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MUG

September 16, 2013

 A bunch of the library staff went to Grand Junction last week for MUG—the annual Marmot User Group meeting. Typically, such meetings don’t entice staff as a choice in their busy lives, but this year the carrot was the topic of a new ILS—integrated library system.

Which, if you care, is the cataloging and circulation stuff on our side and on your side, the catalog you use to search Salida Regional Library, the Marmot network, and the Prospector network.

Don’t worry about more change. What you’ve become used to will remain—and work better. The important changes are behind the scenes in the database structure and the openness of the software.

This “openness” is like being open-hearted, or honest, only different. The current system is very closed; top-secret. There is not external access permitted to the catalog, and so, when Marmot developed the catalog that you use from home, it had to do the equivalent of investigative reporting.

Marmot gets the information from the catalog by “screen scraping,” which sounds as pleasant as having your teeth cleaned. Every night, the servers at the Marmot office “scrape” the information offered by the vendor’s catalog (which we don’t like), and rebuilds it into what you use.

Frankly, it’s amazing it works as well as it does. But the vendor has agreed to develop access for the new system, allowing our catalog to directly speak with the library system database, greatly improving the speed and accuracy.

Just thought I’d let you know.

Meanwhile, let’s look at one new feature of the catalog. It deals with the common question: “What do I read next?” We’ve addressed this question for years with staff knowledge, a database called “Novelist,” and lists found on the Internet called “read-alikes.”

Each of these is worth discussion, but I’ll point out a quick click you can make in the library catalog. When you get a list of results, you’ll see a link near the “Hold” button named “More like this.”

Try it. You’ll get a list of titles recommended by “Novelist,” an ever-growing database of books and descriptors. The list includes a brief description explaining the connection.

The results page also includes a tab called “Similar titles,” which brings up a page of hits from our catalog, ready for you to examine, click “Hold,” etc.

If you do an author search, the results may also include “Similar authors …,” and the list includes a sentence or two describing similarities. You can judge if the similarity intrigues you or not.

The connections in the database are not complete, so as with the use of any database—including Amazon, for example—expect unexpected results. For example, I looked up Robertson Davies, a famous Canadian author, then chose “The Deptford Trilogy” and clicked “More like this.”

There were no “Similar authors” offered. However, Robertson Davies is offered as a similar author when I searched for “John Irving.” Then, if I chose Davies’s “Cunning Man” and look for “More like this,” there are plenty of similar titles and authors listed.

It’s a useful tool for suggestions, right at your fingertips when you’re looking in the catalog.

It’s always been challenging to answer a question like “What’s like Harry Potter?” The answer depends a lot on the sensibility of the reader and the person suggesting. What was liked about Harry Potter: wizardry? fantasy world? friendship? struggle against foes?

We’re happy to give our opinions, but tools such as “More like this” are handy. Give it a try.

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