member. Those of you who attended the recent training hosted on behalf of the Georgia Council of Public Libraries can attest that we have sufficient skilled staff to tackle a technology challenge. In fact, I'll say it because I believe it true, I have the best technology staff of any library of which I am aware. With that said I have little doubt in our ability to make a free alternative such as Koha perform.

Now I know you are saying to yourself "isn't PINES free?" Yes, that is true, but I have one very large problem with the library blindly joining PINES. Our current regional system has been in existence for 60 years where it has progressed from manual circulation system, to CLSI LIBS Plus, and, presently, Sirsi Unicorn. In those years, we have developed a large set of cumbersome policies and procedures in the spirit of getting along as a region. Yes, we revise policies frequently, but that doesn't change the fact that we do lots of hoop jumping to the inconvenience of our patrons to satisfy the individual branch's staff and boards of trustees. In looking at our current policies and comparing it to the service we want to provide our patrons, we see a wonderful opportunity to enhance service by writing procedure and policy to maximize our ability to provide outstanding service. This is our opportunity to radically simplify our procedures to meet that goal.

If we join PINES, we get a brand new set of policy and procedure that is the end result of compromise amongst 48 library systems. All libraries are not the same, and, in looking at PINES, you see that busy libraries and less busy libraries operate by the same rules. It's the "one size fits all" mentality that we question. Yes there is a mechanism for change involving list-serve discussions, subcommittees and a governing board of directors but where my library now has a seat at the table to directly be involved in making the compromise, we would no longer have that guaranteed opportunity to have our voice heard. Unless we had a permeant seat on each subcommittee and the governing board of directors to make sure we had input throughout the process, we would be a newly independent single-county library with little say in our destiny. In the current region, we can't turn on a dime, but we can turn on a hubcap because we have direct input in driving the library. If we join PINES, we loose that direct input and loose the ability to effect the direction our library is traveling.

The loss of independence is why we are considering running our own Koha system rather than simply joining PINES. It's going to be politically difficult to justify staying on our current system when PINES is free. Since Koha is free, that argument is moot. I'll switch to bullet form for the rest of my concerns, but, before they are listed, I need to state we are not anti-PINES. The ideal of a union listing of patrons and materials is what PINES is about. Allowing any Georgian to borrow any item in a Georgia Library is the ultimate goal. We simply don't believe that it's necessary for that goal to hand over our independence. Surely there has to be a way to allow the Not In PINES Yet (NIPY) libraries the benefits of PINES without compromising those libraries ability to serve their patrons. Right now, half of Georgia's library materials are unavailable to half of Georgia except via ILL. This is as true for a NIPY library as it is for a PINES library. Until libraries that value their independence are given the ability to access PINES directly from a NIPY library, this will remain true.

Other concerns about joining PINES
*Re-registration of our patrons. Having to re-register all 50,000 patrons does not seem very reasonable. While we understand wanting the "clean database", we don't see the benefit of not allowing a library to simply migrate their patrons and swap library cards for the new PINES card. One year you tell the county commission we have 50,000 patrons. The next year you tell them you have 15,000. That seems to shoot a great many statistical arguments in the foot as a library wrangles for local dollars. This also inconveniences the patron by forcing registration when simply confirming their information is much quicker for them and just as accurate.

*Deleting patrons after 3 years of inactivity. This exasperates the problem of re-registering patrons. Can't we simply block the patrons from checking out material until they confirm their contact information? This has the same effect as patron re-registration in arguing for extra funding.

*The manner Holds are processed. We think a hold immediately going out to the first available copy wherever the library is inefficient and frankly is an anti-patron philosophy. The stories we hear about patrons finding the item they placed on hold three days earlier on their local libraries shelf seem to occur with too much frequency. I know there is development work on a 24 hour wait to allow your holds to be serviced locally but it has been demonstrated that 24 hours is much too short a time frame to allow local items to service local patrons.

*The PINES delivery service. The horror stories that we have heard concerning the weeks it takes to move a book on toe fungus from Augusta, GA to a patron in La Fayette makes us wonder if we couldn't get the same book via ILL faster from Augusta, ME. Having to devote a staff member or multiple staff members to process the random delivery of a couple hundred holds is a real problem. With a reduction in force looming, where do I get my staff for holds processing?

*Receipt printing. The problem where patrons need to spend significant extra time after completing all circulation transactions just to get a receipt which prevents other patrons from library service is a real problem. One thing I like about our current system is the receipt is complete when the transaction is finished, so there is no need to buy a expensive printer to fix a software problem.

*Patron card requirements. Requiring patrons to always have a card to checkout items is, to me, inflexible. If you can verify a patron's identity and find them in the system, do I really want to tell them they can't checkout items because they forgot their card? This is a policy where you need to put yourself in the patrons shoes and ask if this how you want to be treated.

*System speed. The time spent waiting while the system thinks about processing a circulation transaction is ridiculous. The only fix we can effect is adding staff checkout stations or adding expensive self checkout stations. How can we do that when we may very well face a reduction in force? The slowness will prevent me from serving my patrons. I'm looking to increase service--not impede it.

*Help desk response. I hear it all the time from PINES libraries. Submit a ticket and we will fix it. Unfortunately, unless you scream about the problem, you will only receive a email stating the ticket is closed due to lack of communication after two weeks. Unfortunately, a satisfactory resolution to the problem isn't required to close a ticket.

*Apparent censorship of dissenting voices. I think most in PINES are aware of the most recent example where someone voicing actual concerns was told to be quiet by PINES staff. This is not the first time I've heard of PINES silencing a dissenting voice, just the first time someone had the courage to not take it lying down. It was said best in a meeting I attended last week. "PINES doesn't handle criticism well". Spirited debate should not be quashed in the profession. Let's see--I'm going to fight to keep Harry Potter on the shelf despite the controversy over Dumbledore, but I'll keep my mouth shut rather than discuss issues effecting my library with peers in other libraries? That is a counter intuitive argument that is undefendable.

We are not anti-PINES. We simply are stating a list of our concerns about joining PINES. Most of my concerns could be remedied by the local library not losing it's voice.