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April 2009

A few words about recent catalogue and account issues

April 20, 2009 | Sandra | Comments (15)

We have been working hard to resolve the recent problems with the library catalogue and access to customer accounts.

What’s the problem?

Over the past several weeks, the two servers we were using for the catalogue were having trouble meeting demand. We added a third server, but unfortunately it didn’t perform well and ended up making the problems worse. Last Friday, we introduced another new server to replace it, which seems to have addressed the access and response issues that you experienced.

Why is it so hard to get it right?

Some of the challenges with our catalogue arise from the fact that Toronto Public Library is so much larger than most other libraries. System configurations that have worked for other libraries do not always translate well when scaled for Toronto’s size.  We're also coping with a recent increase in traffic to our website.

What has been fixed?

Problems with extreme slowness, timeouts, and error messages when trying to search or access your account should now be resolved. We continue to monitor this very closely, so please tell us if you are still experiencing timeouts or extreme slowness.

What still needs fixing?

We still have work to do to address usability issues with the catalogue. Some of the high-priority issues to be addressed include:

  • After clicking “Your Account” and signing in, you are taken to the search screen instead of the account screen. You have to click on “Your Account” a second time.
  • After placing a hold, you are returned to the “Place Hold” form rather than to your search results.
  • It’s not currently possible to delete the list of missed holds that display in your account.

We continue to work with our vendor to improve the stability and responsiveness of the catalogue. We are also in the process of implementing a new search engine that will significantly enhance the usability, accessibility, and openness of our online services. In the meantime, we recognize the importance of the catalogue and are working to resolve the issues as quickly as possible. We appreciate your continued feedback.

*UPDATED* Catalogue problems this week

April 14, 2009 | Sandra | Comments (10)

UPDATE: As of Friday evening, we've got a new server up and running, which should make the catalogue much more stable. Thanks for your patience, everyone.

*  *  *  *

We're having some intermittent problems with our catalogue. You may be finding it really slow to respond, and you may also be unable to sign in to your account.

We're working to resolve the problems as quickly as possible. If you need immediate assistance with your account, you can contact your local branch or phone or email Answerline.

We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to have everything back to normal soon.

A Quick Post-mesh Post

April 9, 2009 | Alan H. | Comments (5)

As mentioned previously, members of the web team attended the recent mesh conference and found it quite valuable.  I was expecting to be somewhat out of place as a librarian (albeit a "web" librarian) but the great strength of the conference was the diversity of voices and perspectives.  I got many insights into potential directions for library web services that I'm not sure I would otherwise have found.  A part of this was just talking to tech-savvy people who still thought of the library as "books only" (not that this isn't still a big part of our identity!) and thinking as a result about how we might make our web presence better known--I'm hoping at least a few of them will start using Safari Computer Bookshelf or some of our other tech-focused resources (we have a ton of electronic journals and magazines dealing with computer science, information technology and technology in general available with your library card through our website).  Thanks to everyone I met at #mesh09 who shared ideas and thoughts with me.

I wanted to quote (perhaps paraphrase) two lines from Mayor Miller's second-day keynote, where he discussed plans for opening up city data and using web services to improve civic life that I thought were of especial relevance to the library's own efforts:

  • "When we share our information and open up our data, individuals will create new applications that benefit both the community and the city."
  • "In the future, systems can be redesigned to ensure they are open."

We have written previously on "Toronto 2.0" and our vision of the library's place in it and our efforts to open up our own data.  Major attention is being paid as part of our ongoing redesign of the library's web presence to changing the "underlying" model and structure of our data to make it more open, both to improve our own ability to build interesting and helpful web services in the future, and to enlist the ideas and skills of the community in adding value to our data, like the Red Rocket iPhone application has done with data shared by the Toronto Transit Commission.

So we are on board here at the web team with the vision of a more open city (the library is a city service,  though we report to an arms-length board rather than to the city directly), and hope to make some pretty exciting announcements relatively soon about our own data-sharing.  Watch this space! :)

I Didn't Know You Had That... Part 3

April 6, 2009 | Alan H. | Comments (0)

The Economist magazine wordmark

Global Intelligence from Wherever You Are

You may have heard of the well-known international weekly news magazine, The Economist, but did you know about the Economist Intelligence Unit, a research wing of the same company specializing in country, management and industry analysis?  

The focus is on business decision making, but there's a lot for students or those with a general interest in world affairs in ViewsWire (you'll need a library card to log in--get one, it's free), a global current awareness and analysis information source from the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Like the CIA World Factbook and similar information sources, the division of information is regional and geographical, but ViewsWire strongly emphasizes current awareness, with dozens of new or updated articles released daily about the latest developments worldwide.

I know from my days as a reference librarian that "country profile"-type projects are common at all academic levels.  A few more subscription resources from the library that can be useful for these type of projects (again, you'll need your library card handy):

  • Encyclopedia Britannica Online has some useful geography-focused web tools in addition to lengthy encyclopedia entries for countries.
  •  Grolier Online features Lands and Peoples (select it from the list of resources on the left-hand side), an elementary-level encyclopedia of world cultures, countries and history.
  • The Gale Virtual Reference Library (discussed previously in this blog post) has numerous useful reference books under categories such as History and Nation and World, at various academic levels.

Last Time On "I Didn't Know You Had That..."

This is an ongoing series highlighting interesting resources, features or other aspects of TPL's web services.  If you've missed previous parts:

Web Team @ mesh 2009

April 6, 2009 | Alan H. | Comments (0)

MeshConferenceLogo Members of the web team will be attending mesh - Canada's Web Conference this week on April 7th and April 8th, and we hope to do some posting after (and possibly during) keynotes and sessions with our impressions and how they tie into where the library is and is going with web services.  We've written in this space before about our interest in technology and civics and opening our data, both themes in abundance at the conference.  So watch the blog in the next few days (and say hi to us at mesh if you run into us)!

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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.

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