OPACs old and new, Ms. Jessamyn goes to Washington

I’m at the Calef Library in Washington today doing some computer maintenance and just all around tech chit-chat with the librarian. She’s involved in a discussion with the board of trustees about whether she can get health insurance this year and it’s not going particularly well. Her husband is a farmer, he doesn’t have health insurance either. It’s ineresting how many librarians in my region have farmer husbands. The library here is open 19 hours a week and she works ten of them, the other nine are staffed by a volunteer. You’ve probably seen the pictures of this library on Flickr, it’s a really lovely space. The librarian is a real can-do gal. She’s working with a nice space, a teeny budget, and a moderately supportive board. Her and I talk about technology and the things I explain to her stick with her.

We were talking about wireless today — the library has broadband on two computers via cable modem, the librarian shares her computer with the public when it’s busy — and she said “You just buy some hardware and set it up and you’re done?” I said yes, mostly. Next thing you know, we bought a wireless router with a wireless PCMCIA card for under $30, delivered. Next week when it arrives I’ll show her how to set it up, help her make some configuration handouts for her patrons, and we’re done. It will be the first wireless hotspot in Washington Vermont and probably the only one within 10-15 miles. When we were through talking about wireless, the Town Clerk called, she was having trouble with her email and couldn’t get the librarian’s report from her email in order to put in the town report. I walked over there and showed her how to enter her username and password into her dial-up configuration, and also how to use Word’s “recover text from any document” feature to get the librarian’s Word Perfect report into the clerk’s Word document. I got back to the library and tol the librarian she didn’t have to retype the report and this made her pretty happy.

I’ve been talking to the librarian here about getting her catalog online. ILS software is sort of expensive, though she could probably get the funding. For a library that for all intents and purposes is going to stay small, major feature-rich ILSes are not as important as things such as an easy interface and a simple and cheap data input mechanism. I’d been talking to Timothy over at LibraryThing about whether he’d consider rolling out a version of his super software for teeny libraries. His encouraging answer was “not yet” but we’ve been talking about it.

This brings me to my next topic, sparked by Jenny Levine’s TechSource post about Library 2.0 in the Real World and my new pal Casey who maybe you’ve heard of. Casey Bisson built an OPAC prototype that runs on WordPress. No, seriously, look. It will run with any vendor’s ILS. He talked about it at ALA well before I got there, and people were buzzing about it all week. Not only is it a clever hack, it’s clean, simple, unbranded and highly functional in ways that seem pretty obvious to bloghappy me. I’d love to see a prototype running publicly so that he could get some feedback from folks who maybe don’t come from the born-with-the-chip generation.

In my neck of the woods, small ILS vendors are charging $1500 for this level of functionality, the ability to put an OPAC on the web. Non-tech savvy librarians who don’t have the ability to code these features themselves find ways to pay it. And, bringing this post full-circle, then they find other ways to get health insurance for the year. I think you know the moral of this story. I’m happy to have some good news to report from here in the hinterlands.

Vermont Libraries I have known, the visiting continues

I am linking alll the libraries I visit this year under the visit06 tag. Here are two more.

The Hartness Library System at Vermont technical College – I am a frequent user of this library. It has the best collection of any of the libraries for the stuff I like to read — wonky non-fiction mostly — and it’s right by the pool where I swim. There have been few times that I’ve had to do something at the circulation desk where I wasn’t greeted by the puzzled face of a desk worker trying unsuccessfully to do something. I’m not sure what OPAC they use, but it seems to be complicated. They have no overdue fees which means when I’m not at the pool I sometimes keep books late. The last time I brought a book back quite late, I asked if I could renew it even though it was over a month overdue. The librarian — who had been called out to help with the OPAC because the nice lady at the desk couldn’t figure out how to check the book back in and then check it out again — asked me, while holding the book, “Well, how long do you think you’ll need it?” A legit question I guess, but I was really just asking about the renewal policy, I’m sure they had a policy. However, since it’s a small-town library, social concerns like how long I needed the book came into play. This is the good news and the bad news. I said I didn’t know, it was just a pleasure book anyhow, and decided just to put the book back on the shelf and come back for it another day. When I came back the next day, I checked the tag in the back – no one had checked the book out in six years besides me.

Tunbridge Public Library – I help this library out with computer things as part of my job. They have no web site. When I asked if they’d like me to make them a web site they said no, not really. They use dial-up and have a network so that four computers in the library can share it. There is no broadband service available in their town except for satellite which is prohibitively expensive. I sat around and we talked about teaching some basic email, digital pictures, and shopping online classes in the Spring. The librarian wanted some help with her email, she’d been getting email from Amazon about her account and it was confusing her. We looked at the email — a phishing scam which was what I suspected — and I showed her how to look at the web address in an email, and then mouseover it to see if it matched the web address in the browser status bar. I then showed her how to read a web address backwards, to start with the top-level domain to see where an email is really from, like checking caller ID to see what state someone is calling from. This was met with appreciative and happy exclamations and I got to drive home feeling like I’d really helped someone, just by telling them what i know about computers.

Alternative Media Day at Johnson State College

I know it’s a longshot, but if any readers are in the Vermont area and have next Friday the 23rd off, I’ll be one of the panelists at Johnson State College’s Alternative Media Day along with Seven Days’ journalist Cathy Resmer and a lot of other local bloggers and media types who I haven’t met personally. All events are free and open to the public, if a bit remote.

Librarian Eye for the Tech Buy

I had a great time speaking at Marlboro College and meeting the librarians, students and other folks that came out for the evening. What a nice bunch of happy engaging people! The slides for my talk Librarian Eye for the Tech Buy: thinking about technology and libraries and Vermont all at once are online [HTML format, whee!]. They’re pretty similar to the slides for my UNC talk but, not suprisingly, the talk was a lot different. I’m heading down to New Jersey to give a Ten Tech Tips type talk.