Upgrading

Cotswold farm parkWe had a busy few days in late August as our Library Management System, Talis was upgraded and also moved onto a new server. While planned and carefully considered we did encounter  a few problems. However am pleased that we are finally up to date with our LMS and we already feeling the benefits of being on a new server, reports are being run so much quicker.

Since I started there has been talk about needing to upgrade to the latest version of our LMS and at the same time the need to move onto a new server, so it seemed sensible to do them at the same time. As the library, CICT and Talis all need to be involved arranging a suitable date and bearing in mind the level of disruption was tricky.

We got together with CICT beforehand to plan what sequence of events the actions should take place as there were a number of areas which are inter-dependant and identified potential problems. For example we identified a lack of consistency in how the server name was recorded in each individuals Alto set up which we needed to correct in time for the upgrade. Chris put together some instructions and library staff made the neccessary changes.  With the number of library sites and staff involved we were very appreciative of staff being able to make these local changes.

The day itself went pretty smoothly and owing to the scale of the work involved however the system was made unavailable for most of the day. Chris had put together a comprehensive testing schedule including screen shots and our intial testing was mainly positive. Having the screen shots was especialy useful when reporting problems.

The next day, once library staff started using the system we uncovered a few more issues. Luckily Talis and CICT were on hand again and helped troubleshoot, issues such as updating links to the catalogue with the new server address, ensuring all staff had the latest version of Alto, making sure the Inter Library Loan client was working etc. Thanks again to the staff for thier patience while we ironed out a few problems, next thing to plan for will be Alto 5.1.

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So close, yet so long.

Two seemingly straightforward requests received in as many days, produced groans when I first knew about them. Now, I’m not starting a post Christmas slump, one from which I would be unlikely to emerge until the clocks goI wouldn't fancy dropping this on my foot forward at the end of March.  The requests themselves don’t require a feat of mental gymnastics such as that needed to consolidate the different spellings or misspellings that we have for Russian authors in our catalogue. So where’s the problem.

The requests were: how many items were returned yesterday and what transactions were processed at a Campus Library around a particular time on an afternoon in December.  Straightforward certainly, however frustration arises, because for these requests it takes so long to get the data out of the Library Management System. The report ends up grinding through nearly 21 million loans; and can’t be run on our live system for fear of bringing it to a halt.

I’ve worked in Libraries for the past 5½ years and before that I worked for a small company producing Business software.  Even back in the dim distant past of the early 90’s, up to the minute sales and transaction reports could be produced by end-users without any impact on the live system. The slowness of the current reporting is due to database design not just system speed. I know, Libraries have very different demands and pressures from commercial companies, but it is still galling to know that I could have produced equivalent figures in a couple of minutes, when mobile phones were still the size of a brick (or two).

Visit to Talis

On Wed 19th August, some of the eLibrary team spent the day at the Talis offices in Birmingham. I found it a really interesting day helping me get a better picture of some of the work that Talis do and the direction they are heading. It was also great to meet the staff and have the opportunity to discuss some wider professional issues.

The day started with a tour of the offices, it was good to see the provisons made making it easy for staff to work at home and efforts made to reduce their carbon footprint. I was however left feeling a little envious of all the kit on peoples desk, espeically the large Mac monitor in the design section.

The rest of the morning provided an opportunity for us to discuss some of our challenges and priorities alongside hearing about some of the activities within Talis. Richard Wallis provided an overview of the Talis Platform and the semantic web. I could see potential of this type of enviroment for data sharing.

After lunch we were joined by people from the library division of Talis to discuss Prism and Keystone.

When I began this role (4 months ago) discussions had begun regarding implementation of Prism 3 and it was clear that this product was very different to Prism 2.  I was therefore really interesed to hear about the project methodology being used, as new releases were continual and priorities constantly changing.  While I could appreciate that this kind of development provides a more agile service I wasn’t clear about how easy it is for a library manage this type of change. Talis advised us to be thinking about what we need to go live with Prims 3 rather than what we want and runing two installs of Prism in parallel  switching to Prim 3 when we were ready, however I am not confident as yet  I would know when that would be.

We also had a talk about the education arm of Talis,  having recently seen a demonstration of Talis Aspire it was useful to see its context within this section.  We heard about the Talis Incubator for Open education which will provide funding for ideas and projects in the area of open education.  I think this could be a great opportunity for investment in some exciting new ideas and projects and am looking forward to following its progress.

Thanks again to all at Talis for a useful visit, hope we can do this again.