Tweet Clouds

I have a confession to make — I grew bored of Twitter after a couple of days.
However, I felt obliged to keep on Twittering something… anything… so I hooked our OPAC into the feed instead. Every 5 minutes, a bit of code checks to see what the most popular keyword(s) used on our OPAC has been recently and, if it’s different to the last run, it fires it off to Twitter. I was so lazy, I didn’t even bother filtering out stopwords.
The result is an eclectic mix of words that encapsulate our student’s usage of the library catalogue — little snapshots of what was important to a bunch of students (or perhaps one particular determined student). Topics meander semi-randomly, occasionally repeating at unusual intervals.
Sometimes, there’s not a single popular keyword, but several. Sometimes the multiple words make sense, other times they create weird phrases…

  • british genetics music
  • angina attachment theatre
  • education picasso sex
  • rape skills study

Anyway, a few days ago I spotted Tweet Clouds and decided to see what it made of my feed…
…and here’s a cloud I made back in December 2006
I must admit, I feel kinda guilty that I ate up 23 minutes of CPU time on the Tweet Cloud site :-S

Another one bites the dust — RIP SirsiDynix EPS Rooms

Wow — looks like another flagship SirsiDynix product has been shelved. According to reports from attendees at the SuperConference, the company is dropping Stephen Abram‘s beloved EPS Rooms product. Never mind, “shift happens“.
At the conference, the company also announced their version of Primo/Encore (branded “Enterprise”). Curiously, this will be a SaaS only offering. RSS feeds, tagging, user reviews, and ratings are earmarked for version 3 of the product (due around 2010). All I can say is that I’m glad we took the decision to implement these features ourselves, rather than waiting for our vendor to do it for us :-S
Edit — looks like some customers have come away from SuperConference without the foggiest idea of what the product road map is, so I’m happy to wait for clarification from SirsiDynix of their new products, and rumours of EPS’s death have been greatly exaggerated (by me).

Edit #2 — Sorry Stephen, as far as I can tell, it looks like the customer reports were indeed correct. There’s no “end of life” for EPS (in the same way that there’s no “end of life” for Horizon or Dynix Classic) and apologies if the original post implied that there was, but future product development will see the Rooms concept moving into the new Enterprise product.

Congratulations “City of God” DVD!

Sitting in the Short Loan collection in the main library at the University of Huddersfield, it doesn’t really stand out as been any different to the other DVDs near it, but our copy of “City of God” is officially the most borrowed item from our entire collection (which is nearly 400,000 items) in the last 3 years.
It’s not quite as popular as it once was (the number of loans in 2007 was about half of the 2005 figure), but it’s now been borrowed 157 times since it first arrived here in 2004.
The most borrowed book was one of the copies of “Research methods for business students“, which has now been borrowed 118 times since it was first placed on our shelves.
Anyway, if you were thinking of rushing here to borrow “City of God”, sorry — it’s out on loan at the moment 🙂
(if you were wondering, then “yes, that’s a Google Chart“)

Ooops – did I just delete the LMS database?

I’m always wary of doing bulk changes to the bibliographic records via SQL, so I tend to be fairly cautious.
Anyway, we’d got nearly 100,000 bib records that need rejiggering (ISBN in the wrong field), so I knocked up a Perl script to do the deed. After it had changed a few hundred records, I connected to the database and ran the following SQL…
set rowcount 10
select * from bib where tag = “011”

The last thing I want to do is pull back everything with a 011 tag, so the “set rowcount” ensures only the first 10 results are returned. The output looks good, so I decide to check the size of the transaction log…
We use Sybase and that command shows the size of the main LMS database and the transaction log. The transaction log size looks fine and I minimise the window. However, my subconscious shouts out “something’s wrong!”, so I maximise the SQL window and look at the output again…
name: horizon
data MB: 5500.00
used MB: 54.68
percent: 0.99%
log MB: 300.00
log used MB: 88.40
log pct: 29.47%

My eyes automatically jump to the end of the output: “So, the transaction log is 29.47% full… that’s nothing to worry about…”
My eyes then wander up and my brain takes about 2 seconds to spot what’s really wrong — our entire LMS database is just 54.68MB!!! “That can’t be right… it should be at least 4,800MB!!!”
The colour drains from my face as the possibility that one of the SQL commands in my Perl script has nuked our entire database enters my mind. I sit motionless in my chair waiting for the inevitable phone call from a member of staff: “Dave… is there something wrong with Horizon?”
Then, in the space of about 30 seconds, I go through all seven stages of grief…
1) shock (“I can’t believe this has happened”)
2) denial (“maybe someone else did it?”)
3) bargaining (“I wonder if I can bribe someone else to take the blame?”)
4) guilt (“OMG — IT’S ALL MY FAULT!!!”)
5) anger (“damn it — this didn’t happen when I ran the script on the test database!”)
6) depression (“this won’t sound good when I apply for a new job and they asked me why I was fired from my previous job”)
7) acceptance and hope (“the time is right for a major career change”)
…so, can anyone guess what happened next?

Spot the difference

Here’s a recent statement from SirsiDynix

“The Horizon 7.4.1 and HIP 3.09/4.13 releases are clear evidence that SirsiDynix remains committed to the Horizon platform,” said Gary Rautenstrauch, SirsiDynix CEO. “While SirsiDynix Symphony is our flagship platform for the future, SirsiDynix will continue to upgrade the Horizon platform for the next four to six years. “This commitment to our worldwide customer base is important to us, and we will keep it,” said Rautenstrauch.
(original PDF dated 11/Jan/2008)

…and here’s one that’s just been sent to all UK customers…

You may be aware that there has been a recent announcement about the general availability of Horizon 7.4.1 and HIP 3.09. SirsiDynix International has seriously considered the option of taking this release and including the various localizations into it. However, at this time we have decided that we cannot commit to the amount of work necessary on an International basis.

Clearly the commitment to the non-US customer base is important to the company, but just not that important.
Come on SirsiDynix, please try and do something to prove Scribe wasn’t right!

International Survey of Library Automation

Marshall Breeding has published the results of the “Perceptions 2007: An International Survey of Library Automation” and I doubt they’ll make comfortable reading at SirsiDynix HQ (unless Scribe has got it right!)…

The products of SirsiDynix, Unicorn and Horizon, received low satisfaction scores from libraries responding to the survey. Unicorn, the company’s flagship ILS performed somewhat better than Horizon. 14% of libraries running Unicorn and about half of those with Horizon indicate interest in migrating to another system — not surprising considering SirsiDynix’s position not to develop that system into the future. Horizon libraries scored high interest in open source ILS alternatives. The comments provided by libraries running Horizon voiced an extremely high level of frustration with SirsiDynix as a company and its decision to discontinue Horizon. Many indicated distrust toward the company. The comments from libraries running Unicorn, the system which SirsiDynix selected as the basis for its flagship Symphony ILS, also ran strongly negative — some because of issues with the software some because of concerns with the company.

Voyager, Horizon, and Aleph 500 sites are the most likely to consider moving to Open Source (such as Koha or Evergreen).
If Open Source isn’t of interest, then the satisfaction levels amongst Polaris customers makes that a very attractive system to move to.

OPAC keyword cloud

This is crying out to be done like the visual word map in AquaBrowser, but here’s a browseable tag cloud based on data from nearly 2 million keyword searches on our OPAC.
shakespeare performance
The code looks for other keywords that were entered as part of the same search (e.g. “ethics of nursing care”) to draw out the most commonly used words. For example, the most common keyword used with “performance” is “management”. The size of the word in the cloud is determined by how often it appears with the search keyword.
I’ve not removed keywords that generated zero search results, so the cloud for “acrobat” includes “abode”. (I’ve now removed zero result searches)
I’ll have to have a play to see if there’s a way of incorporating the cloud into the OPAC — for example, if you used a vague/general keyword such as “health“, then maybe the OPAC could suggest more specific searches for “health care”, “mental health” or “health promotion”?

(Hopefully) coming soon — HIPpie

In the last couple of months, I’ve had several email exchanges with Dynix & Horizon libraries who were interested in using some of the “2.0” features that I’ve added to our OPAC at Huddersfield, but the technical challenges (setting up an extra web server, MySQL database, etc) would have been too much.
I’ve been thinking for a while that some of the features could be done if someone else (e.g. me) were to handle the techie stuff. All the library would need to do would be to add a few lines of JavaScript to the relevant XSL stylesheets…
HIPpie was the best name that I could think of in the bath last night, and (unless the SirsiDynix lawyers come down on me like a tonne of bricks) it stands for HIP patron interface enhancements (HIP being the product name of the Dynix and Horizon OPAC).
It’s still mostly vapourware (i.e. I haven’t finished writing the code yet), but if you’re running HIP version 2 or version 3 and you fancy adding any of the following to your OPAC, then please get in touch (email d.c.pattern [at]

  • RSS feeds for keyword searches
  • “did you mean” spelling suggestions
  • email alerts for keyword searches
  • user reviews
  • user ratings

I’ve deliberately picked features that I don’t think are being offered via other channels (e.g. LibraryThing for Libraries or Jim Taylor).
Unfortunately HIP version 4 was never released in the UK, so I’m not sure how easy it would be to add the features to that version, but if there’s someone out there who’s familiar with the stylesheets and is willing to experiment…?
HIP is the only OPAC I’m intimately familiar with, but if other people can figure out ways of making the features work with other products, then that’d be cool.
HIPpie will be offered for free and will hopefully stay that way, unless it becomes incredibly popular.
Like I say, it ain’t ready yet, but please get in touch if you’re interested in testing it once it’s ready!

Twittering the OPAC

I noticed that a few other people have been blogging about how they’re using Twitter within their own library, so here’s how I’ve been (ab)using my Twitter feed…
Last year, I set up some data feeds from the library that our students could hook into for their projects. This data includes a file listing the keywords used in the last 50 searches on the OPAC and their frequency.
The file is also used to generate this keyword cloud (which ignores words with a frequency of only 1).
Anyway, after getting bored with manually updating Twitter myself, I decided to hook it into the keyword file. Every few minutes, an automated script checks the file for the most frequently used keyword(s) from recent searches, and sends it off to Twitter.
I’m not sure if it really serves any useful purpose, but it’s kinda fun to see a top-slice of what our users are searching for. Occasionally the keywords link together to make weird statements…

…so, the next time Twitter crashes, you can probably blame me 😀

If you build it, they’ll come back for more!

I’m just busy putting together slides for some of the upcoming presentations and I thought it was about time I trawled through some of the OPAC usage stats to see if our students are still using some of the OPAC tweaks we’ve made.
The good news is that they are, and then some more!
First up, here’s the overall usage for 4 of the tweaks (May 2006 to July 2007):
OPAC tweak usage
At first glance, nothing too surprising — the overall trend follows the academic year, with the lull over summer.
What did leap out was the blue line (clicks on “people who borrowed this, also borrowed…” suggestions) — since this April, the usage has been higher than the “did you mean” spelling suggestions (red line). So, either our users have suddenly become better spellers, or they’re making much higher usage of the borrowing suggestions. If I was a betting man, I’d say it was the latter.
We’ve now got enough data to compare the same 3 months in 2006 and 2007 (May to July):
OPAC tweak usage
OPAC tweak usage
That second graph is why I’m sat here with a grin like a Cheshire Cat 😀
I’ve dug out the circulation stats for the same period and that re-inforces the statement that the students are making much higher usage of borrowing suggestions in 2007 than in 2006. You can see that the number of check outs (bold pink) pretty much matches the number of clicks on the “did you mean” spelling suggestions (red line in the first graph). Check outs have also risen in 2007 when compared to the same months in 2006.
circulation stats
Interestingly, I don’t think we’ve ever had a student go up to a member of staff and say “I’ve found the suggestions really useful” or “thank you for adding spell checking”. I wonder how many complaints we’d get it we turned the features off?