Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Upgrading Unicorn Application

Unicorn is the overall name of our Integrated Library System. WorkFlows is the desktop application that we all use to access the ILS (desktop computers refer to all the individual staff computers throughout the system, as compared to the server which all the desktops connect to). We are currently using Unicorn 3.1 and we need to regularly update the ILS application as new versions are released.

By the time I came on board last year, Symphony 3.2 (the successor of Unicorn 3.1) had been released and Symphony 3.3 was around the corner. I opted to wait for Symphony 3.3, but when Symphony 3.3 was released recently, I noticed that the desktop RAM requirements increased. As you may recall, we had a difficult time with WorkFlows until we finally increased our desktop RAM to somewhere near the 1GB range, which is the recommended amount of RAM. The WorkFlows that comes with Symphony 3.3 has a recommendation of 2GB of RAM.

So I shifted gears and aimed for Symphony 3.2. I then saw that a server requirement for 3.2 calls for a newer version of Oracle (the underlying database embedded within Unicorn/Symphony and not related to the city-wide Oracle database). SirsiDynix can perform this upgrade, but it requires a two-hour downtime. And SirsiDynix can do this for free between the hours or 8am-5pm, but it costs quite a bit per hour to do this upgrade when the library is not open.

Along came the Veteran's Day holiday in which the library is closed and SirsiDynix is open. So, tomorrow, SirsiDynix will upgrade Oracle so that we can upgrade Unicorn in the near future. And we will save a good chunk of change in the process.

Stay tuned for more about the Symphony 3.2 upgrade.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Public Catalog Most Popular Lists

A while back, I added some links on the public catalog page listing some popular titles and subjects. I would update this list manually, but the time it took to update forced me to update the list only once a quarter.

After an upgrade to our public catalog, I was able to utilize an automated tool that would do the same thing. Therefore, we now have the "Most Popular Lists" on every page of our public catalog. This list shows the top 5 Authors, Titles, and Subjects with the option to expand to the top 20 in each category. Of course, these list entries are links to searches for these topics. Rankings are taken directly from our circulation stats and are updated every Saturday night.

So, to review. These lists changed from manual quarterly updates to weekly automated updates. And these lists are located on every page instead of only on one page as it was before.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Behind the Scenes of Statistics (a general overview)

OK. It has been nearly 5 months since my last post. I'm not promising anything, but in the spirit of openness and greater access, I'll give this another try.

Outside of regular "ILS" duties (see previous post), I also coordinate many of the statistics that we produce. Some statistics can be pulled directly from the ILS, such as circulation, user, catalog-type statistics. How many items do we have in the library? I can pull that up pretty quickly. How many items in each library? Can do. How many items in a certain location that have had no activity in the past 3 years? No problem.

But there are also a lot of statistics that do not come from the ILS. They come from you. How many people visited the library? How many reference questions did they ask? These are a bit harder to answer. These statistics require staff to measure usage and submit various forms. I have been exploring the idea of converting some of these forms to "webforms". Much like "online job applications" (which we love so much), you could enter data online with drop-down menus and text boxes. Instead of worrying about using the correct form and sending attachments to various people, you could enter the data online and click submit and be done with it. And computer usage statistics will soon be a lot easier for everyone as the automated computer sign-up allows for some detailed reporting.

So what do we do with these stats once we've collected them? Some are used to measure our own Goals and Objectives. This report is produced by the 5th of each month. We also produce Quarterly and Annual statistic reports. We also use these statistics for various surveys we receive throughout the year. Currently, I am working on the annual Tennessee public library statistics report. And we use these statistics to assist with any grant proposals or to provide answers to questions from other government offices or media.

If you have any questions about our statistics, please let me know and I'll see what I can find.

Friday, May 29, 2009

What is the ILS?

My job title is ILS Coordinator. But what exactly is the ILS? It stands for Integrated Library System. This refers to the application that libraries use to help purchase items, catalog items, search for items, check items out to users, store user account information, and more.

The ILS application that we use is a product from SirsiDynix called Unicorn. We have version 3.1. This application is run on a server, but there is an application on each workstation called WorkFlows which allows us to perform ILS-related tasks in a Windows-based graphical environment. And while much of my work can also be performed in WorkFlows, from time to time I have to delve deep behind WorkFlows and perform tasks on the server itself, which is not a graphical environment.

The Unicorn product communicates with many other products on other servers. First, there is EPS. This is the application used for our Web-based catalog, which is the main interface that our customers have with our ILS system. They perform searches on our catalog via the internet, which sends the request to our EPS server, which grabs the information from the Unicorn server and sends it back to the customer on the Web. And while many of the tasks I perform on the EPS can be done on the Web-based interface, many times I find myself crawling through files and directories on the server.

Unicorn also communicates with SVA (Sirsi Voice Automation). Unicorn sends overdue and hold notices to SVA and SVA calls the customers and reads the notices. SVA will also need to request information from Unicorn from time to time when a customer calls our automated account line.

Then we have Director's Station which is a statistical web-based application. Unicorn sends information to this server once a day. This allows people to query the information stored on the Unicorn database without actually interfering with that information (such as circulation stats, user stats, collection stats, etc.). As of now, I am pretty much the only user of Director's Station. I use it to collect many of the stats that eventually appear on quarterly and annual reports. I also use it quite frequently when I receive questions regarding circulation or collection counts for specific libraries, locations, and time periods.

So coordinating the ILS involves making sure all of these applications work together. And as updates and upgrades occur to these applications, I have to make sure those occur smoothly and with as little down-time as possible. Speaking of "down-time", these applications will stop working from time to time (just like any other application), and it is up to me to get them back up and running, find out why they went down, and try to fix it so it doesn't happen again.

Unicorn also needs to be able to communicate with other third party applications such as OverDrive (the e-audio book application). OverDrive needs to be able to access information from Unicorn when customers attempt to check-out an e-audio book. And when we institute self-checkout and automated computer sign-up, these services will need to communicate with our ILS application as well.

On top of coordinating all of these machines, I also coordinate the connections between staff and customers and our ILS. That involves making sure we are using the ILS correctly, assisting in developing proper procedures, assisting with training, investigating mysteries, and more!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Behind the Scenes of Discarding

When you discard an item, you check it out to your agency's discard account (HUMDISCARD, PWSDISCARD, etc.). The item is still in our catalog, but items that are checked out to a DISCARD account have a current location of DISCARD (instead of CHECKEDOUT). This current location is set to be shadowed (or not viewable) on the public catalog. Holds cannot be placed on these items as well.

While these items have been checked out to a discard account, we have not "really" discarded them. Therefore, once a week on Saturday, reports run which convert all items checked out to a discard account. These items are then "officially" set to a discard status. But that is not all.

Another report runs, also on Saturday after all of the Discard Convert reports. This is the "Discard Remove" report. It removes all discarded items from the catalog and produces a list of those items. Items that have bills associated with them are not removed. That is why you will still see quite a few "discard" items in our catalog.

Once a quarter, I take these weekly discard reports and perform a multi-step process in order to create a list of deleted items that we can use to update our holdings with OCLC.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Emailing Customer Surveys

Last week we sent an email to all customers who had selected email as their preferred method of notification. As we see in my prior post, that is about 13% of our 360,000+ customers. This email asked our customers to fill out a survey. The last time we sent an email out like this was back in 2005 for our last customer survey.

We have since had about 2,800 people fill out the online survey. With many more weeks to go in our survey collection period, we have far surpassed the 1100 online surveys collected in 2005.

Also, about 20% of these emails bounced back. Over the years, people changed their email, but they did not inform us. Or, the email was entered incorrectly.

We regularly receive bounce backs from email notices we send daily. Circulation staff receive those bouncebacks and they change the customer's notification method to PHONE, erase the email, and place a note on the account requesting an updated email. Or, if an obvious error is found, it can be corrected (ex. blahblah@yahoo.cmo).

There is not much we can do about people changing emails and not informing us. But we can eliminate any typos (whether written down wrong by customer or entered incorrectly by staff). One way we will do this is by sending out a welcome email. This will be sent weekly to all customers who have created an account in the past week who have also chosen email as their notification method. This email will inform them of the types of notices they may receive. It will also allow us catch any bouncebacks before we actually send an overdue or hold notification.

While we do not want to start sending random emails to our customers, we feel that this will serve both the customer's needs and our own.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Behind the Scenes of Customer Notifications

We send notifications to our customers regarding holds, overdue items, and assumed lost items. We send these notifications by email, telephone, or US mail and it is up to the customer to choose which method they prefer.

Currently, we have about 363,000 registered customers and here is the breakdown for notification preference:

  • 13% EMAIL
  • 3% US MAIL
Telephone customers will receive a hold notification and overdue notification. Our SVA service handles this process. It will attempt to notify the customer three times. If someone answers or an answering machine answers, it will cue the recording and will count as a notification. If SVA cannot notify the customer about an overdue item, then a mail notice will be sent at the same time that all other mail notices are sent (only for overdue, not holds). If an item status changes to assumed lost, these customers are sent a US Mail notice.

Email customers receive several notifications since it is so much easier to send emails. They receive a hold notification on the day the hold becomes available. If the item has not been picked up after four days, they receive another email. They also receive an email three days prior to an item being overdue, three days after the item is overdue, and ten days after the item is overdue. If an item status changes to assumed lost, these customers are sent a US Mail notice.

US Mail customers receive only one overdue notice, and that is all. They do not receive hold notifications. They will also receive, via US Mail, any assumed lost notices.

Monday, April 13, 2009


We have talked about "Current Location" in a previous post. It tells you where the item is currently located. Two of these locations may seem redundant, but they are, oh, so different. They are LOST-ASSUM (aka Assumed Lost) and LOST-CLAIM (aka Claims Returned).

In short, LOST-ASSUM are items that are so long overdue that we assume they are lost. LOST-CLAIM are items that customers claim to have returned but were never discharged.

Every two weeks, I run several reports on our system that produce overdue mailer notices. One of these notices is the assumed lost notice. This report finds all items that are currently checked out to customers that are over 60 days overdue (NOTE: Since the report is run just once every two weeks, items could actually be up to 73 days overdue before they are assumed lost.) This report changes the "Current Location" of these items to LOST-ASSUM and bills the associated User ID for the cost of the item and a processing fee. Notices are mailed to all customers (even to those who have selected PHONE or EMAIL as their notification choice (more on that on another post)). If the customer returns the item, the customer only owes the maximum $5.00 fine.

At any point in time, a customer may state that they have returned an item that, according to us, was never discharged from their account. A report is created every two weeks that is sent to each agency that lists all items that have been claims returned for the past two weeks. Staff then attempt to locate these items.

Academy Awards - Best Picture

Monday, March 30, 2009

Item Format

As mentioned in the previous post, Item Types can be a decent search limiter, but sometimes they can be a bit too limiting.

There is another search option that can be used to limit your search that may be a better tool to use. It is called "Format".

I have created a page that lists each Format as well as a description. Click here to see this page. It is also listed on the main WorkFlows page.

You can limit your searches to specific formats by clicking on the Search Options button and using the Format drop-down menu.

When using the online public access catalog, you can limit your search to a specific format by using the advanced search and using the Format drop-down menu.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Item Types

As noted in a previous post, each item is given a Home Location. Each item is also given an Item Type. Not only does this give us a decent description of the item, it also allows us to create different circulation rules depending on the Item Type. And it can also be a decent search limiter from time to time.

I have created a page that lists each item type as well as a description and any notes (if any). Click here to see this page. It is also listed on the main WorkFlows page.

Item Types can be seen on the Call Number/Item tab in WorkFlows. You can limit your searches to specific item types by clicking on the Search Options button and using the Item Type drop-down menu.

When using the online public access catalog, item types can be seen by clicking an individual title. The item details page lists the item type description instead of the item type code that we see in WorkFlows. You can limit your search to a specific item type by using the advanced search and using the Item Type drop-down menu.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Home Location vs. Current Location

Now that we have talked about a record, let's talk about the details. A record describes a certain material, but we may buy many copies of that book or CD or whatever. These are called items. Each item is given a Home Location, an Item Category 1 and 2, an Item Type, and so on. Today, we'll talk about Locations.

Each item has a "Home Location". This can be something like FICTION, NONFICTION, POPULAR, REFERENCE, etc. The Central library has many unique Home Locations such as HUM_FIC (which stands for Humanities Fiction and is used instead of FICTION), or C_EASY_FIC (which stands for Children's Easy Fiction and is used instead of EASY_FIC).

This is similar but different to an item's "Current Location". If the Current Location is the same as the Home Location, then the item should be on the shelf. But the Current Location can also be CHECKEDOUT, DISCARD, MISSING, INTRANSIT, LOST-ASSUM, LOST-CLAIM, etc.

In WorkFlows, the Home Location and the Current Location can be seen on the Call Number/Item tab. The "item tree" displays the Current Location. The box on the right will show the Home Location as well as the Current Location.

On the Online Public Catalog, the Current Location can be seen by clicking on a title that displays in your results. The ensuing screen will display a list that is similar to the "item tree" that appears on the left side of the Call Number/Item tab in WorkFlows. This lists the Current Location only. The Home Location cannot be seen unless the Current Location is the Home Location. Also, this list does not show items that have a Current Location of MISSING, DISCARD, LOST-ASSUM, LOST-CLAIM, etc. These are "shadowed".

Friday, March 06, 2009

Online Renewals

When customers access their account online, they have the option to renew their items. However, the list of items is not limited to those items which CAN be renewed. It simply lists all of their items they have checked out.

If a customer selects all items and renews, they receive a list of items that did renew followed by a list of items that did NOT renew. A problem occurs when customers do not examine this list and assume that all items were renewed. Fines continue to accumulate on the items that were not renewed, and the customer is not happy when they find this out the next time they try to check something out.

Not helping this matter was the brief message a customer received when they renewed items. It stated, "(x) items were renewed." A couple of weeks ago, I changed it to "(x) items were renewed. Please scroll down to see is some items were not renewed."

I also changed the message that appears below an item if that item could not be renewed. It used to state, "renewal failed". It now states,"Renewal failed. 1) Either item already renewed once; 2) Item is a Popular Book or New DVD and cannot be renewed; 3) Or another customer has a hold on the item."

I also added a bullet to the online help for "Renewing Items". It now states:

To renew online, follow these steps:

  • Log in to your account.
  • In the My Account area, click Renew My Materials.
  • Select the check box by items to renew, or mark Select All.
  • Click Renew Selected Items.
  • You will then receive a list of the items that successfully renewed followed by a list of items that could not be renewed. Please review this list carefully.
I have also submitted an enhancement request to SirsiDynix that could hopefully address this issue in future upgrades. Other library systems have stated that their customers report the same experience. One way would be to possibly limit the list of items that the customer sees prior to selecting items to renew. This list would be limited to only those items that can be renewed. Or, perhaps a simpler way would be to reverse the renewal results so that all of the items that failed to renew are listed first.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What is the Catalog?

Part I in a series on basic searching...

Knowing what the catalog is will help you search that catalog. In simple terms, the catalog is a collection of records that describe all of the material we have in the library. Each record has numerous fields which house certain types of information. What are the three main types of information libraries collect? Anyone?

Answer: Author, Title, and Subject.

There are other fields which store information such as call number, publisher, etc. Another useful field is the Contents field which stores information such as song titles on CDs or music scores, short story titles in short story collections, and such. Some records even have a Summary field which provides a brief description of the contents of the material.

When searching in WorkFlows, these fields can be viewed by selecting the Description tab that appears once you have your results. On the online catalog, these fields can be seen by clicking on a title in a results list. Then, click on Catalog Record which appears in a column on the right side of the page.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Where Am I? Or, The Importance of the USER ID When Logging into WorkFlows

The process of logging into WorkFlows is trickier than you might expect. You should always make sure that you log in with the User ID and PIN of the location that you are currently located. Many of us work in multiple locations and almost all of us help out at Central on Sundays. And, for example, if you log in using the Randolph User ID and PIN when you are actually at Highland, then WorkFlows thinks you are at Randolph.

What are the implications of this? If you check out any books, then stats are assigned to Randolph and not Highland. If you place a book on hold to be picked up at Highland, the item is placed intransit to Highland from Randolph even though the book is already at Highland. If you discharge books that belong to Highland and reshelve, the items are still intransit from Randolph to Highland. Basically, all sorts of chaos ensues.

And you thought remembering the cryptic 4 digit PIN was the hard part!

For more information on logging into WorkFlows, visit the WorkFlows wiki and click on Logging In.