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October 2009

**Updated** Help us organize library programs in a way that makes sense!

October 23, 2009 | Alan H. | Comments (6)

Hi everyone,

Just a quick note to let you know that we're doing a crowdsourcing exercise to help with refining the search interface and information architecture of the new website's programs section.

*UPDATE* Thanks to everyone who participated in our online card sort. Based on your input, we've winnowed library programs down to a small set of meaningful categories that should be easy to browse. (We started out with about 29 categories, so this will be a big improvement!)

Why did my holds position change?

October 19, 2009 | Alan H. | Comments (0)

Short answer: it really didn't and you won't receive your held titles any faster or slower.  We're sorry for any confusion this caused.  This was a data display issue that was recently resolved.

Longer answer: You may have noticed in the past that sometimes your holds queue position in the Your Account section didn't agree with the total number of holds in the full display of the title.  Your Account might claim your were "1685 of 1700" for a book that had 2200 total holds according to its catalogue record.

We implemented a change for this data display bug overnight that took effect on Saturday morning (the 17th of October).  As a result it may seem that you've moved further down the holds queue (this is most evident for titles that had hundreds or thousands of holds).  This isn't actually the case--the Your Account interface was displaying an incorrect total number of holds (and therefore an incorrect position in line) in cases where the number of holds did not match between Your Account and the total holds displayed for a title on its catalogue record.  Your Account is now displaying the number of holds and your position in line properly, resulting in some changed numbers.

We apologize for any confusion caused by this and assure everyone that their position in line for any held titles hasn't changed--it's just represented accurately now through Your Account.

New Items on New Site (a preview)

October 9, 2009 | Alan H. | Comments (6)

You may have been been asking yourselves "Why hasn't Alan H. posted lately?" (or perhaps you haven't, but let me preserve some of my ego). The summer & September have been a very busy time for me, and a big part of my work has been building parts of the new website that take advantage of our Endeca search technology. 

This post previews some of the work we're doing to improve access to newly-added library collection items (one of the biggest feature requests of the existing website).  Some of this is a bit technical, but I've tried to emphasize the practical results here.

More information on our new faceted search technology is in the posts here and here, but the short version is that our new site will have a much more robust search for nearly everything the library does--not just collections like books and DVDs, but also our programs, locations, blog content, etc.

The search is also capable of some sophisticated filtering by many different possible fields. One of the fields now available is the date an item was added to our collection, which is the most important building block of our redesigned newest titles section.

Currently, the Our Newest Titles list is generated on the 15th of each month for some popular categories of items.  It's a frequently used section of the site and we get a lot of feedback about it from you. We commonly hear that:

  • The period covered by these lists is unclear
  • The lists are often very long and not sortable, so browsing them is difficult
  • It's not possible to see lists of new items for previous months

We agree with all of this, so I'm glad to say that our new design can address all these points.  Here's a few screenshots (these are, obviously, not final designs):

Period of Time Covered

Period of time covered is (hopefully) clear. The list also generated at the time the page is requested, rather than as part of a monthly report--so they can change from day to day as new items are added.


Sortable Lists

Currently sortable (ascending or descending) by title and author.  It's possible for us to add other sorts as well if they seem useful, as the new site's framework is very modular.


Back In Time

Go back a month:


Or a year (past a certain point, these probably stop being "new items", but hey, why not?):


More Screens

Here's some (large) screenshots showing more of the new items display in action, click to view in full size:


New-items-ss-3 New-items-ss-1


The Bigger Picture

Many of our choices about underlying technology and design for the new website have been influenced by the thoughts of people like Daniel Burka, designer of Digg, Firefox and many other great web based technology, (the link goes to a long presentation he gave last year at the Future of Web Design conference).  After site launch we want to continue to improve the site in regular ways based on user feedback. So our data, our faceted search engine and our site technologies are all quite flexible.

Most of my work has taken place on the "top" layer of the site building pages like the New Items display pages that provide various views of our data.  This has been done mostly through component reuse--for example, the Sort feature on the page is a reusable chunk of code that can be placed anywhere on the site and customized, but largely figures out how it should be behaving based on the page context it's appearing in.

What this means in a practical sense (what most of you probably care about) is that our turnaround time on new features and site improvements should be quicker after our new site launch.  Eventually we envision things like user-customizable New Items page (keep personalized track of genres, authors, subjects etc that interest you) or other remixings.

There will probably be some changes to the revised New Items pages before (and after) our launch, based on testing and user feedback.  Some of our design choices are influenced by what we know about how you use the current Our Newest Titles page and how you've told us you'd like it to be better.  But we're aware usage may change on the new site because the new search has many more features than our current one.  So we'll be listening closely during our upcoming public beta and afterwards, and refining the site in the years to come.

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