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Possible website disruptions due to network maintenance

November 19, 2010 | Alan H. | Comments (20)

UPDATE: As of Monday, November 22 the network and dependent services should now all be back to normal.  Thanks again for your patience.

As of Friday, November 19 we continue to experience network issues.  We will be performing maintenance beginning at 8:00 PM tonight that may result in the disruption or unavailability of some or all of our web-based services, including Your Account. 

We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience while we work on resolving the problems.

Some websites unavailability this morning

August 24, 2010 | Alan H. | Comments (10)

We are making some changes to our network this morning as part of the continuing transition to the new website.  You may experience unavailability, slowness or other issues with the old website, the new website, the catalogue or other Toronto Public Library web presence during this time.  We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to have the work finished quickly.

We'll keep this post updated as needed with information.

8:36 AM: Work is still going on.  If you're looking for holds/account information/book search, you can still use the old catalogue at

9:54 AM: Most services are back and functioning on the main website.  The "new" website many of you have been using at the "beta" address is now the main site.  A few outstanding issues are being worked on.  We'll keep you updated, and thanks again for your patience during this transition.

10:38 AM: We're experiencing some issues with our underlying catalogue software.  Book searches will work on the main website, but account-related functions like placing a hold are unavailable (you may receive a message saying your library card and/or PIN number are invalid when attempting to use these functions, even if they are valid).  We are working to resolve this as quickly as possible.

10:52 AM: Catalogue issues described in the previous update now appear to be resolved.  Again, thanks for your patience.

The new beta testing and feedback so far

February 17, 2010 | TPL Staff | Comments (9)

Thanks to everyone who has provided feedback so far on the beta version of the new Toronto Public Library website.

(If you haven’t done so yet, take a look at the beta website now and tell us what you think.)

A few of you have commented that the beta site seems slow. This is a concern for us too, and we have been putting considerable effort into improving performance. We are now caching site components wherever it makes sense, and we have also upgraded our servers. We’ve been doing regular load testing to get a sense of how the site will perform once it’s released to our full user base.

You have also told us that you want to stay logged in longer without having your session automatically time out. Addressing this issue is a challenge for us because it involves the underlying library catalogue system, not just the website itself. We do plan to extend the session duration. In the longer term, our goal is to add a “remember me” function so you can choose to stay logged in on your home computer, but this will probably not be available until sometime after the launch of the new site.

We think we have successfully addressed a number of other issues you identified, including style problems on the account pages and unsatisfactory results from advanced search. We’re especially grateful to those of you who posted screen shots and provided detailed step-by-step explanations of an issue.

Many thanks for all your help so far, and please keep the comments coming!

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.

**Updated** Website Is Not Online

September 14, 2009 | TPL Staff | Comments (4)

Just a quick note to let you know that starting around 2 PM today, the Library's internet connection stopped working. This means you cannot get to our website or catalogue and check your account, place holds or find the hours of branches.

We're working with our internet service provider to get our services back on-line as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.

*UPDATE* - we came back online just before midnight.

We're back and we have good news

September 7, 2009 | TPL Staff | Comments (5)

Hello Everyone,

There's been a communications lull from us although a lot has been going on over the summer. Our WI-FI expansion continued. We're now up to 44 branches with wireless and expect all branches to be outfitted early next year.

The Library launched its new and fabulous event space, The Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library. Be sure to check out its amazing fall line-up and consider the salon as a venue for your next event.

And lastly, Toronto's first TED event will be held Thursday September 10th at the Theatre Passe Muraille.  If you're lucky enough to have tickets - enjoy!  If you're not and want to be part of the event, join us and watch the live webcast of TEDxTO at the Reference Library.

Brief update on the website redesign and new search engine

You may have read a few posts last spring about our new search engine and faceted searching. We continued our heads-down work on this through the summer and have made a lot of progress. We will be alpha testing in the next few weeks and look forward to getting direct customer feedback and being able to share more with you on this so stay tuned.

Good news

We have something good and new to report. Something many of you had commented/complained about since the new web catalogue was launched last year.  If you haven't already noticed, we've fixed the bug of clicking Your Account and after login, going to the search page.  We are pleased (and delighted! and overjoyed!) to finally report that this is no longer the case.

You now go directly to Your Account after logging in when you select Your Account.

A special thanks to our IT group who put many minds to this seemingly simple, yet surprising complex issue over the last year.

I want to thank you all for continuing to tell us what you think and please know that your thoughts and helpful suggestions have not disappeared into the ether or the recycling bin. We greatly value your contributions to our thinking and look forward to an ongoing lively and useful exchange of ideas.

Looking Ahead to Faceted Searching - Part 2

May 20, 2009 | Alan H. | Comments (9)

In the last post we discussed the history of library search technology as a lead-up to our forthcoming addition of faceted search to the library catalogue. 

But we didn't say all that much about what faceted search is.  So what is faceted searching and why is it exciting for improving the library catalogue?

Faceted Search Defined

A search of the web will turn up quite a few results for the question "what is faceted search?"; I like the definition offered by the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval (SIGIR does a lot of work in areas of computer technology of specific interest to libraries):

The web search world, since its very beginning, has offered two paradigms:
  • Navigational search uses a hierarchy structure (taxonomy) to enable users to browse the information space by iteratively narrowing the scope of their quest in a predetermined order, as exemplified by Yahoo! Directory, DMOZ, etc.
  • Direct search allows users to simply write their queries as a bag of words in a text box. This approach has been made enormously popular by Web search engines, such as Google and Yahoo! Search.
Over the last few years, the direct search paradigm has gained dominance and the navigational approach became less and less popular. Recently a new approach has emerged, combining both paradigms, namely the faceted search approach. Faceted search enables users to navigate a multi-dimensional information space by combining text search with a progressive narrowing of choices in each dimension.

From a 2006 SIGIR conference on faceted search

An Old Idea in the Library World

Faceted search as an idea is related to (though not identical with) the concept of faceted classification, a fairly old idea in the library world.  See the Bliss Classification System or the Colon Classification System, both developed by librarians who considered the Dewey Decimal Classification System insufficient for describing and categorizing the richly varied world of information.

"Navigate a multi-dimensional information space"

A piece of information (let's say a book from here on out for the sake of convenience) has many different possible points of access that might be of interest to someone looking for it.  This is where the "facets" terminology comes from--each possible access point is one "facet" of the whole piece of information.

Some of these are "flat", such as the name of an author or the title of a book, but for others it may be possible to identify a hierarchy from general to specific, such as for geographic area of coverage:

  • Earth > North America > Canada > Ontario > Toronto

A huge range of possible books exist within the geographic coverage of "Earth".  A narrower subset of that range geographically covers "North America", and a narrower subset within that covers "Canada".   And so on... You could also consider more granular hierarchies such as having "Western Hemisphere" between "Earth" and "North American Continent".

But hierarchical subject browsing based on a subject heading system such as the Library of Congress' has been a feature of some online library catalogues in the past.  The real power of faceted searching comes with...

"Combining text search with a progressive narrowing of choices in each dimension"

You may already use faceted search and not realize it.  The ability to start with a free-text search and then narrow down your results within various dimensions is a common one on e-commerce sites:

Canadiantire Ebay

The screenshot to the right show the websites of Canadian Tire and eBay using faceted search to narrow within a free-text search.

You get a lot of power from this ability to search freely and then progressively narrow your search by the available facets of the retrieved results.  Ideally you get the best of both worlds in a user-friendly manner--you can look for whatever you want, but the system will then progressively guide you through its particular information structure to improve precision, eliminate false hits, and help you find information that's on target.

If you've asked a librarian to look up a book (we have 99 branches to do this at if you feel the need) you've probably seen them pull relevant results very quickly, because librarians have extensive training in (among other things) the particular way in which catalogue records are organized.

A big part of what the web team hopes to do with faceted search is leverage our existing structured records (subject headings and other access points in the catalogue record) to make searching easier without having pre-existing knowledge of how the information is organized##.

Faceted Search Technology and the Library

For an example of faceted search working in a library catalogue, you can visit the North Carolina State University Library.

The specific faceted search technology we'll be using is made by Endeca.  An interview with one of the founders in 2008 gives some insights into the origins of the technology (and it warms my librarian heart to see the acknowledgement of S.R. Ranganathan as one of the original thinkers of faceted search).

The web team aims to have faceted search technology in place for Toronto Public Library by late summer.  Watch this space for further announcements.

Ask A Librarian Beta Links on the Catalogue

May 5, 2009 | TPL Staff | Comments (11)

Toronto Public Library is always looking for ways to make it easier for you to get the help you need.

Starting May 5th, for two weeks, you will see a new set of links on the catalogue aimed at providing you quick access to help where you need it.

Why don't you see the links every time you visit the catalogue?

To help us make sure we can meet demand we elected to test this with a small set of customers.  As a result you will see the links on some visits to the catalogue and not on others during the two week period. We hope to make the links permanent very soon for all your catalogue visits.

Ask A Librarian Beta Links

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.

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