Using library 2.0 tools for technical services

Technical services in libraries which encompasses back-room work like acquisitions, document delivery and cataloging are often deemed as the less ‘sexy’ part of librarianship.

Yet, satisfying and even delighting library patrons depends critically on having an efficient and effective technical services departments which explains why many libraries are embarking on projects to streamline and improve their services. While the biggest gains probably come from radical redesign, some gains can be gotten from minor changes. In this post I will share some ideas to do that.

Librarians have being introducing tools like Libx toolbars, opensearch plugins, bookmarklets greasemonkey scripts (ezproxy script, amazon script) etc but the focus always seems to be for library users.

But it occurs to me that such tools are even more effective for technical services work.

Libx for instance automatically converts any isbn on a page to a clickable link, and clicking on it will do a xisbn search (it searches not just the given isbn, but also related isbns) of the item in your catalogue. While this is no doubt useful to users, one suspects that a typical library staff assigned to say acquisitions would use this dozens if not hundreds of times in the course of his/her work for checking orders that come in. Though each use saves them probably 5 seconds (not to mention reduces errors), the time savings can add up when they process thousands of books a year.

Another advantage of using opensearch plugins or Libx toolbar in technical services is that they can serve as a pilot, before you push it out to users!

Opensearch plugins

Obvious idea, add opensearch plugins for sites you use often for cataloguing, purchasing etc. This could be anything from your own library catalogue to other libraries like British Library, Book vendors, jobbers (Amazon, Blackwell books, Bookfinder, BookData Online etc)that do not support z39.50

You can also add sites that handle journal abbreviations such as JAbbr etc.

This is particularly effective if you need to do the same search a dozen times across different sites.

Say for instance, you need to process a request for document delivery. You need to

1. Check if the article exists in your collection and if not
2. Check your vendors to see if they have it to place an order.

Let’s assume you don’t have a openurl resolver and you need to manually check the source title against your OPAC.

Set up, the opensearch plugins for your library opac and other vendors/libraries you use in Internet explorer 7 or 8 or Firefox. (Tip : Add to searchbar Firefox addon makes adding new search providers a snap in Firefox)

Copy and paste, the source title (issn would be better, but most users don’t give you that), into the searchbox and then select your library search. After checking it doesn’t exist, you then click on the pull down button again and select the vendor you are checking (e.g. CISTI). The search results will appear.

If they don’t have it, continue with the other vendors down the list.

Notice how you don’t have to cut and paste the same search manually several times, just select another search provider and the search is run! Internet Explorer 7 is pretty handy in the way it handles opensearch because the search is automatically run with the terms in the searchbar whenever you change search providers.

You might notice that I’m actually using Firefox in the video. Firefox users who want to achieve the same effect should install “search on engine change” addon.

There are various other firefox addons that allow you to do even more interesting stuff, in particular you can do a search such that it searches the same term across several search providers opening a new tab for each.

Try Firefox search sidebar (search several search providers at one time) , searchwith (adding searches to your context menu) to search multi-servives at one time. This is a very cheap method to achieve a poor man’s federated search.

Install Libx

The Libx toolbar has a host of useful functions. But probably the most useful one of all would be the autolinking of isbns. Any page with an isbn is recognized and converted into a clickable link. Clicking on it will do a search of your library catalogue. It even searches related isbns (different publishers, different editions) if your opac supports that or lists related isbns in a sidebar that you can search with another click if your opac doesn’t.

Say you get a book order for a certain title. You typically search your catalogue first to see if the book already exists, then they search vendor sites to look for pricing, availability etc.

If you combine* the use of Libx and opensearch, you have two choices.

1. Use opensearch to search your catalogue (by title probably, isbn usually isn’t given but even if it is you probably want to check for hardback, paperback editions) then search the vendor the site. Then you can double check that the book doesn’t exist in your collection by clicking on the isbn given on the vendor site.

2. Use opensearch to search a commonly used vendor first , then click on the given isbn which brings you to the opac search of that isbn and related isbn.

#2 looks better to me. In particularly since it shows related isbn searches (american vs british publishers, paperback/hardback even different editions etc).

Using Googledocs for book orders

Did you know you can use Googledocs to create simple forms? The data will be automatically added to a spreadsheet. The Unquietlibrary uses this to create a simple form created this way for processing book orders.

How about using googledocs has a form for reporting problems with electronic resources that are down?

Using wikis to inform of cataloging subject heading changes

Rather than having a meeting to discuss the changes or additions, as we have in the past, one of the cataloguers suggested we add this information to the wiki. As each cataloguer has a chance to read the bulletin, they can add to the list of new, changed or old subject headings.

The cataloguing librarian

Other ideas

Incidentally, my love affair with all things library 2.0 began while I was embarking on a project to streamline technical services, so I have a soft spot for such ideas. Are there other interesting creative ways technical services staff are using web 2.0 in your library? I’m interested in hearing about it.

* Why not use Libx alone? While Libx allows you to add library catalogues, support of other searches are limited compared to opensearch plugins.

Feedback for libraries – Getsatisfaction, UserVoice, Yelp


Today’s libraries interact with users and obtain feedback in a dizzying number of ways from email to sms, instant messaging, twitter, skype, Facebook and comments on blogs.

But most of these methods are private (e.g other users cannot see an email sent to your library) or in the case of comments on blogs/wall posts on Facebook the feedback obtained is unstructured.

Why allow users to see feedback from others? By allowing users to vote on or comment on feedback already left by other users, this allows you to get a sense how common a certain problem is or how popular a certain requested feature is (is this crowd sourcing?). There are also some efficiency gains as you can answer a commonly asked question with just one reply, yielding you a kind of FAQ/Knowledge base.

Services like UserVoice and Getsatisfaction provide such features. Think of them as forums customized for collecting feedback ( “Feedback 2.0”?)

Currently many of the top web 2.0 companies are using these services, including Twitter and Google related services.

It still early days but a few libraries have started exploring Getsatisfaction, these include Lunia Library, Vancouver Public Library (blog entry) . Others include Pierce County Library System, Charles City County Library Campaign, Central Medical Library UMCG, John C. Fremont Library District

Luria Library on GetSatisfaction

There seems to be slightly fewer libraries using UserVoice, but these include Cook Library
and Diablo Valley Library

Diablo Valley Library on UserVoice

Yelp and other local information sites

While UserVoice and Getsatisfaction aim to be feedback/support systems for companies and services (though they allow users not affiliated with services to start support pages) , there is another set of feedback systems that naturally aggregate user reviews of services that libraries should be aware of.

Typically they are online review directories (location based) that list businesses such as restaurants and users are encouraged to comment and rate such services.

Yelp is probably the most famous of them. Yelp is unique among its competitors in that it as a specific category for libraries so there are quite a lot of reviews for libraries there.

Do note that Yelp is available only for selected cities in the US and the UK.

Libraries that have being Yelped in San Francisco

Yelp allows you to claim your business profile and it’s probably a good idea if your library is listed. Doing so allows you to respond to feedback, get analytics, send offers to users etc.

San Francisco Public Library Main branch Yelp page

Yelp isn’t a particularly new service and some blogs have covered this including this and this , so the rest of this blog will cover UserVoice and Getsatisfaction

Usersatisfaction features

Here’s some of the features offered by Usersatisfaction

Side-Mounted feedback link

Feedback tab on Lupton Library

Rather than burying the feedback link in some obscure place, both Uservoice and Getsatisfaction allows you to create a rather eye-catching feedback link that shows one’s commitment in soliciting feedback.

By adding simple javascript code provided one can display a “feedback” tab that appears on the left of the screen. This tab is extremely prominent and hovers as you scroll down the page. Clicking on it will either bring you to the getsatisfaction/Uservoice page or show a short summary.

So far, not all libraries have chosen to do this though

Categories in Getsatisfaction

The main categories users can post in Getsatisfaction are “Ask a question”, “share an idea” , “report a problem” and “give praise”. It has the usual feature where it tries to determine if something similar has already being posted etc.

Allows users to vote on ideas, questions, problems

Autogenerates categories like “popular ideas”, “frequently asked questions”

GetSatisfaction also automatically generate categories like “Frequently asked questions”, “Popular idea”, “Recent praise”, “unanswered” etc.

Create widgets

There are quite a few features you expect of web 2.0 services including the use of RSS feeds, social bookmarking/tagging, giving overall rating of service etc. But perhaps of interest would be the ability to add 4 different widgets to monitor getsatisfaction, including the “feedback tab”, “feedback page”, “Satisfaction search”, and “topic page”. These can be used to supplement FAQ pages.

In particular you can embed the feedback page widget into your pages, so feedback can be carried out straight from your webpages. If the user leaves a email, they will create a getsatisfaction account which will inform them when a reply is received.

Maui Community Library Getsatisfaction embeded in their webpage

– use cases

UserVoice seems to be more focused on voting for ideas/features, rather than for questions. Each voter is given a number of votes (default is 10) and they can spend their votes on voting for each idea (3 maximum). As ideas are deleted or implemented the votes will be returned.

You can pre-seed UserVoice with ideas , for instance you might want to find out what users think of extending opening hours in some days but cutting down on others, if they would like to increase ebooks etc. But users can also add their own ideas.

One of the more interesting users of UserVoice for libraries seems to be by Cook Library.

Cook Library has being working on redesigning their webpage. They have being doing it in a very transparent way and have being very open to feedback, beside their excellent blog, they have effectively leveraged UserVoice to collect ideas on their webpage redesign.

Cook Library Website Redesign UserVoice page

Currently there are almost 500 votes cast, assuming each voter used up all 10 votes, this would mean a minimum of 50 people voting.

Some of the top voted ideas look generic, “unclutter the page”, but the high number of votes (close to 100) seem to indicate it’s a big problem.

You don’t actually have to log-in to vote, and looking at the votes on the page, most votes are indeed by anonymous voters who didn’t bother to register an account.


There is some risk engaging with users in such an open manner of course. But it should be noted that users are already commenting on your services on the net, (or these days Tweeting about it ) anyway. A centralized place to address such issues would in fact be a lot easier, rather than doing environmental scanning to keep track of feedback posted elsewhere.

Is your library using UserVoice, Getsatisfaction or Yelp ? What are your experiences so far? Are there any similar systems out there to collect user feedback that you are using?


There are other alternatives to UserVoice including CrowdSound, IdeaScale and Suggestionbox. See IdealScale used for JISC repository