Friday, 30 June 2017

Mobile App for SA public libraries

We've just signed a contract for a new Mobile App for our libraries.  We don't have a delivery time on it yet, but we're pretty excited that the project has started to roll this out for every library service in the State.

We had been aware for over a year of a really great mobile App for libraries produced by SOLUS - a Scottish company & have been keen to add the functionality, good looks and ease of use of the App to our library system. However SOLUS and SirsiDynix (our LMS provider) got talking about a partnership, whereby the best of the SOLUS App functionality would be enhanced by deep linking into our LMS content.  In January this year the two companies announced their partnership & since then they've been working together to produce the SirsiDynix version of the SOLUS App.  

Now that the new App has been released we've signed up to get it for our customers as soon as possible.

One of the great features of the new App is that while all South Australians will all download the same App, it will have different sections for every library system in the State.  This will mean that once a user has logged into the App and chosen their library they will see relevant local content, as well as the collection of library materials from across the State.  So if a customer is looking for public programs, they will get information about programs from their local library rather than all the information from across the State.  However if they're going somewhere on holidays & want to see if that library has any programs they can also choose to look at any other library as well.

We will be putting together a small group of libraries to do some testing of the layout and design of the App both with library staff and library customers. Once we think we've got a good design we'll need to create 71 individual profiles - one for each council and a few for libraries that operate outside of council boundaries.

So doing this work will take a bit of time, but we aim to work steadily to get the product released across the State as soon as we can.

If you're an SA public library staff member you can see a short promo video about the App on One Place here.  Apologies if you're not one of our staff & can't get to this demo.  If it gets released publicly I will post a new link to a public version of it.

However if you can't get to the video & you are a little curious about the App you can go to the App store (Apple) or the Google Play store (Android) and search for a the following libraries that have the "native" SOLUS App running: Darrebin (in Melbourne), Libraries West - a consortium in the west of England, Newcastle (UK) to name a few. What you'll get with these is the Solus App as it is released by SOLUS, with without the SirsiDynix overlay.  But at least it will give you some idea so some of the functionality that we will have access to.

I should note that I'm aware that a number of our customers are using the SirsiDynix provided BookMyne App.  We won't be turning it off as soon as  the new App rolls out, but given SirsiDynix's partnership with SOLUS I do not expect to see any further development of BookMyne, so it will be useful to inform customers that BC Mobile will be our preferred future App.


Friday, 21 April 2017

New data source discoverable in Enterprise

We've always known that Enterprise can display content from sources other than the LMS.  This is evident in how Portfolio records are harvested and made available.  When we purchased the SirsiDynix package this was a feature that we hoped to be able to exploit fairly quickly, however it proved more difficult than we first thought.

We got a simple Z39.50 protocol link happening with the State Library of South Australia catalogue.  However the quality of the records was not that good, so we've not actively pursued this angle.  Also, while there is some convenience for library customers to use their local public library catalogue to look at the State Library's records, they look way better on the SLSA website, so its better to go an look on their site. You can see how the tab for SLSA records works in the screenshot below.  

So after this experiment, we've not actively pursued this feature, except for our recent use of Portfolio to push records into Enterprise for our e-magazines and some courses.  

However we have been working with Connecting Up, which is the not for profit enterprise that publishes the "SAcommunity" directory.  This directory lists a whole range of local service providers, support groups and community organisations that may well be of interest to people searching for information in the library catalogueMuch of the data that is in the SACommunity directory has been collected over the years by local libraries in conjunction with Connecting Up.

The SAcommunity directory is a very useful, but perhaps underutilized resource.  So we're hoping that exposing it through the library discovery layer will increase awareness of the directory, increase its use and improve access to local information for all South Australians. 

You can see from the screenshot below where the tab sits on Enterprise.  The customer doesn't have to re-do their search to get the information they're after.  So as you can see from the screenshot below if a customer types in Dementia to see the library materials they will find 411 resources (highlighted).  The other thing that happens is that tab appears (also highlighted) that says SAcommunity Information.    The customer can then just click the SAcommunity information tab & the system will perform the same search within the SAcommunity directory. 

Below is a shot of what the screen changes to, when the SAcommunity Information tab is clicked.  You will note that we have set this profile to look at Adelaide Council resources.  It can be configured to look at different council areas.

I have included a typical record that will be shown in a list of organisations that provide services to people with dementia.

PLS plans to work with libraries to add the SAcommunity Information tab to their Enterprise instances in coming weeks.  The process will be that the tab will become a default setting as a matter of course, however libraries will have the option to choose not to install the tab as part of their Enterprise instance.  If you work in an SA library look out for our communication about this change.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Using default tabs in Enterprise

We've been working with SirsiDynix to develop a mechanism that will provide increased access to local collections - if that is how libraries want to configure Enterprise.  

The reason for this is that, all things being equal, when a customer does a general search such as "dogs" or dinosaurs" they are likely to get items from right across the consortium displaying on the first few screens. The system does not have a bias towards local collections.  And Google research tells us that people will usually click on a search result on the first one or two screens, rather than regularly looking deeper into the search results.  What this means is that customers are reserving items to come from other libraries, when there could be perfectly good items sitting on the shelf of their of their local library.  This leads to delays in the customers getting what they want & also has an impact on libraries who pick and ship items, perhaps unnecessarily.

We've created three options for libraries & various libraries have taken up all of the options.  So I am going to use some screen shots to explain the options and how they work.   

I will start with the most extensive option - which has 3 tabs.  Below is a series of partial screen shots to illustrate this.

You can see that I have done a search for roses, and there are 2 tabs below the "Select an Action" button, one of which says in red text Quorn Library (180). You will also notice that at the top and centre of the grey box is both the number of items found as well as where you are searching - i.e. Quorn Library. You will note how this advice changes with searches of other tabs.  This is saying that in the Quorn library there are 180 items with the word roses in the record.  Again - as per my last post, screen shots from Enterprise don't reproduce in this blog software very well - so apologies. 

You will note that next to the Quorn Library (180) there is a tab that says in blue Flinders Ranges Council.  This is there because there is another library in the council - that operates semi-independently from Quorn, but is a nearby library that customers may choose to travel to if an item was available there.  If the user clicks on this tab they see the following:  

This shows that the combined holdings of both libraries have 251 items with the word roses in them.  Note that both the tab for Flinders Ranges Council has red writing as well as a clear statement at the top and centre of the grey box saying both the number of search results and where you're searching.

And finally, if the customer clicks the last tab called "All Libraries" they get a search result that shows there are 10,646 items in the consortium with the word "roses" in their records. 

I should note at this stage, that if no items at Quorn match the search the system automatically cascades to search by items in the 2nd tab, and then if there is still no match it will automatically go to the final "All Libraries" tab.  This is demonstrated in the screen shot below, where I searched for Bool Lagoon (a relatively small obscure place about 6oo kms away from Quorn). It is not surprising that they don't have any items with this term in the record.

You can't see what happened, but I started the search with Quorn selected as my default search target, but on finding nothing the system kept searching until if found some records that matched.

The option of starting the search by a specific branch has merit in a range of situations, one of which may be the OPAC in a local branch, where customers want to start by looking at what is available in the building they are in.  Or in some cases, some of our smaller libraries want to look locally first.

Another option is to just have two tabs, with one of them set to search all branches in a library system before looking at all libraries in the consortium.  This is illustrated by the City of Playford's site, which has 2 library branches. Their default setting is Playford Library Service.  And you can see from the screen shot below that a search for roses returned 476 results. 

Playford has set their default to start across their two branches, but then widen to All Libraries, as is seen below: 

Another one of our libraries has taken a different position on the choice of defaulting to looking locally first.  As you can see below Mount Barker has chosen "All Libraries" as its default.  The Library Manager told me that this was the library's preferred choice because they were not confident that customers would understand how the tabs worked & may become despondent if what they were looking for did not display in their first search.  Maybe they would give up their search & not click through to the "All Libraries" tab. He made the comment that Enterprise is very "busy" & the tabs may not be all that obvious to the average customer.

I have some sympathy with this thought & certainly don't want customers to miss out.  So while these tabs are a bit of a workaround, and an attempt to improve Enterprise, it is not the perfect solution.  And it will need libraries to do a bit of teaching / pointing out the changes to customers if they have deployed a local search as their default position.

So - until we get the perfect solution where the balance between relevance ranking and location are well handled by a library discovery layer, we're hopeful that for customers doing general searches, that they will have greater success finding local items, thereby reducing waiting times and shipping effort.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Changes to Enterprise - with the customer in mind

As flagged earlier, we've been actively considering where our interface with the customer falls short & how we can improve what we currently offer.  We've had a few breakthroughs that I'd like to share.  While these are still in final test phase, and will be implemented in April and May, I think they're worth documenting.

We are about to make three changes to Enterprise, two of which will become standard across all libraries' Enterprise sites & one that allows for each library to decide how it will implement the change.

The "standard" changes relate to 1) making additional e-content (Zinio & discoverable through Enterprise, and 2) making a local South Australian community information database available in Enterprise.  The 3rd change provides a little more nuance around increasing the amount of local content that is displayed in many searches undertaken by library customers.  Give the complexity of explaining these 3 changes I've decided to restrict this post to the 1st change we're making and then explain the other two changes in another post or two.

Zinio and discoverability in Enterprise:  These two products are currently not discoverable using the SirsiDynix eResource Central (eRC) product.  We've heard that it will be some time until these two products will be discoverable in Enterprise through a metadata harvest through eRC.  So we've decided to implement a "workaround" using the functionality of Portfolio - the digital asset product we also subscribe to from SirsiDynix. 

James Kemperman (of PLS) has created digital objects in Portfolio, that are then harvested by Enterprise, and display in people's search terms.  Our network subscribes to approximately 400 different e-magazine titles through Zinio, so James has begun creating a record for each title, that then become discoverable.  For example when someone searches for something like Organic Gardener, in their search results they will see this record. See the image below. (And I apologize for the quality of the pics - they're screenshots that don't scale very well in the limited functionality of this blog software.) 

If you click the link, you will note that the hard copies of the ABC Organic Gardener display for various libraries, along with the e-magazine record. 

The record is not perfect, because we can't mask the second URL in the record - that just links to the cover picture.  However we're hopeful that by adding the "ACCESS HERE" in front of the 1st URL customers will quickly get the hang of how it works.  Another "downside" is that the record for this e-magazine is shown as an "asset" in the search facets on the left hand side, along with all other Portfolio records, rather than being included in the list of Magazines.  So someone who limits their searches to magazines will not see the e-ones. 

And once a customer clicks on the record in the list they will see this image:

This provides all the information about how to download the magazine to various devices & how to get the App for whatever your device is.

As I've said this is a work-around - not perfect, but an improvement.  We'll be adding records for all titles in coming weeks. is a bit like Zinio, however the subscription provides almost countless courses & we don't want to include everything, as it will clutter the database unnecessarily.  So we're looking at usage stats to include courses that have proved popular in the past, as well as asking library staff who are doing training in digital literacy to nominate courses that they would like to see highlighted for customers.  That way, the trainers can point their trainees to Enterprise and get them to find the courses that are part of the course they're doing.

An example of this is seen here, where if a person was to search for javascript in Enterprise, one of he records they would find is a link through to a course.  Below is an image of what the record looks like in Enterprise.  

You will note that we have included the instructions "login using your library card number and PIN" in this record, so people get the idea that it isn't a book or DVD.  Clicking on this link will take the customer out of Enterprise and to the login screen.

Hopefully this temporary work-around will increase the discovery and use of these two e-resources while we wait for eRC to catch up.  As we're already paying for the online products it makes sense to find any possible way to maximize their use.

I'll post on the other two changes to Enterprise in the near future.


Friday, 31 March 2017

New "One Library" consortium created in Western Australia

I have been following with interest the progress of a consortium of 11 councils in south western Western Australia as they've been developing a library consortium, which will operate in a similar manner to our State-wide OneCard  system in South Australia.  They have developed an interesting logo which is a stylised map of the regions that the participating councils cover.

The consortium has commenced its public announcements about its intent and has commenced converting libraries onto their new Library Management System and has announced their intent to their communities.  This has received media publicity.   

The 11 councils involved span from about 100Kms south of Perth at Waroona all the way to the south coast of WA at the Walpole library.  The consortium will include 23 libraries, serve a population of almost 200,000 people and include over 500,000 items in their collections.  And it is interesting see that the consortium has chosen SirsiDynix as the providers of their Library Management System which enables the consortium.  This is the same software used by the OneCard consortium in South Australia. 

Various councils have provided information to their communities outlining how the consortium will work & what the rollout timetable is for all members of the consortium.  They intend to have all libraries onto the new system by July this year.  Information on the Bunbury and Manjimup council sites provide useful information about the operations of their consortium.

While this consortium only covers 11 of the 140 councils in WA and covers about 8% of the state's population this is quite an achievement, and is a good start to what could provide a model for other councils in the state. 

From my perspective in South Australia, and considering the success of our consortium here, it great to see another group of likeminded councils considering that their communities will be enriched by pooling their library collections and sharing them with their neighbours. This spirit of cooperation can only be a good thing for the communities they serve & strengthen the place that libraries have in their communities. 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

User Experience - incremental & radical change

My last post began a general conversation about the library users' experiences, particularly in relation to our online services and products.  As I indicated, I'd like to take this discussion further to look at our current products and services, how they do or don't work and what we need to do to fix them.

I think a key issue here is that while we know some of what is wrong with our online presence, if we're talking about the users' experience then we need to find effective and efficient ways of testing our services with our users to make sure that changes we make are things that they want to see & that they know will improve their experience.  

Having said that, there are certain standards and metrics that can be used to determine product effectiveness even before users are engaged in providing input into design. For example, there are Web standards to make sure that the content of websites is accessible to people regardless of their disability. 

We also know that more than 30% of all web browsing/use is done from a device other than a computer - i.e. some form of mobile device - a phone or a tablet etc.  So we need to make sure that we can provide a positive user experience on various devices.  Are we doing that at the moment?  No, not to my satisfaction

And more broadly, what works well or doesn't work well in our consortium's online offerings?
  • Finding and using Enterprise on a mobile device?  I don't think so.
  • Registering as a new library user online?  No
  • Finding and accessing e-books? No
  • What about e-magazines, or other content we provide such as, Ancestry? Not really.
  • Keeping customers informed about library offerings (new books, events etc) in their areas of personal interest?  No.
Is there anything that we can point to where our online offerings are so good that we don't want to change them?  I can't think of any, but would love to hear from anyone who can point to areas of excellence in our online offerings.

So - what are our options?  I think that there are three options available to us:
  1. Work with the vendors of the current products we're got to seek incremental improvements where this is achievable
  2. Look for new / replacement solutions that are clearly superior in providing for the customer
  3. Look for radical solutions that may allow us to co-design and co-develop new solutions that take the user into account from the design foundations.

I don't think that these options are mutually exclusive.  In fact I think that we need to be actively pursuing both incremental changes while also exploring visionary opportunities.   And of course anything that we do also needs to ensure that any changes that we propose have been given the User Experience (UX) tick of approval. 

I believe that we do have options in the three areas I have mentioned above.  Therefore PLS is exploring various options in all three of these areas & we look forward to working with libraries over the next year or so in all of these options.  We do have some improvements in the pipeline & others will come to fruition over time with library staff participation. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

User Experience - what is it & why is it important to libraries?

I’m writing this fairly long post to lay the foundations for work that PLS and libraries are currently doing & plan to do lots more about in the areas of improving the library users’ experience – particularly in the online world.  I’ll be following up this general post with some specific information in coming posts.  These future posts will discuss our library network’s digital strategy and how this needs to be directly connected to the library users’ experiences of our online services.

It’s interesting how the computer industry has used everyday language and given it a very specific meaning, or is using simple English words in totally new ways.  So a cache which in everyday use has always meant a “a collection of items of the same type stored in a hidden or inaccessible place” is in computing terms, a part of a computer that “…stores recently used information so that it can be quickly accessed at a later time.”  So the original meaning was a hidden and perhaps inaccessible store, while computing thinks of a cache as a way of making information more readily available.  Likewise, we all know what a cloud is, but what does the term cloud computing mean?

So it is with how the computing / digital industry is using the term User Experience.  They have even given it its own slightly quirky acronym UX (rather than UE – but that’s another story.)

So back to our title: for many of us, using an every day expression like User Experience would have an everyday standard definition, but in the online world User Experience - UX - has a different meaning.  In fact it has a contested meaning, depending on who you’re reading or listening to.  Perhaps the best article I have found on UX says this:  Well, I think it’s important to start by saying there’s no commonly accepted definition.  User experience design is a concept that has many dimensions, and it includes a bunch of different disciplines—such as interaction design, information architecture, visual design, usability, and human-computer interaction.”  The article goes on to give the perspectives of 15 different people who work in design and user experience.

For the purposes of this post I want to steer clear of the physical realm of user experience – that is, what happens when a person uses their local public library, and focus more on the online / digital world and think about the public library user’s online experience of their public library. (See my footnote below about Andy Priestner who is a genius re UX for the library’s physical space.)  I should also mention that the work we’ve been doing on “People Places” – the audit of library buildings will provide a base of evidence for libraries to look at their physical UX.

I want to focus on the library user’s online UX because it is the area that is still relatively new to us all & it is also an area that is constantly changing.  We know that the future will be more and more online, but we’re not really confident in this space.

In the early days of online resources, they were things that librarians had to be trained to use because they were so complex and expensive.  Their user interfaces were a nightmare, and you only used them because there was no alternative.  I even remember databases that charged by the minute that you were online, so you had to construct a search query offline, dial up (does anyone remember that?) run you query and log off as soon as the results came in.

But things have changed – well some things have.  Information is the sea in which most of us swim every day.  We barely think about how easy it is to get answers online, from a range of sources, most of them not provided by a library.  And these information sources seem to work so well.  They’re usually elegant, simple to use and provide the answers that we’re looking for quite quickly.

But is this the User Experience when a library customer tries to use our online resources?  I’d say a resounding NO!  We’ve got clunky, fragmented systems that are still quite difficult to use & are a mystery to most library customers.

I would argue that many times we’re stuck with systems designed (or thrown together) by others, and it is difficult for us to fix some of these issues.  However I think that there is scope for libraries to be involved in fixing quite a few of the bugs in our current systems that create negative user experiences.  I think it takes focus, expertise and some resourcing (good people and $$) to pick off the low hanging fruit.  It also takes a view that there is no such thing as perfection & that we need to be constantly working towards the best possible outcomes, not letting perfection stop us from getting there.

And once we’ve picked the low hanging fruit it will take other skills to work with our software vendors to fix the deeper more complex inadequacies in their systems, or maybe be brave enough to co-design & co-develop new systems that embed the user at the centre.  This is longer term work that takes commitment, persistence and a willingness to partner with others.  I’ll say more about this later.

I think this post is quite long enough, so I’ll leave it there & promise to get into some specifics in coming posts.


As a footnote to this post re online UX I do want to pay tribute and respect to Andy Priestner, who recently ran some Library UX workshops in Adelaide.  We want to get Andy back to do more work with libraries.  Andy is using the UX principles of online design and has taken them back to the physical library realm, where he applies UX principles and techniques to help libraries truly understand how customers experience their physical spaces.  He’s also excellent at the online UX world too!