Category Archives: Columbus Metropolitan Library

Library 2.0 and the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Website

The Columbus Metropolitan Public Library prides itself on its status as the number one library in the nation, and strives to excel through embracing new technologies to reach new audiences. This is apparent through the ways that they have tried to include Library 2.0 technologies in their website. Even as I am writing this review, a committee at the library is working on ways to change the website to include more instruction and more pathways to these tools. Thus this review is just a snapshot of the way things are, and perhaps some suggestions for ways that the library might look into improving their accessibility.

One key element of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s website is that it strives to encourage users to interact with the site and with the library through the site in many different ways. This desire to move beyond a site that merely provides information, to one in which users can modify and create information, is a hallmark of Library 2.0.  In particular, CML works to encourage children and teens to interact with each other and the library through their site. As with all the reviews, I will be focusing on three main issues, and will strive to:

  1.  Look at what Library 2.0 tools are avaliable  or promoted on the website.
  2. Review what assistance the library provides on the website to guide their patrons in actually using the tools.
  3. Assess what explanations as to why users would want to use these tools, and who exactly would benefit from using them.

Library 2.0 Tools on Columbus Metropolitan Library System Website

While there are not a lot of Library 2.0 tools displayed on the front page of the CML web site, users don’t have to go far to find them integrated into the web site. Most of these tools are integrated into the website, either directly or through an outside service the library uses (such as their events calendar and the OPAC). Some of them are promoted through links to other tools that the library uses to provide services and promote the library to the community.

On the side bar of the frame that is on most of the library’s pages is a link inviting users to “Ask it” via phone, e-mail, or chat. This leads to a page that lists many ways that users can communicate with the library, including a built in chat that provides immediate response. Besides this chat, the library lists five account names for different chat services, where users can ask questions of a librarian, as well as a number that users can text questions to. These various tools invite users to interact with staff via the Internet, to extend library services beyond the physical space.

CML doesn’t just want its users to interact with the staff through their website, but with each other. They achieve this most successfully on the Kids and Teens page, which each feature sways that users can submit content, read others submissions, and comment on content. The teen page has a blog, with content relevant to teens and not just advertising teen events, that is semi-regularly updated. Teens can comment on the blog, participate in contests held on the blog, and discuss issues with each other through the blog.  Additionally, the teens have a Flickr account, where teens can upload images and comment on other users images, a space to upload stories, and a place to upload poetry. On the kids page, there are also spaces to share jokes, stories, poems, and create mad libs. Both pages offer places for users to upload reviews of books, and read other users recommendations.

While the Kids and Teens pages really embody many of the ideals of Library 2.0 participation, CML also has a page of “Power Tools” that offer external ways to interact with the library beyond the website. They want to empower their users to get the most out of their library experience, and offer several plug-ins, a power search like Salt Lake County, and a tool bar. Since the library is committed to developing more ways for users to interact with the library, they have also created a blog to allow users to track this progress and comment on their experiences using them.

The last area of Library 2.0 technology on the CML website is the RSS feeds that are available from the services the library purchase–both from their events catalog and the OPAC. Like Salt Lake County Public library, CML uses Evanced to keep track of events, and allow users to interact with the library events, including setting up RSS feeds to report on upcoming events. They also have a feature in their catalog that allows users to receive RSS feeds when new books are released that match certain search criteria.

Assistance Provided on Web Site to Use these Tools

It is interesting to note to what degree the Library 2.0 tools on the website are supported by instruction and assistance. Naturally, users can use the various means of contact to reach a librarian to ask them how they work. But how much instruction is there that would allow users to independently navigate the tools.

On the library’s “Ask Us” page there are a lot of different ways to contact the library, for the new “chat” feature there is an extensive FAQ, but for most of the rest of the tools there is little help available. For the features embedded in the Kids and Teens pages, there is little instruction, but the interfaces are extremely simple and self explanatory. Since they are embedded, it takes no special knowledge of a tool to work. Each area is labeled with the information needed to submit, and each area is clearly labelled as what to submit there.

For the library’s “Power Tools” there is an entire blog dedicated to discussing them, and explaining how they work and what their purpose is. The blog also allows users to comment on how well the tools work and seek help, though I’m not sure how many people use it for these reasons. Because the blog is hosted on an outside blog software and embedded in the CML website it didn’t always show up when I clicked on it. This made it much more difficult to assess, and must make it more difficult for users to rely on it for assistance.  

Because Evanced is provided by an outside service, the library does not provide any particular assistance on its website for navigating the calendar. Within the calendar service itself, there is little help provided by Evanced, though the areas are well labelled and navigation is fairly intuitive.

Explanation as to Why Patrons Would Want to Use the Tools

For the most part, CML assumes that their users understand why using these tools will improve their library experience, and so only have a few cursory explanations. On the “Ask Us” page, it is just assumed that users will see the advantage of instant messaging and chatting with a librarian on-line. They do provide more details as to why users should download and install the CML tool bar, by pointing out how it brings together a number of services and information into one location.

Overall assessment of the Library 2.0 tools on the Website

The Columbus Metropolitan Library has done an excellent job integrating a participatory element into their websites, particularly with the Kids and Teens pages. While they promote some Library 2.0 external technologies, they have not been as successful in integrating them into their website. For instance the blogs they host on their website frequently do not load, and while they mention their Twitter and Facebook pages, it is difficult to find the links to them on their website. Hopefully with the forthcoming changes, they will increase the visibility of these additional Library 2.0 tools.


Subscription Databases Columbus Metropolitian Library

Like the first two libraries I reviewed, the Columbus Metropolitan Library offers many ways for their users to access the databases they provide. Just as CML shares many of the same databases with the other library systems I am reviewing, they also share similar types of pathways to these databases. For this review, as in the others, I will be asking the same three questions:

  •  What pathways are available for accessing the databases?
  • What type of assistance is available to explain or guide the use of the databases?
  • What explanations/tools are available to determine which database to use, particularly for those looking for materials for Children?

 Pathways for Accessing Databases:

 From the main CML homepage there are two primary access points to the subscription databases they provide, first a quick search box and second a link to their databases listed under “Reference.”The quick search box is virtually identical to that search tool provided by the Salt Lake County Library system. Once users have established proxy access to the catalog through putting in their library card number and pin number, users can search many databases at once as well as searching the catalog. This search box appears on the front page of the website, and on the sidebar of the webpage on most pages, but is not heavily promoted elsewhere in the library, either by employees such as myself or by instructions on how to search databases.

The primary tool for accessing the databases at CML is the main reference page. It contains various sections, some of which overlap. The first section of the page entitled “Premium Resources” focuses just on those subscription resources. It provides a drop down menu listing all subscription databases by name and then by subject area groupings, as well as a list of databases with descriptions of their content. There is also a link to a list of electronic journals that are accessible from various subscriptions.

The next major section combines subscription databases with other resources on subject specific pages that they created. These pages bring together suggested books, websites, and subscription databases. The first section features the “Popular Topics” which have substantially more information directing people towards the information they might need. Rather then focusing on usability issues, these pages focus on directing users to information resources for specific needs. 

On the sidebar of this page, the library has a rotating display of three “Featured Resources.” One is usually a subscription database–such as World Book Online, another is a link to a resource page–such as the Ready to Readpage, and the last is a link to a database that CML runs, such as their Columbus (Ohio) News Index Obituary Search. These change periodically to feature different resources, so are not a reliable pathway to any given resource.

Another location for users to access subscription databases is through the Teen’s and Kid’shomework pages. These pages contain some lists of web sites and subscription databases broken down by topic area and rough age group. The Kid’s page also has links to the TumbleBooks, which is a subscription database that allows users to read full texts of books and play educational games. 

Assistance in Using the Databases:

One of the main ways that CML attempts to help users with their databases is through helping them select which one best matches their information need. This is done through the subject specific pages on the main reference page. Users are pointed to those databases that have specific information that matches their needs. However, there is less attention paid to how to actually navigate either their general search tool, or the specific databases they subscribe to. In part this might be because with so many databases it can be overwhelming to try to illustrate how to use all of them.

As part of CML’s attempts to focus on subject specific information rather then focusing on specific tools, they do offer tutorials and FAQs to answer general questions. These are located on the sidebar in drop down menus, and cover both information on how to find materials using databases and the physical library. The answers to frequently asked questions deal with such issues as:  “How to find an article,”  “How to research a topic,” and “How do I download digital books.”  These are very short answers, providing more information then instruction, for instance they answer the question of “What are Premium Resources?” like this

The Premium Resources are online reference sites that the library subscribes to for customers to use both in the library and at home. Databases range in subject area from literature to magazine indexes to encyclopedic entries. They can be accessed with your library card number and PIN. Some databases can only be accessed from within our locations.

While it does let users know they need a library card number and pin, it does not actually provide any assistance beyond that.  In addition to these FAQ, they also offer some simple tutorials. Like the FAQs and the reference page, these are designed to show how to use ALL the resources, including the online databases, to find information. The tutorials cover such topics as Family History, researching an artist or antique, as well as various business topics.

Database Choice—Descriptions and Age Appropriateness:

Interestingly, while CML’s databases tend to be organized around helping users find those that will best answer their information needs, they don’t have a lot of information about sources for students or age levels. While they have a list of premium resources for Homework Help, it is not promoted, and is not linked from either of the pages.

The two homework pages in the kids and teens areas have a few subscription databases represented, a small number from the total group. On the kids’ homework page, there are three subscription databases mentioned: Litfinder, Culture Grams, and the World Book Encyclopedia for kids. Perhaps these are the only ones they feel are appropriate for younger kids, though there is no link to the Searchasurus tool available through their EBSCO subscription. The teen homework page has more links to databases than the kids’, but the descriptions are exactly the same as those given on the general page.

Overall Review of Database Accessibility:

One of the strengths of the subscription databases offered by the Columbus Metropolitan Library is that they are well integrated into the other subject related offerings and recommended websites, both through tutorials and through subject specific pages. They also address the unique information needs of certain groups–the exception is children and teens. Yes the two groups have their own pages, but the sections specifically addressing information needs are very weak. Hopefully, this will be resolved with the creation of a homework help page, to complement the Homework Help Centers the library offers at many of its locations.

Trial Instructional Videos–Trying out different software!

I’ve been playing around with some different screen capture software to see what works, and what is possible to achieve with each. From what I’ve seen, the hardest part seems to be figuring out what to say and avoiding saying “um.” Since I’m a poor MLIS student, I’m just using free software without any editing tools.

The first software tool I tried was Debut . A very quick and easy download, it took a matter of seconds to download and install. It has a very intuitive interface, and I was able to begin recording right away. There is a little quirk I’ve not been able to figure out a way around. You can set the size of the screen capture, but you can’t set a delay for starting recorrding. And without editing capabilities, I can’t seem to figure out how to erase the first moments when the recording program shows up. Regardless, I’ve made a sample video using Columbus Metropolitan Library’s new Kids’ Catalog.

Original Video – More videos at TinyPic

The next one I tried was Webinaria, which has the added advantage of hosting the files in flash format. It also has some basic editing features built in. The problem I had with the software was that it didn’t seem to work the way it was supposed to. Every time I tried to convert the files to Flash it crashed the program, and while it allowed you to insert text in the video it didn’t have a way to save the file besides converting it to flash which didn’t work. Fortunatly, I had another software tool on my computer to convert the video to flash, otherwise the file was WAY too big to be hosted anywhere.

Here is the Webinaria video I made, also for the CML Kids’ Catalog.
The Webinaria website offers a link to embed the video, but I’ve not been able to get it to work, so I included the direct link.

Library Instruction and the OPAC

Online Public Access Catalogs all really have the same aim, to help users discover items that fulfill their information needs. Even though many systems pile features on top and around this purpose, perhaps to facilitate discovery, the basic purpose of the OPAC remains the same. After reviewing four systems it is obvious that there are a lot of factors that go into the intuitiveness of a catalog. Some OPACs have a lot of features, but no assistance for how to use them, others have lots of instruction for multiple features, but they don’t work how they are supposed to, which lessens their overall usefulness. The question isn’t if they work—because with enough time and effort it is possible to find materials through all the catalogs—but how well they work for users independently accessing them.


Many libraries rely on in-person staff instruction to guide users in discovering the features of their OPAC, neglecting those users who either access the OPAC from the internet or prefer not to ask for help. Even those libraries whose OPACs have instruction may not be able to reach those with specific needs, or reach children, who may not understand the terminology used in some catalogs (such as UAPL’s OPAC). There really isn’t one solution to make all of these OPAC’s more accessible for parents, teachers, and children, as each of those reviewed had different issues. Certainly catalogs like CML’s and the UAPL that had almost no instruction could integrate more directly into their interfaces, and those like Salt Lake County Libraries could make their instructions more obvious.


In conducting this first review, I understand that many of these OPACs are purchased from outside distributors, and that the individual libraries may not have the ability to add or modify them to integrate more instruction. Perhaps, instead of cramming instructional tools onto the search interfaces, some of these libraries might provide electronic tutorials to guide users in the catalog. Instructional videos are quick and easy to make, and can bring together written and oral instruction together to better reach both children and adults. In my next post, I will discuss the technology and process of creating an instructional video to demonstrate how to use the CML catalog to find materials for children.

Columbus Metropolitan Library OPAC

My third OPAC to review is that of the Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML). Like the Salt Lake County system, CML’s catalog is fairly complicated, with multiple interfaces and a number of tools designed to facilitate access. The catalog is accessible from catalog terminals in the library building, from the header bar at the top of the library’s website, and from a box available on the front page of the website. As in my previous review, I will look at the follow three areas in my discussion of this OPAC:

  1. What tools and interfaces are available for accessing the catalog?
  2. What type of assistance is available to explain or guide the use of the catalog?
  3. What explanations are available to evaluate the results of using the catalog, particularly for those looking for materials for Children?

Tools and Interfaces Available for Accessing the Catalog

While there are at least five different interfaces for the CML OPAC, most of the tools available for searching the catalog are the same wherever the search is conducted.


The first interface is the one on the front page, which allows users to search either databases (called Premium Resources) or the Catalog. Users can conduct a search of the OPAC from here based on Author, Title or Keyword.


Perhaps the most frequently used is the interface reached by hitting “catalog” at the top of all website pages (it is the search interface displayed on the catalog stations at the library). It is a basic search, with just one box for a general keyword search. Under the keyword search are links to the advance search, and a portable search interface that can be accessed via portable devices such as blackberries or iPhones. (it is the same as the basic search interface, except with out the graphics)


The next most common interface is the advanced search, which offers users the chance to specify the keyword searches to particular fields. So if users know part of a title or the author’s name, they can use the Advanced Search to narrow it down. There are seven spaces to search Title, Author, Subject, ISBN/ISSN, call number, Publisher, or publication year. It is also possible to select a specific format, such as DVDs, Large Print or just Books.


Recently the library has launched a new search interface, a Kid’s Catalog. It is accessible from a link on the basic catalog interface and from the kid’s page on their website. The Kid’s Catalog features two interfaces that are roughly identical to the basic search and advanced search of the general catalog. In the advanced search, however, there are only four categories to search in (Title, Author, Subject, and Call Number) and a format limitation. This catalog basically adds a limit to all searches, restricting results to items listed as juvenile in certain places in the MARC field.


Assistance Available to Explain or Guide the Use of the Catalog

CML’s OPAC provides a very limited degree of assistance for users searching in their catalog. The search interface is provided by Aquabrowser, which offers a small introduction on searching from the results page. Clicking on HELP at the top of the results screen brings up a short document with a few tips on some of the special features, such as the display cloud that appears to offer alternative word choices. The only interface with additional directions is the mobile interface, which has more detailed written descriptions of how to conduct a search.


Assistance in Evaluating Search Results

The catalog has a variety of tools to help users evaluate and narrow down the search results to help determine the item that best fits the information needs. First there is the item record itself, from the first search results to the detailed record screen. In addition, there are two primary areas for narrowing down results, an area on the right side that suggests other search terms and one on the left side that allows users to narrow down the results. The search results are displayed in a list that shows the title, the author, a brief summary of the item, the call number, the series, the subject, and what search terms discovered the item. It does not show if it is available, where it might be located if it is available, nor does it allow users to place reserves from the initial record. This location and availability information is contained on the individual item record, which also might contain a huge range of other information. Each item record contains the basic bibliographic data, as well as availability and location, summary, table of contents, sometimes reviews, and sometimes excerpts from the book.

Along the right site of the results screen, there is a display called a “Discovery Cloud” that offers alternate spellings, related search terms, transitions to other terms, and links them to the original search. This cloud can be turned off if it is distracting or not needed, as it is most useful if a user needs assistance coming up with a keyword. One thing that is difficult with the cloud is that it doesn’t offer such obvious variations as plural forms of the word. This is significant because the key word search does not rank plural items with singular. So for a search of “tree” there are over 6,500 results and for “trees” there are just under 6,500, but the results are sorted entirely different, so to find non-fiction books on trees would require a user to go through pages and pages of results. It would be nice if the alternate spellings and search traces showed plurals, especially irregular plural formats.

 The left side of the results screen offers ways to limit and search through the results, which is very important because of the shear magnitude of the results generated by a keyword search that can pull words from often lengthy records. There are many different categories under which results can be narrowed down, depending on what kind of search is performed and whether the search uses the Kid’s Catalog or the general one.


The first option is to limit by location, which narrows down the items to those items that are at a branch or that have been checked out from that branch. So if people want just books at the location they are this is a start to narrow down the options, but it isn’t perfect, since it also pulls up items that are currently checked out from the location. In addition, the only way to find out if an item is in is to open up the record and scroll down, since availability is not shown on the results page.


Next come a series of refine options, allowing users to limit their results to produce more focused results. Some of these are fairly standard bibliographic areas, author, subject, language and format, but some offer more detailed factors that can be very useful in locating a particular book within a large amount of search results. Each area has the top 5 or so results for that limiter, with the number of items listed under that term, with a link to the remaining terms. For instance the area “Author” offers the specific spellings and format of all the authors who created materials in the search results, sometimes with thousands of results, which can be seen on a separate screen. Other options can be very specific, such as location were the story takes place, character in the item, or merely narrow down the format to non-fiction or picture book. These are helpful if paired with a very broad search term.


The children’s catalog has additional limiting areas that are specifically designed to assist parents and caregivers with selecting items for their children. Beyond merely limiting the results to materials identified as having a target audience of Juvenile (which is something that also can be used to limit results in the general catalog), this catalog provides other factors allowing users to select materials particularly for children. Rather then just specifying the type of book, like picture book or chapter book, the Children’s Catalog allows users to narrow down by age level to find picture books for either toddlers or preschoolers or juvenile fiction by grade level. This search also allows users to narrow down the results by number of pages, which many parents and teachers also use as criteria to determine age appropriateness (whether or not this is an effective method is another question).


Overall Review of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s OPAC

CML’s OPAC is heavy on features, but very light on instruction. This leads one to wonder how well users are able to independently use the catalog and take advantage of the features. In addition, without any explanation about how the search works and how to get the most out of it by putting the right kinds of terms in, it is hard to believe that even with great limit options and information to aid interpretation people are able to effectively discover all of the works available to meet their information needs. The features to help parents and teachers find resources for children are very helpful, but there is no where that points them out or explains how to use them or why one might want to.


Columbus Metropolitan Library

The Columbus Metropolitan Library is probably the most familiar to me of all of the libraries in my study, because for the past two years I have worked in various capacities in the system. While this gives me more familiarity with the resources available to patrons, this study provides a unique opportunity to observe how patrons interact with our website when we are not there to show them all of the features and tools that we offer. Every day I show people how to use the website and databases, but in this project I aim to see how easy it is for patrons to figure out without hands on help.

The largest system in my study, the Columbus Metropolitan Library serves a population of just under a million residents in Franklin County, Ohio, through 20 branch locations and one main library. They have an annual circulation of around 15 million, and subscribe to over 53 “premium resources” .

Like the two Utah systems, CML and WPL both share resources from the State Library, which provides subscriptions to public, school, and academic libraries. In addition, CML participates in the Mid-Ohio Digital Initative (MOLDI), a subscription service in association with other local libraries.

While I know many of the resources available to library patrons, since I show them to patrons all the time, my review of the electronic services the library provides here is more aimed at how easily these resources can be found by non-librarians and in what ways the electronic services can be made more accessible particularly to children and their parents.