Archive for February 2007

SirsiDynix SuperConference – Day 3

February 22, 2007

The iBistro/iLink Sharing Session was spirited. The enhancement requests and status were discussed. Several long-standing enhancements had been accepted and were scheduled for implementation. Many huzzahs from the audience. The spirited discussion came during the Q & A session and dealt with the EPS web client and its appropriateness to academic libraries. Academics seem to prefer, as a rule, solid, fast, accurate searching without a lot of portal associated features.

Another session gave an overview of RSS feeds and used as an example generating a new book feed from Unicorn. Pretty nifty. This is going to be a project I’m going to work on when I get back to work. However, J_ went to a session on project management and I think RSS feeds will be a lower priority. Still, an RSS feed looks to be fairly straight foreward and as the presenter pointed out, why not look for ways to provide information to your users.

The last session of the conference (for me) was a SirsiDynix staff presentation on future trends in searching. SirsiDynix has partnered with FAST to use their search engine as an add-on enhancement for the OPACs (WebCat, iBlink, EPS, Web2) to deliver faceted search results with real relevance ranking. This isn’t an OPAC upgrade or replacement. Rather, it is an additional search point for the library’s collection. It is scheduled for release in mid-2007 so it is still in development however what we saw is pretty impressive. It does require that the library’s holdings be exported to the FAST search engine but that is in line with similar products that have been discussed in the library world. I was pleased to see SirsiDynix putting something like this together fairly quickly. Pricing and exactly how it will work are still to be announced but it is scheduled for release in mid-2007.

Some Observations from SC2007

  • One feeling I always take away with me from a SuperConference is that there are a lot of very smart people who are extraordinarily generous with their time and expertise.
  • Major props to all the SirsiDynix staff. I’ve known many of them for 12 years and consider them friends.
  • The Broadmoor is beautiful, well appointed, and has the most friendly staff I’ve ever encountered. Too bad the only place I could afford to eat were the bars. I’m really tired of bar food.
  • SirsiDynix staff didn’t have much to say about the abrupt departure of Pat Sommers except that it caught everyone by surprise and there wan’t hostility between Pat and Vista. The speculatios have been interesting and imaginative.
  • SirsiDynix staff seem to be upbeat about the Vista purchase of SirsiDynix. Apparently Vista is an old money San Francisco company that invests in niche technology companies. I gather that Vista people were in the executive track at SC2007.

SirsiDynix SuperConference – Day 2.5

February 22, 2007

I’m a bit more awake now so I will add a few more details for Day 2.

Tuesday was also the day of the System Administration Sharing Session.  There was a spirited discussion about the java workflows client.  Aspects of the use of the java client are enough to chill the soul of a system administrator.  I can’t find my notes on the session but here is what I recall:

  •  The java WorkFlows client uses Sun java runtime which is updated frequently.  Sometimes the upgrade breaks Workflows.  apparently Sun recently issued an update with major changes and didn’t tell anyone.  SirsiDynix is talking with Sun about finding a way to get a heads-up on major changes.
  • Where the C client handled printing with a dump to lpt, Java requires that printing go through Windows print drivers. Consequently, printing is slower.  Frequently it is much slower.  The latest print drivers don’t always work better.  Not good for Circulation activities.
  • Under MS Vist, java updates can only be installed by administrator.  This doesn’t mean someone in the administrator group, it must be administrator.  Yikes!  This means every staff station in the library will have to have java updated by someone from LIT .
  • Under Vista, Microsoft removed the way it handles help files.  While a C client will work on Vista, help won’t be available.  Yikes again!  The yellow question mark is our friend.  this means that new staff PCs delivered with Vista will require the java client.
  • The java client doesn’t support the “house” and binoculars” searches.  There is a multi-line Item Search and Display wizard.
  • The java client runs slow.

The last event of the day for me was the API Sharing Session and API After Hours.  Being the API forum Moderator I got to run these two events.  The Sharing Session is mostly administrative where we discuss enhancements, procedures, etc.  I gave some tips to the newly minted APIers.  I also made the plea that we get enhancements posted to the forum earlier so that we would have time for discussion prior to voting.  We also briefly discussed the value of an API wiki which everyone agreed was a fine idea if we can work out security details.  The System Administration wiki, which I co-manage, is proving successful and we feel that an API wiki will prove equally valuable.  I will work with SirsiDynix to explore this possibility.

The API  After Hours (aka API Mini-Summit) is more of a birds-of-a-feather session where the die-hards stick around and talk API.  Charles S. demonstrated several custom java reports written for his school system.  Pretty nifty.  Among other benefits, the reports give us good examples of coding particularly tricky parts of java client reports.

Shawn C. reprised a presentation she gave earlier but with more technical details that appealed to the APIers.  Shawn figured out how to do a variety of My Account activities outside of the OPAC including social software/networking tools such as tagging, book reviews, shared book lists, and RSS feeds.  She also demonstrated how she was able to created staff functions to give staff access to normally client-based activities.  Oooh! Bright & shiney.  Must have.finally, Joel H. and David B. volunteered to have questions thrown at them in an attempt to stump the experts.  There were not many questions (mostly because I neglected to tell anyone we were doing it) but they were not stumped.

SirsiDynix SuperConference – Day 2

February 21, 2007

I went to a very interesting presentation called Look What I Can Do! Social Networking and Keyword-in-Heading Searching in the OPAC.  In this presentation the OPAC is Web2 and not iLink/iBistro which is what we run.  The first half dealt with browse headings.  The problem with browse is that the patron has to know how the heading begins.  The first presenter described how he extracts the browse headings to a MySQL database and indexes them.  The patron can then search for keywords within the headings.  If all the patron knows is the first name of the author he could retrieve all the author headings with that name.  Of if he wanted to find things on the Civil War, he could use those words in a search to find all the subject headings that included Civil War.  Clicking on a heading takes the user to the OPAC.

The second presenter described how she rebuilt the MyAccount feature to include tagging, book-lists, and reviews.  As with the keyword-in-heading application, Unicorn data is extracted to MySQL  There are private and public tags and book-lists can be shared for collaborative projects.

As with the presentations I attended yesterday, customers are figuring out how to add value to data outside  boundaries of Unicorn and the OPAC.  I look at these two apps as proof-of-concept and feel inspired to pick up the skills to perform this sort of data manipulation/data massaging and look for opportunities for mashups in the library.

Later in the afternoon was the API Sharing Session which I moderated.  This
session was mostly administrative and

  • we welcomed the new APIers
    • gave them some tips about the forums and listservs
  • discussed the API enhancements and the enhancement process
  • discussed the desirability of an API wiki
  • discussed the API training opportunities

Following the Sharing Session we held the API After Hours session for the die-hard crowd that didn’t want to go to Colorado Springs.  We had two presentations:

  • some very interesting report customizations done by Infohio
  • a more technical discussion of the social networking app from the morning session.

Following the presentations two of our experienced members gave the audience the opportunity to try to stump them.

I might go back and fill in some details of today’s events but right now I’m about to fall asleep.

SirsiDynix SuperConference – Day 1

February 19, 2007

I worked the registration desk in the morning and missed the product overview session and UUGI Business Meeting so nothing to report about those events.

There was an interesting commonality about the two sessions I did attend.

First up was The Google Experience in which a systems person at Novo Nordisk, an healthcare company and leader in diabetes care based in Denmark, described how they responded to the user suggestion that they be more like Google. Basically they take their bibliographic information (25,000 records) and authority records out of Unicorn and put them into a Google appliance. From that they can build subject portals and provide a Google search experience for their users. There is a lot more to it than this brief description allows. For one thing, they do a lot of work on the authority records to allow them to provide subject groupings. They have more information in the Google appliance that the catalog information so the user has a much better opportunity to find everything on their subject within the Google intraweb.

The next session, Extracting XML from Unicorn with OAI and SRU, was presented by the head of automation at Universite Libre de Bruxelles Librarie. He described how OAI and SRU protocols were used to build a searchable union catalog from data in Unicorn. I can’t say that I followed the technical details but the end result was nifty.

So what is the commonality? In both cases information was taken from Unicorn, massaged, and presented to the user NOT using a vendor’s interface. We have products like Endeca and Primo (Ex Libris) that can sit on top of Unicorn data and homebrewed applications that use the data but not the interface and you have to wonder if this isn’t the future.

SuperConference Day -1: Federated Searching Workshop

February 19, 2007

Conference blogging isn’t easy, I’m discovering, and I now have a great appreciation for those who do it regularly. I’m looking at my notes and wondering “what did I mean by that?” What I’m going to do is provide bullet points of items that lodged in my memory.

  • Federated search engines send a search to multiple sources, merge the results, and present in a uniform format.
    • Give a Google-like one step search
    • Provide a starting point for unknown research sources
    • Avoids the problem of multiple interfaces
    • Increase awareness of available resources
    • Send users to resources you want them exposed to
    • Very useful for subject guides
  • SirsiDynix works with three vendors to provide federated searching
    • SerialsSolutions – CentralSearch
    • Muse Global – SingleSearch
    • Webfeat – WebFeat
    • WebFeat and Central Search are only hosted while SingleSearch can be installed locally.
    • All three have an API layer but capabilities vary.
  • Four access models for implementing federated searching
    • stand-alone
    • along side the PA, e.g. Continue Search in…
    • Embedded in PAC – no sense that federated searching is a separate product
      • Alert. Seamless searching across sources sounds great but what will it do to response time?
    • Other – like desk top apps?
  • Challenges
    • Reliability – what happens to connector in db vendor changes some aspect on which the connector depends. some connectors use screen scrapers. If the vendor changes a label or moves some element, the connector is broken.
    • Never expect perfection.
  • Implementation
    • In most cases, a site should be able to go live in 6 – 8. 8 – 12 weeks tops.
      • If federated search engine and other products such as OpenURL products use the same knowledge base then go-live will probably be shorter. We have ArticleLinker and CentralSearch will use the same knowledge base.
    • Go live with the most heavily used connectors. Take care of the lesser used ones later.
    • Each connector will have to be touched during the setup
  • Issues with federated searching
    • Federated searching isn’t a replacement for native user interfaces
      • special search features are not available
      • vocabulary for searching differs across databases
      • not all federated search engines support Boolean searches in the same way
    • Federated searching cannot add functionality if the target of the search has a brain dead search engine.
    • The response time for returning results will vary greatly.
      • Problem not with federated search vendor, but the target.
      • Configuring for display of fastest response first will give user something to look at while the rest of searches complete
    • Some connectors will fail, sometime.

If any of my classmates stumble across this blog, please fill in anything I missed and correct that which I may have gotten wrong.

Blogging the SuperConference – Departure & Arrival

February 17, 2007

I’m going to try something new this year.  I’m going to attempt to blog from the SirsiDynix SuperConference.   Bets are now being accepted as to my ability to sustain this effort and to compose coherent posts. Starting tomorrow.  Today’s post is just short observations and impressions of the trip.

Before we leave, Northwest moves our departure up to 6:30 am from the fairly civilized 7:45.  Aaargh!

Julie picks me up Saturday at 4:15 am.

We arrive at RIC with plenty of time.  6:30 comes and goes with no flight announcement.   Our flight to Minneapolis disappears from the departure board.  Huh!  Finally a flight crew passes by and we learn that we are taking off at 7:50.  Just like the Army.  Get up early, wait for hours.

Flight to Minneapolis is uneventful.  Midwest is laid out in neat squares, covered in snow. People appear to be living down there.  Departure to Colorado Springs is on-time.  The Airbus 320 is actually comfortable.

Colorado Springs is warmer than the ‘Burg.  This isn’t right.   I want to feel the bite of mountain air.

Arrive at the Broadmoor.  Looks better live than on web cam.   Check into room. Yikes!  I’m not worthy.  This must really be the off season to get a room nicer than a lot of places I’ve lived.   Television has composite video input.  Yea.  I can watch True Grit using my iPod.

Tomorrow Julie goes to a session on Perl programming and I go to one on federated searching.  Should be interesting.  When Joe Lucia from Villanova spoke at Swem he told me that their database use statistics increased dramatically when they implemented federated searching.  Want to be able to build a case for providing it at Swem.

Most of What You Need to Know About Blogs

February 15, 2007

This posting was written to support the presentation given at the T4 session, February 15.

UPDATE:  I just switched to Google Reader as my primary RSS  feed reader.  I had been noticing the time lag before Bloglines picked up new feeds for some time.  Today I read Jennifer Macaulay’s post  and decided to make the switch to Google Reader.  As an added benefit, I discovered I was wrong about Google reader not suporting folders.  When I imported my OPML file from bloglines, there were my folders.  Not sure where I got the idea about Google Reader.

Blogs are hardly new so why am I flogging them in this post? Several reasons. This is the start of our (to be) regularly scheduled Third Thursday Tech Talk (T4) sessions for staff and I want to establish a foundation on which new technology issues can be discussed. Blogs are an important source of information about what is happening in technology, information management, and libraries. Blogs also can be used to support departmental activities and serve as a marketing tool for the library.

What do I like about blogs

Libraries spend a huge part of the budget on journals. There is a much shorter time to publish with journals than with books so the information is more current and, presumably, relevant. Blogs serve a similar function in delivering information, though the availability of new information is measured in seconds rather than weeks or months. Blogs are not a replacement for journals but what first appears in blogs may end up in a journal.

UPDATE: I just read a blog post that suggests that blogs might be an alternative to print publications in some instances. Look at the update under If You Want to Start a Blog below.

The Internet is a huge, world-wide, source of information. Trying to find the relevant bits ourselves would be impossible. With blogs, we have millions of writers world-wide posting and commenting and making the information more readily available. According to The Blog Herald, as of Feb. 2oo6, there were over 200 million blogs. This is a cool number to throw around but it doesn’t mean that there are 200 million bloggers. If you start looking for a URL for your blog in WordPress or Blogger you will find that a lot of names have been taken by people who made one post several years ago and haven’t touched it since. Since nearly all blogs support comments, a post can generate an interesting dialog between the readers and the blogger and between the readers themselves. Blog commenters can significantly add to the information presented by the blogger.

There are a large number of blogs devoted to family, pets, hobbies, celebrity antics, and current events but there are also a remarkable number of blogs that support library concerns directly and indirectly by posting on technology news.

I encourage everyone to read widely and don’t limit yourself to only those blogs that directly relate to libraries. Interesting stuff can appear in the most unlikely places.

Managing Blog Feeds

You can access a blog from your web browser’s bookmarks/favorites but that isn’t very efficient. Using this method you would have to visit each website not knowing if the has beesn updated recently and, more importantly, if it had anything of interest to read. By subscribing to a blog using an rss feed reader, it is much easier to manage the blogs you read. A blog reader will tell you if there are new posts to the blog and show you the title and first paragraph or so of the blog posts. You can decide if you want to read the entire post.

An rss feed reader can be web-based and accessed through your browser or located on your PC/Mac as part of email or as standalone client. I am not going to cover desk top feed readers for this discussion. I recommend that you try several of each to find the one that best suits your work style. If you think you might like a client rss reader, check out Blogbridge (in the Deliciosu bookmarks).

I use a web-based blog reader. The most obvious benefit of a web-based reader is that you can access it from any PC/Mac with Internet access — your work station, home, Panero’s, Aromas, hotels, the public library, while you are at the reference desk. Wherever. I’ve tried a variety of feed readers that could only be used from my office computer but have found that the web-based approach works best for me.

Here is a link to some bookmarks that describe feed readers.

Feed Reader Bookmarks

Subscribing to Blogs

When you land on a web site that has a rss feed, both FireFox and IE will display a symbol like thisFeed Icon

Clicking on it will start the process of adding it to your subscriptions. In FireFox, you can associate the feed icon with a feed reader such as Bloglines and Google Reader. Also, if you decide on a feed reader such as Bloglines, you will find that the service provides buttons for your toolbar to view your subscriptions and to subscribe to new ones. There are more nuances to the subscription process that you will discover as you explore.

Mack’s bookmarks about feed readers

The reader I use is Bloglines. It isn’t the most popular but it has one feature that I like. I can create folders into which blogs can be grouped. Google makes it attractive to use their reader which is one of the more popular. With one Google account you have access to their entire suite of products so you have a single login for everything. Other readers I have tried and liked include Alesti and Reddit which you will find in the bookmarks linked above.

Feed readers have a feature that make it remarkably easy to try different products. All of the feed readers that I have worked with have a utility to export and import subscriptions as opml files (outline processor markup language). If you have added subscriptions to a feed reader but want to try a different reader that you think might be better, then create an account on the new service, export your subscriptions from the current reader, and import them into the new one.

For a more technical explanation of how rss subscriptions work, Stephanie Quilao, a blogger in California and Enthusiast Evangelist for Microsoft for the Silicon Valley region has an excellent explanation:

How to Explain RSS The Oprah Way

Library/Information/Technology Blogs

Some of the blogs I follow are listed in with the tag, blogs, Some blogs that Mack reads.

When you start reading blogs you will discover that blogging is a very interconnected community. Bloggers refer to other blogs. I think I started with The Librarian in Black and The Shifted Librarian and built my subscription list by following references to other blogs which led me to other blogs and on and on. Additionally, many bloggers provide a blogroll – the blogs that they follow themselves. I always review blogrolls looking for new source. Check out Life as I Know It and The Shifted Librarian. They both have blogrolls that I have trolled. By the way, Life as I know It is the most excellent blog of a library science student.

Google’s blog search and Technorati are blog search engines. Be sure to look at the options under advanced search.

If you want to start a blog

Now that you are all pumped up about blogs you might want to start one to document the antics of your pets or your political button collection or a cause you are interested in supporting. But lets look creating a blog in the context of our library. Why might you want to start a blog?

One use of a blog might be to market library services such as highlighting new acquisitions with reviews. or describing a new service. Public oriented information.

Another might be internal, to inform library staff of on-going, departmental activities. We have quite a few work study students and such a blog could be used provide them a single source of information since they have widely varied work schedules.

To seed your thoughts along these lines, take a look at Meredeth Farkas’ post Blogs! Blogs! Blogs!. This post is part of the on-line course, Five Weeks to A Social Library. Working Blogs into the Library Structure is another interesting post by a different blogger on the same website.

UPDATE: This blog posts discusses blogging with regard to teaching faculty. The blogger gives a couple of examples where a blog might take the place of a print publication. Publishing Presentation on Academic Blogging.

This blog, Techview, was created as a means of communicating information about technology issues to the Swem library staff . Since we allow it to be indexed on the Internet we get readers from outside the library. Another local example is the TIP Community blog which is the collaborative product of the technology integratration program at William and Mary. The Reference department has The Compass. Note that Techreview, TIP, and The Compass are collaborative blogs which means that one person isn’t tasked to keep the blog current.

When you explore blogs note that a blog posting can take many forms. I can be as short as a sentence “Hey, look at what I found about whatever here.” Or much longer and more detailed. The point is that you shouldn’t fear that you have to write lengthy, finely crafted prose that takes you weeks to compose. Spelling and grammer are important, of course. Personally, I hate to write and if I manage to come up with something to blog about, any one can.

There are quite a few Internet services on which you can run your blog. Two of the best, Blogger and WordPress are free.

Here is a comparison of the top five blogging platforms. Blogger, the top one, is actually owned by Google. This means that Blogger would become another service in the suite of Google products to which you have access with a Google account. There is a real convenience factor here.

When you create a blog you are asked for an email address. For Techreview, we use our departmental email account. You could also create an email account using Google which would facilitate creating a Blogger blog.

Earlier I mentioned that the world of bloggers is very interconnected. That extends beyond beyond bloggers pointing readers to other blogs. Some social network sites allow you to take from their site and post it directly to your blog. f you have an account on Flickr, Digg, or Delicious, for example, you can send an image, story or bookmark to your blog.

I hope that the presentation I gave on blogs as part of our Third Thursday Tech Talk series will inspire you explore more. I also challenge you to consider the application of blogs within the library.