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December 2008

*UPDATED* Issues with catalogue searching

December 29, 2008 | Sandra | Comments (12)

UPDATE: The problems reported between December 24th and the 29th are resolved. All searching and linking within the catalogue is back to normal.

Catalogue - your feedback so far

December 18, 2008 | Dara Renton | Comments (34)

We knew that using the web as a feedback mechanism and engaging in online consultation was a pretty good idea but we are really pleased to see how good a job it does at connecting us with our customers and ideas.  Already we've received a great tip that will help our Linux community (thanks Matt!), and have also received some valuable feedback and suggestions about the new catalogue.  

Delivering an improved TPL online experience based on an engaging and honest discussion with our online audience is our goal and I think we’re off to a good start.  We thank you for participating and commenting.

The team and I have been reviewing the feedback received over the past week from comments on this blog, sent to Answerline and gathered during our Beta Test of the catalogue last month. Thank you for taking the time to use the new catalogue and tell us what you think.

Here is a summary of your feedback so far.

Missed Holds – Why are these holds displaying? I picked up all my holds and How can I remove notices I no longer want?

This is a new feature.  It allows you to see your missed holds, all holds not picked up since February 2008 are showing up in your account. We know this may be confusing, especially if you have placed a new hold on the same title. Unfortunately, you cannot remove them yourself, however, they will be cleared automatically on a regular schedule, so this situation is only temporary.

Your Account/Sign In takes you to the search screen instead of the account screen.

This issue is a high priority, and we are close to having a fix.

More personalized features like being able to track a "wish list" and enabling me to see my borrowing history.

These are both definitely on our list of desired features. Using the new "Link to This Page" feature you are now able to bookmark and copy links  of items, as an interim step this may be a useful alternative. And next year we will enable you to share items directly to common social networks such as Facebook, Digg and Delicious.  So, more is coming in this area in the near term and further out we hope to implement a fulsome TPL solution.

The holds list in Your Account no longer includes author, and you can't sort by author name.

You can see the author's name by clicking the link to the item record, but we understand that you also liked seeing this information on the account screen and being able to sort on it. The number of sortable columns presents a design challenge on the holds screen. We will investigate possible design changes that might allow us to add an author column.

Some of you would prefer to see all their account information on a single page instead of in tabs.  Can it be a setting in Your Account?

Based on customer comments, usability testing, and beta testing, we have found that the majority of users prefer the tabbed display.  There are no further levels of personalization possible at this time. We hope customers who prefer the single page layout are able to get used to the new layout and find it intuitive.

The Your Account summary screen listing for the number of holds does not include items that are in transit or on the pickup shelf.

Some of you find this confusing/misleading, especially because in transit and pickup shelf items are included in the maximum number of holds allowed - it looks like you can place more holds, but you can't. We are working to improve the labelling to clarify this.

Screen width

Some of you have report having to scroll horizontally to access the search buttons or other information.   We are working on fixing this.

Why doesn't my name appear when I login anymore?

This feature was implemented to improve the privacy of customers who use the catalogue from public computers (e.g. from our library branches or internet cafés).  In place of your name you can now display a 'ScreenName'  which you can set in your account settings page.  "For more information about this please see this FAQ.

Where are the links to "More by this author"/"More on this topic"?

When you click on "Full Details" to display the complete information for an item, the author and subject headings you see here are links that you can click to find more matching titles. (Note: if the result of clicking one of these links is just the same item record you were already looking at, that means there are no other titles matching the author or subject.)

Library Elf no longer works for my Toronto Public Library account.

We are aware of this problem and are not sure why the recent changes to our catalogue have impacted Library Elf, since we are still using the same technology we have had in place since February 2008. Library Elf is a private company not affiliated or officially supported by TPL.  Email notification for holds and overdue items is available directly from your Toronto Public Library account. Enter your email address under the Account Settings tab to begin receiving email notices.

Known issues (e.g., slowness, date format, not being able to place holds on items you currently have checked out) - why haven't you fixed this stuff too?

We know these problems are significant. We are constantly working to improve our service.   We will continue to keep you posted through this blog about ongoing updates about our efforts to improve the catalogue.

*UPDATED* The improved catalogue is live, almost as expected..

December 11, 2008 | TPL Staff | Comments (11)

Please excuse our appearance we are remodelingSo, after quite a complex process we have most of the new features implemented on the improved catalogue.

There are a few outstanding items we are working quickly to resolve.  One in particular that you will notice.

The Your Account link *STILL* goes to the home  page. There is something getting in the way of making this work properly for you in our live system and we continue to work on this.

There are also two issues in Your Account that we are also focusing on.  The account settings page is missing buttons and the feature that allows you to change between telephone and email notification is not working.

Other than these, the other new features are working.  We appreciate your patience while we implement the improved catalogue. 

Should you notice any issues other than those listed above, please let us know by contacting the Library’s Answerline service at (416-393-7131) or online through our customer feedback form.


Your Account now contains all submit/renew and cancel buttons. 

We are also receiving feedback on two other items:

1) Can I remove items from the Cancelled Hold Section?  Unfortunately you cannot, we wanted it to work this way but it was not technically possible.  We are working on only displaying items you've missed in the last 4 weeks.  Items older than that would drop off the list.  The development of this is in process.

2) Why doesn't my name appear when I login anymore?  The system was updated to improve the privacy of customers who use the catalogue from public computers (e.g. from our library branches or internet cafés).  In place of your name you can now display a 'ScreenName' which you can set in your account settings page.  For more information about this please see this FAQ.

Catalogue Usability

December 10, 2008 | TPL Staff | Comments (7)

As you may have read in this post, an improved version of the catalogue is going live tomorrow. We have received several comments around usability issues and wanted to specifically address the issue of usability and our catalogue.

Unusable Watering Can

What you will see in this version of the catalogue

Your account sign-in – This action now goes to Your Account.

Page titles and permanent links – With this function we ensure that each item in the catalogue has a permanent link that you can use to share or bookmark in your browser.  Along with this we ensured that the bookmark would be titled appropriately.

Warnings when you are about to affect all items (e.g. item renewal and cancelling holds) – This was implemented to stop you from unexpectedly affecting all your holds with a single click.

Screen refresh – When you renew items or cancel holds, the screen now refreshes after you take your action.  This ensures you see the results of your action and don't take the same action again.

Hold suspension process simplified – To help make this process easier for everyone, we've introduced a way to activate or suspend holds without specifying a date range.  You may also continue to indicate a date range should you wish to do so.

Headings, labels and error messages – Previously ambiguous, misleading and/or repetitive.  We've made numerous improvements to this area.  We have also used better text size for headings to improve scanning of pages and have removed headings that repeat where necessary.

Links that look and behave like links – As much as possible, we've make all the links look and behave like links – (e.g. underlined, mouse pointer changes to the 'hand' icon).

Formatting and page width –The catalogue content is better formatted so you can find what you are looking for more easily.   For example, the New Titles lists are now broken up into sections with headings as opposed to a list with a system order.  We also fixed the width of the catalogue so the viewing experience on monitors of all sizes is the same.

Spacing – To improve your ability to scan through content on pages, much more space and 'breathing room' has been added.

What you won't see

The catalogue is a proprietary software and in some instances we are unable to control its functionality.  As a result, some things we really wanted to do for our customers were simply not possible and are still under investigation and consideration. These include:

Sign-in from anywhere in the system – Allowing a customer to login and return to the site where they left off (e.g. mid searching or hold process).

Using the browser back button – The catalogue does not give the expected result from using the 'back button' on your web browser.  This means you must use the in–page back option (now better positioned). TIP: If you find yourself caught out (I know I regularly do!) having used the browser back button, hit the browser refresh button and the page you are looking for should display.

Human readable URLs you can copy and paste from the address bar – the catalogue adds special codes into the URLs to indicate that you, a specific website user, from a specific computer have requested information so that the information can be sent back to your computer browser.  This instance of one person using the catalogue is called a 'session' and it is the session codes that appear in the URLs.  Some pages work without the session codes, and on these pages we have provided a Link To This Page feature.   The other challenge with the links to catalogue pages and items is that the links are codified and reference things like 'uhtbin' and 'cgisirsi' when what you really need to see are author names, titles, search terms in clear readable language.>

Search assistance – such as spell check or “did you mean” – the catalogue does not have this functionality, and we are not able to add it to this product.

Sort and limit options for all types of search results – Ideally, you would be able to sort any set of search results into the order that works best for you (e.g., alphabetically by author) or narrow the results to include only what you’re looking for (e.g., only DVDs at Downsview branch). Unfortunately, the catalogue allows sorting and limiting only for keyword search results. The results of a browse search (exact title, author, or subject) and the lists of Our Newest Titles, Award Winners, and Best Sellers cannot be sorted or limited.

An easy way to tell which items you can place holds on – “Place Hold” buttons still show up for many items that you are not able to put holds on. We have not been able to find a way to consistently suppress them for materials that are not holdable. This is something we’re still working on.

Standard accessibility features, such as the capability to resize text using the controls in your web browser – Accessibility is very important to the library and will be a major focus of our website redesign project.

Perfection – Things that seem simple to achieve may, within the constraints of this technology, be unattainable.  We've endeavoured to affect every issue we possibly can and continue to work closely with our supplier to improve things even more.  We know there are more things we can do and we have a long list of outstanding issues we are continuing to work through.  We also know how important this system is to your library experience and are committed to ongoing  and regular improvements.   Thanks for everyone's patience, and keep the comments coming – we love your engagement and feedback.

Updated Version of Library Catalogue Launching December 11

December 5, 2008 | TPL Staff | Comments (31)

The library is happy to announce some improvements to our catalogue. The new version, launching on Thursday, December 11, includes a number of changes you’ve been asking for. For the past two weeks, we have been beta testing these changes with a group of library users, and their feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Your Account

Customer accounts have been reorganized and common functions have been made easier to use. Changes include:

  • Separate screens for the account summary, checked-out items, holds, and account settings

Account Summary

  • Separation of holds into sections: available for pickup, in transit, and still on hold

Your Account - Holds


  • A simplified process for making holds active or inactive
  • A display of missed holds that you did not pick up on time.
  • The option to choose a “screen name” that displays at the top of each page when the customer is logged in.

Item records

Item records are easier to read. Repeated headings have been removed, and it’s easier to scan to see whether any copies are in the library

Other Changes

  • A permanent link feature makes it easy to bookmark or save links to individual items or search results

Ability to Easily Link To Items


  • The catalogue’s layout has been improved. Spacing and alignment have been adjusted to improve readability
  • Some changes have been made to make keyword searching work better
  • Error messages have been rewritten to be more meaningful

Outstanding Issues

Other improvements we would like to make have not yet been implemented.

These issues include:

  • Slow response time - reported by a few customers
  • Holds on “on order” items do not display your position in the holds queue
  • Search results do not always seem relevant

The library is working hard to resolve these issues. While these issues are important to us and our users, they will take more time and work to resolve. With continued feedback from our users, we will be better able to serve our customers.

We will continue to report on our progress through regular updates on this blog.

After the launch

We hope you'll agree that the new version of the catalogue is a significant improvement. During and after the launch, customers can direct questions to the Library’s Answerline service (416-393-7131). We also welcome your feedback through comments on this blog or the library's official customer feedback form.

Thank you for your interest and support.

Opening up our data - after all, distributing information is what we do

December 3, 2008 | Dara Renton | Comments (7)

Come In, We're Open Sign The Toronto Public Library is working to open up its data for people to use. After all, distributing information is what we do. By enabling Torontonians to access and use the information that the library has, including its branch location information, program and event information and the content within our library catalogue, we truly embody the mandate of a public library.

What this means is anyone with the skills and inclination could list, display or integrate linkable TPL data into their website. 

Some useful examples might be a community group who wants to show the nearest libraries or upcoming library programs in their neighbourhoods on their website, a special interest group would be able to list relevant linkable content within our collections or an individual would be able to easily blog about a TPL item, event, service or branch.

So in that light, as a first step we have made it easier for people to take branch location information and map it for their own needs.

Use our stuff on your own site

If you're building a website about your community or local business, or just hacking around and want to show nearby Toronto Public Library branch locations in Google maps, you can use this data just like we did on our hours and locations page.

You can take the geocoding the library has used for our Google maps and use it on your site.

 Link to Toronto Public Library's branch Google maps data.

There is a really good tutorial, some handy Google documentation and a developer forum if you're looking to get started with Google maps.

This is our first "API"  and there is much more to come.  In addition to this, our blogs already enable content syndication through RSS.

We are working to open up other sources like our library catalogue and our programs and events listings. As we move forward, we are looking at ways make our site more modular and easier to integrate using mashups, semantic-markup, microformats, embeddable widgets, APIs, and further content syndication.

Book Cover for RESTful Web Services

(Warning, unapologetic Library service plug follows)

If you fully understood this post and found it relevant to your interests or profession, you'll be happy to know that you can get *every* O'Reilly book online through the library with your library card. Either search the library catalogue for the title or interest of your choice, or go straight to Safari Books Online by typing It's free with your library card.

Catalogue beta testing so far

December 1, 2008 | Sandra | Comments (1)

Many thanks to everyone who has volunteered to help us out with beta testing the new version of the library catalogue.

We're happy to hear that the key improvements introduced in this version, particularly the changes to layout and functionality in customer accounts, are working better for you.

Account Summary

Overwhelmingly, the feedback has been positive, but a few of you have asked why we haven’t done more—specifically, making the search engine better, improving the performance of the catalogue, and delivering more robust capabilities.

The current version of the catalogue is part of a larger system for managing a range of complex library operations. While the overall system works effectively, the catalogue itself has limitations as a customer-facing website. The beta catalogue represents our efforts to address some gaps in features that you have identified. We are limited in our ability to make changes due to way the technology works, particularly in terms of search results ranking.

As a next step in improving the online experience, we are working on implementing the commercial search engine Endeca. This will be available in 2009.

Watch this blog for further updates on our progress.

Again, thank you for all your helpful feedback.

Staff from the Toronto Public Library's eServices team talk about recent changes, future plans and ideas and issues you raise about the library's online and mobile services.

What the Web Team is reading on the web