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Web Team breaks awkward silence, launches website improvements

June 21, 2011 | TPL Staff | Comments (5)

Patient readers, we know we've been out of touch for a long time - pretty much ever since we launched the new website last August. What's been keeping us too busy to blog? For one thing, we've been listening to your feedback about the new site - many thanks to everyone who has posted on this blog or shared your comments through other channels. We've also had our hands full helping some of the many people who have started using the library's eBook services. (Did you get a shiny new eReader/tablet/smartphone over the holidays last year? We can tell.)


If, like Janet Jackson circa 1986, you're asking "What have you done for me lately?", we have some good news. We've been working on a few improvements to the website that are now available.

  • Dates when new DVDs will be available for placing holds: You asked for it, and here it is: new feature DVDs become holdable six months after the library acquires them, and now the record for each DVD includes the date when it will be available for holds.

No hold dvd date

  • Mega-menus for faster, easier navigation: We've introduced mega-menus to help you go directly to the section of the site you want. The menus include links to many of the most popular pages on the site.



  • Share an item by email: Found something great on the library website? Email it to a friend (or to yourself). The email will contain all the relevant details about the item. Books, movies, music, library branches, library programs/events - all can be shared quickly and easily via email.



Other things we've been working on include a project to integrate digitized books and images from the library's Special Collections into the website and a major application server migration.

And we haven't forgotten about some of the other things you've been asking for:

  • A “wish list” feature
  • Enhancements to search, including type-ahead
  • A mobile version of the site
  • An online purchase request form
  • Online fine payment

A project to improve Your Account features and accessibility is just getting underway.

Please keep your feedback coming - input from you helps us prioritize upcoming improvements.

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.

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.

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! :)

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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Welcome to the web team blog.

November 14, 2008 | Dara Renton | Comments (18)

Welcome to the Web Team's first blog post. In this blog we'll talk with you about what the Toronto Public Library is doing and planning online. This includes our library catalogue, websites, and all our online and interactive services. We know that by talking with you we'll learn more about what you want and expect and we're excited to engage with you in this important conversation.

This blog will have contributors from all facets of our web team and will cover many topics including design, usability, accessibility, technology and the Internet at large. We want to be open and accountable to you, our customers. It’s OK to criticize the library’s website in your comments and ask challenging questions. We also welcome suggestions for topics you think this blog should cover.

Comments provided will be read before a decision is made about whether or not to publish them. We want to include as many comments as possible, but we won't publish comments that are abusive, offensive, or way off-topic.

It's worth noting that leaving a comment on this blog does not replace or represent the Library's official customer service. To make an official request, comment or complaint, please use the online form or call Answerline at 416-393-7131.

And so with out further ado, we're now open for discussion! What do you have to say?

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