dad using his library card

This is the second and last part of the Jessamyn’s Dad’s Library Card story. I went home yesterday. I got a phone call from my Dad.

Dad: So I clicked the link in that email the library sent?
Me: Yeah? Good.
Dad: It connects me to “iBistro on the go…” what is that?
Me: That’s the library’s online catalog. The library is supposed to type their name at the top there but it looks like they didn’t.
Dad: It’s hard to read.
Me: Yeah it sure is isn’t it? [explains how to make font bigger]
Dad: How do I look for a book, do I really have to log in first?
Me: You shouldn’t have to, but maybe, it depends how it’s configured.
Dad: My login number is fourteen digits long! Why is that?
Me: Good question. You can probably set the browser to remember it. Your PIN is probably the last four digits of your phone number
Dad: It is. Why do I have to log in here?
Me: Well you can reserve books and check your account and there are privacy laws about that information.
Dad: Where does this catalog live?
Me: Depends on the library, many libraries run it off of servers in their basement. Some use hosted versions of the catalog. The consortium probably hosts this one.
Dad: And this iBistro thing is something they buy?
Me: Yeah and they pay a lot of money for it.
Dad: It sucks.
Me: Yeah. It’s sort of useful for consortiums [explains consortiums] so libraries can do interlibrary loan and stuff.
Dad: Okay I searched for sailing and I get 1500 hits. How do I search for the most popular books?
Me: I don’t know if you can, you can redo your search and sort by relevance.
Dad: Amazon lets me search by popularity. I like that.
Me: Yeah I do too. Can you sort the search you have?
Dad: No, it says there’s more than 500 records so I can’t search.
Me: You may be able to search by subject heading and get a shorter list.
Dad: Didn’t I do that?
Me: No, you searched by keyword [explains difference] or you can search just the books in your library.
Dad: I’m not already doing that?
Me: No, you’re searching the whole SAILS network.
Dad: How can you tell?
Me: Because on the search page next to where it says library, is says ALL.
Dad: Okay I’ll find my library. There are like 100 libraries on this list!
Me: I know, you can borrow books from any of those libraries.
Dad: I just want to know if there’s a book at my library.
Me: Yeah, that should be easier.
Dad: What are these libraries at the bottom of this list just called zddd and zddddd?
Me: That’s probably some kludge that the libraries are using to put books in a category or location that isn’t available in the regular catalog.
Dad: Okay thanks for the tutorial. I’ll try again tomorrow.
Me: You’re welcome. It’s not you, it’s them.

20 thoughts on “dad using his library card

  1. Seriously – Where does the catalog live? Thankfully, your father has a wonderful guide to help him navigate the library but what about other patrons?

  2. I have conversations like this with depressing regularity with non-librarians about our catalogs. Particularly for the public catalogs they use they tend to get frustrated with the interface. The most common complaints:

    1) Highly popular, circulated, and talked about books don’t seem to float up. Imagine if we harvested popular words of the day out of several sources and included that in our rankins. (And also as some sort of side-bar…ie articles online that mention this resource).

    2) If they put in a title, it doesn’t come up to the top.

    3) Series, especially in public libraries, seem to be horribly treated. Popular series might be ok, but the person looking for volume 4 of “The Jedi TwiddleTwinkie Wars” may end up having a hard time. How about when viewing a book in the series, there’s information describing it’s place in the series and has links to the other books in the series elsewhere on the page….

    4) Similar to above, finding out what books an author wrote and the original publication history of those books is frustrating. Is book x one of their early ones, or is it just the 20th year anniversary printing?

    5) Where’s the Sexy Vampire Hunter subject? Mechs? How can it be that searching for subject words and Cooking doesn’t get any results?

  3. Your dad can (or at least, should) make a fortune doing usability testing.

  4. I’m sure people reading this will assume I’m on the defensive. I hope that’s not the case.

    We regularly survey our patrons to get a feel for where they need help in using the catalog and try to make changes within the limits of the software. The people we are surveying are probably not first time users of the catalog, so they know to select just their library, subject, etc. We also know people don’t use the online help, though it’s available. I’m sure when people use Amazon for the first time, they need to look around and see they can actually add a tag. But Amazon’s job is to sell. Though it sounds like the library your father got his card at was short-handed (big surprise these days), I’m sure they would have been happy to assist him over the phone, as you did.

    Some of the other issues you point out are actually ones that we’re addressing in our upcoming SOPAC implementation. We will be able to sort by popularity, search by series, tags, etc. Hopefully make it a much more intuitive experience. Increasing the text size on a page is going to be a button. We already put in a third-party spell-checker.

    Our intent is to make the use experience as intuitive as possible and are actively working toward that goal.

  5. If is the site we are talking about, the fonts are criminally small.

    Laurie, you probably know this, and I don’t want to lecture, but I think surveys of “what do you want the catalog to do” are very different from usability testing where you give people tasks and see what they actually do and where they have problems.

    I’m not unsympathetic, having spent plenty of time in the past banging my head against a recalcitrant OPAC from the administrator’s side.

  6. Hiya Laurie — I didn’t mean to point fingers. I used the iBistro software at my old library and I think a lot of the presets are not great generally. Good for you for working on getting SOPAC running. You have a huge service area and I bet you’ll be able to get a lot of good data.

    That said, some really basic changes like having a search box on the main page, making the fonts bigger (I’m on a mac, maybe that matters) and grouping the links so it’s obvious what is part of the catalog and what is extra SAILS stuff might go a long way to making what you have a lot more usable. Thanks for checking in.

  7. Tom Blake: Ha! You’re right!

    This catalog sounds a lot like the one at my public library. And thank god, you /can/ just enter your 14-character patron number once and for all on your own home computer.

    A twist on that, though: A few times I have gone to use the public computers in the library — yes, to try to find titles of readalikes and ‘next in series’ via Google because they aren’t available via the library catalog and I haven’t done my research ahead of time — and sometimes I haven’t had my library card with me. The reference librarian has made it clear that I am only allowed one “look-up”, that is, one instance of the librarian looking up my number in the library’s system and writing it down for me on a piece of paper so I can take it 5 feet away, squint at it, and try to type it correctly into the public computer interface. So far, I’ve had two “look-ups,” about 6 months apart. Next time I come in without my card and wonder what other authors I might like, I’m apparently out of luck.

    I understand that librarians don’t want to spent their time looking up patrons’ numbers. That does seem wasteful. But there must be a better way to handle this. A few years ago, we could just sign our names on a list in order to use the computers, no number needed.

    What I want is one of those more convenient (for me) keychain ID cards but apparently I can’t get one unless I pay $1 for it, because my library card is not up for renewal for another year. New patrons get them now when they sign up. Nice.

  8. Well if you’re talking about the public SAILS site, the original intent was to point back to the libraries and give our libraries some forms, links & tools they could use for their own sites. We spend most of our time on our staff side of the site, since our member libraries are our real focus.

    We finally realized that the public is going to us first, and most libraries are pointing to us, rather than right into the catalog. We never wanted to usurp our libraries connection to their patrons.

    Knowing that we’re going to be going to SOPAC we held off on our public redesign, since getting a new public site for SAILS will be part of it, as well as being able to offer some of our libraries a new site as well. A few weeks ago I did a quick and dirty clean up. It used to be even more cluttered.

    I’d love to be able to spend more time testing on different browsers, OS’s, etc. but my main focus is our catalog, not our public website. Soon it will be all the same!

  9. Ye gods that’s painfully small font. (WinXP here.) The thing that my sweetie complains about with our library’s online catalog: he can’t get a list of new whatever (fiction, dvds, etc) like what you’d find in the physical library.

    It seems like there should be a “persona” in designing this stuff that’s the generally internet-savvy, but not esp library-savvy person. That impatient guy who doesn’t ask for directions? :)

  10. Elaine, I have Win Xp & IE. I don’t use a separate style sheet for Firefox, which I’m guessing you’re using? When I look at several sites in the latest version, they’re all rather small. I have the default be x-small, not a specific size, so people can change it in their browser. I actually don’t see that much of a difference with this site’s size & SAILS.

  11. “I have the default be x-small, not a specific size, so people can change it in their browser.”

    I think you should possibly reconsider this. I am not using any special stylesheet and the fonts on the SAILS page are much smaller than the fonts on this website when both are at their default sizes for the website. Compare:

    SAILS site

    Not everyone knows how to resize fonts in their browser or has the dexterity to do so. Additionally, if they make the font size larger to make this visible for the SAILS site, then they have to make it small again to go back to other sites. The default sizes should pretty much always be medium size fonts so that people have to do a minimum of adjustment to view your site.

  12. M Wms, limiting patrons to one userID lookup sounds a bit draconian to me (I say this as someone who gives patrons their library number sometimes several times a week). Maybe they’re suffering severe staff shortages (more severe than ours)?

  13. I’m really not seeing it as small as in your graphic and I see the fonts for this comment area smaller than the text on the SAILS site – home & at work, and not just my computers. Maybe it’s a Mac thing? Have to play around in an emulator – fun thing for a Friday.

  14. Regardless of how it shows on your home screen, my general rule is to never, ever use the word small anywhere in setting the font size on a web site if I want my patrons to read it. (Just like we can’t have our resolution on all of our computers in the public Computer Center set to the finest resolution because a good many of our patrons have difficulty reading the screens and icons unless we really crank their sizes up. So we settled on having a mixture of resolutions so patrons with less keener eyesite can choose the computers with fine resolution and those without can have the larger ones.

  15. Good for your dad for being willing how to use the catalog–and good for you for teaching him!

    I have frequent conversations with patrons (mostly teens) about the difference between keyword and subject.

  16. I’m really glad I stumbled across these posts about your dad. They made my afternoon.

    “It’s not you, it’s them” pretty much says it all & is a wonderful reminder [for me at least].

    Nicely done.


    Mark [one of “them”]

  17. About the Oline Public Access Catalogue (and BTW, I don’t yet know what the S in SOPAC means, and I’m considered one of the tech-savvy people in the library where I work), I’d like to comment on Jon Gorman’s list of catalog complaints:
    1) Highly popular, circulated, and talked about books don’t seem to float up…
    My library’s iBistro installation has search-page links to most-popular categories. They’re all useless. Because of the way my library treats “ephemeral” paperbacks, Hottest Title is always “[branch name] Juvenile [or Adult] Paperback.” Hottest Author today is Seuss, Dr., but for years was always Marc Tolon Brown with his thousand Clifford the Red Dog titles. Hottest Subject is always Feature Films.

    2) If they put in a title, it doesn’t come up to the top.
    Unless you know how to do the three clicks needed to make it a browse search, Title search in iBistro is really a keyword search on title fields. A title search with all common words may bring up thousands of titles, latest publications first unless it’s more than the limit to sort. Certain words are treated as Boolean operators unless you put them in quotes, so Not Without My Daughter brings up thousands of titles that do NOT have the word Without, the word My or the word Daughter. Of course, the list does NOT have the title wanted.
    Do we explain these aberrations to the patrons? I do if it comes up, but most staff members probably didn’t even hear them in the training 6 years ago, let alone remember them now.

    3) Series, especially in public libraries, seem to be horribly treated…
    We’re all buying our cataloging from various outsourcing companies, so it’s no wonder it’s inconsistent. My library system transferred most of its catalogers to branches years ago, with predictable results. Does the Director care? (Different director now) Administrators spend most of their time worrying about support from our parent governments. Politicians want cheaper cataloging, not better cataloging which they wouldn’t know from a toxic waste dump.

    4) Similar to above, finding out what books an author wrote and the original publication history of those books is frustrating.
    My library subscribes to the NoveList database, which helps sort out these for many authors. Yeah, iBistro doesn’t help much.

    5) Where’s the Sexy Vampire Hunter subject?
    It takes years for a new publishing trend to be reflected in the official Library of Congress Subject Headings. Catalogers just hate anarchy, which is what the Web thrives on. Yes, our OPACs could be set up to incorporate user suggestions as Amazon does, but that would require them to be designed by public services staff who actually want to make things easier. Instead, they’re in the hands of (with many exceptions, of course) people who became catalogers in order to create an abstract, orderly universe where they’d never have to speak to a real human being.

Comments are closed.