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.