Thursday, September 15, 2005

Scenes from a Library Overhaul: Day 1

Death of a card catalog

Several years ago the local governing agency put forth the call for a new library catalog fitting for a crown jewel of a library system. Several corporate suitors sought the hand of this demanding princess, but only one could win. In the end, Innovative Interfaces met the demanding conditions and won the contract over all other suitors, assuring the local government that their product Millenium would best meet the needs of the library. Nobles, scholars, computer wizards, squires, and pages of the library system gathered repeatedly to consult and protect their diverse needs and wishes for the new catalog system, and the company did its best to construct its wizardly tool to answer even the lowly page's request, "Larger font for printouts, please." Officials reassured patrons and pages alike that this company would best meet their needs, why, even their big sister library, King County, uses it.

Library computer wizards worked day and night to assure the smooth transfer of all bits of knowledge and its relations from one container to the other. They constructed their wizardly spells while business continued as usual among the library caretakers and users. Well, not completely as usual, as the many workers who would use this new catalog needed to learn how to use it without having the completed product to work with. Those who rely heavily on visual cues secretly chewed their nails as they were repeatedly told, "This is not what it's going to look like." But as all wizards (and those who study wizards) know, no one can really convey what a spell looks like until it is completed, but if one can understand the logic of the spell, the change shouldn't be too bad.

Now clearly Day 1 of this library overhaul did not begin on September 11, 2005, but as this humble scribe looks back, it's hard to know where to start, so why not the day the old catalog died? After all, even before the proclamation seeking corporate suitors, the nobles of the fiefdom of Multnomah County had long recognized the continual need to meet change opportunistically, and the library has seen many sweeping shifts in policies, protocols, as well as the magical technology.

This scribe was there when the first of the library's many buildings was completely renovated and brought back to life to include the magical windows into the world called the internet. One by one the buildings were improved with electrical potions and wizardly objects to improve the fiefdom's subjects' access to that internet. Indeed, the advent of the World Wide Web and the continual improvement of computer wizardry brought about the end of the dynix catalog system. Wizardly support is no longer provided to the worn-out DYNA, and most libraries now choose web-based catalogs (and for all this scribe knows, may be the only large catalog system provided these days). Besides, the nobles had a duty to spend the taxes they'd collected for technology on technology, or they would have been fined.

The many scholars, squires, pages, subjects and nobles were quite used to using the old DYNA catalog. Some could even create rudimentary spells with it. One fellow squire tells me DYNA came into use back in 1989. Another squire told me back then they were told a few things, and were set loose to sink or swim. Nowadays we have intensive training to understand the many functions the wizardly tool provides. Some of the teachers were frustrated that they could not yet provide such complete training to their co-workers on the new catalog, but most merely shrugged, knowing at least we wouldn't literally be at risk of drowning. [not at all meant to convey any of the preparation and process was incompetent.]

The library computer wizards and the corporate computer wizards did all they could to make the princess's transition from one catalog to another as seamless as possible, but when it came down to it, when one died the other couldn't immediately be born. So on 6 pm, Sunday, September 11, DYNA was shut down at Multnomah County and squires and pages, whose job it is to check in books and shuffle them to their various places had to stop doing so for three days. Thanks to the foresight of the nobles and other middle-management types, they were not required to shuffle books about aimlessly for those three days, but gatekeepers locked the doors and pulled up the drawbridges until the books and other conveyors of thought and entertainment could be processed in the usual manner. The heralds made proclamations far and wide, so it is to be hoped the subjects heeded their words and don't leave their library materials outside the gates at risk of theft.