This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 12, 1994

October 12, 1994 - Software upgrades and moving furniture

If you've ever lived in a place too small for your stuff, you know the problem. One night, usually at about 10 o'clock, you decide you want to make just one change in your living room. A small change. You think, "This won't take long."

But before you move the one thing, you have to move something else to make room for it. And then the thing you moved is in the way of something else, so that has to be moved, too. And then -- assuming that the three things you've moved so far actually fit -- you realize that now the whole room is out of whack aesthetically or functionally. More moving.

By the time you're done, every piece of furniture in the house has been touched and you haven't slept in 62 hours.

This is much like what happens when you do a library system software upgrade. Originally, the small change we wanted to make had to do with running indexes. The idea was that we would buy magazine indexing from a company called EBSCO. They would send us tapes, and we would load them onto our system each month. Voila! Monthly updates to periodical indexing, available from every terminal.

The problem was, EBSCO didn't ship indexes, it shipped raw data. The only way for us to get the indexes on our system was to have our automation vendor -- formerly Dynix, now Ameritech Library Systems -- create them for us. Another problem was, so many libraries liked this idea that Ameritech Library Systems was completely overwhelmed. Voila! ANNUAL updates.

Then Ameritech Library Systems announced a new system software upgrade. It would allow us to build any of our indexes on any of our data files anytime we wanted to. Best of all, there was no cost for this. In exchange for annual maintenance contracts, most library vendors provide free software and documentation upgrades. This upgrade, Release 140, had a host of other improvements, too.

So we put our name on the list of clients to get the upgrade. Finally, two weeks ago, we got the software and started loading it.

But just as the couch is the centerpiece of your living room, indexes are the centerpiece of a library database. Suddenly, EVERYTHING was different: our search screens, our passwords, our network security, our overdue notices, the way some of the keys on our terminals behaved.
Some of the changes were both surprising and surprisingly good. For instance, from our public terminals, you'll now see the option "Shortcut" from the main search menu. When you type "S" and press Enter, you'll see all kinds of fast new ways to launch a search.

It used to be, for example, that when you wanted to do an alphabetical keyword search, you had to work through the menus, a two or three screen process. Now, from almost any point, you can just type "-tl huckleberry finn" (without the quotes) and go straight to the screen listing our record for Twain's classic. The same idea works for the other kind of searches, too.

Another good thing is that you can now take a look at the list of current bestsellers -- and then pick the ones you want to place reserves on.

But other changes have been surprisingly bad. Suppose you do a more general search -- say a subject keyword search on "England." It used to be when all the subject headings came up -- 633 of them -- you could select them all. It was a quick and easy way to pull up everything we had about something.

That doesn't work anymore. Some bright fellow at Ameritech Library Systems decided that people should only be able to examine the subject headings shown on screens they've actually looked at -- and our system only displays 7 to a screen. On top of that, if you were to choose items 1-7, you'll only get the first seven TITLES, not all of the titles associated with the seven SUBJECT HEADINGS.

I've complained about this "enhancement" ("It's not a bug, it's a feature," they told me) long and bitterly. Ameritech Library Systems has assured me that this problem will be addressed. In the next upgrade.

What do we do in the meantime? Okay, you know the chair by the new books? Suppose we put it ..

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