Category Archives: Salt Lake County Library

Library 2.0 Tools and the Salt Lake County Library Website

One of the difficulties with assessing Web 2.0 tools on a library website, is that they are frequently embedded so deeply that it is very hard to find them. I might know that the library provides a certain service, but it might be impossible to find, or take a lot of searching. This difficulty is compounded on a website that has a lot of different content loaded on their web pages particularlywhen it is not organized into categories. The Salt Lake County Library System’s web page suffers from this malady. It is full of information, with the front page in particular crammed with links, that are grouped under such general headings as “Quick Links,” “What’s Hot @ the Library,” and “Books, Music & More.” Besides these groups of links, there are a lot of links that are just randomly placed around the front page. Fortunately, there is an option to search the site. It was only this feature that allowed me to actually find any Library 2.0 resources.

In assessing the Library 2.0 resources that I did find on this web site, I will focus my discussion on the following three issues:

  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 Salt Lake County Library System Website

From the front page of the Salt Lake County Library System’s website only one 2.0 tool really stands out from the plethora of links, that for the library’s Podcasts. There are other tools, such as several blogs, RSS feeds, widgets, a delicious account, and others, but this is the only one promoted on the front page. Some of the tools I found while looking through the pages, while others I only discovered through keyword searching the site.

In 2006, the library started creating videos and posting them on a video feed that library users could subscribe to. The podcasts or vodcasts (video podcasts) shared by the library mostly feature interviews the local television stations did with various library personnel as well as recordings of author talks. Unfortunately, the stream is not frequently updated with several months in between installations, with the last one almost a year ago. This tool, however, is featured on the front page of their website, in a position of prominence.

Under “Library Information & Contacts” there is a category called “Library Tools,” this general category has links to some of the library’s 2.0 technologies. For instance they have a link to their Delicious account at the bottom of the page, which appears to be frequently updated and maintained by their staff. This Delicious account is also featured other places on their website, where they use it to provide a tag cloud of links and subjects. On this “Library Tools” page the library also offers a link to their LibraryElf program. This is an independent program that the library pays to provide more options for interactivity for their patrons. Users can sign up to receive alerts in a huge range of formats. They can consolidate all of their family member’s cards, to track all of the items checked out. In addition to this outside service, the library also offers a plug in that allows users to search the library catalog from a box on their web-browser.

Beyond this tools page, the library does offer a series of blogs and myspace pages, but finding the page with the list of them required me to do a keyword search. As far as I can tell, this page is hosted on the library web page but is not actually linked. This makes it harder for users to find the page and use these tools.

There are a few RSS (really simple syndication) feeds available from the library, but they are created and managed through outside services the library uses. For instance, library events are maintained through a services called Evanced, which allows users to search through the calender. Evanced also allows users to subscribe to RSS feeds of activities. These feeds are customizable, offering many options. The library’s OPAC, its Delicious account, as well as this event calendar all have RSS feed options.

Assistance Provided on Web Site to Use these Tools

Visibility of tools is one of the first things a site needs to do to assist users, beyond that there needs to be explanation of what the tool is, and how to go about using it. For some of the tools that are created by services outside of the library, these tutorials are available on the external source’s site. On the library’s web site, there needs to be some assistance to encourage users to give these tools a try. The Salt Lake County Library system struggles with visibility of their tools, as stated earlier, and has limited success with providing any on site assistance.

Neither the video podcasts nor the Delicious account have any instruction or explanation to users of the library’s website on how to use them or what exactly they are. The Library Elf program and the plug in do link to pages with explainations of what they are, and some basic information on how to use them. For the most part, these instrutional library pages merely link to instruction on another site.

Explanation as to Why Patrons Would Want to Use the Tools

As with the instruction and these Library 2.0 tools, the Salt Lake County Library system offers very little in the way of explanation as to why patrons would want to use these tools. The exception is with the Library Elf program. For that tool, the library created a page that lists the features offered by the tool and explanations as to why people would want to sign up for it.

Overall assessment of the Library 2.0 tools on the Website

The Salt Lake County Library system has taken a few steps towards using Library 2.0 tools, but in order to fully integrate them into their website and to empower their users in customizing their library experience, they need to increase the amount of explanation and instruction in how to use these tools. In addition, they need to increase the visibility of tools that they update and use frequently.


Subscription Databases at the Salt Lake County Library System

In looking at the subscription databases offered by these four library systems, I want to inquire after the same three points that I looked at in my review of their OPACs. My goal is to determine what paths users can take to access the databases: is there one central place where they are listed, or are there many pages and places directing users to the same databases. Beyond this, I’m particularly interested to find out what types of descriptions are given of the various databases and their use, as well as how they are presented for children and teachers. In order to pursue these issues, I will be asking these 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?

As with the OPACs, some library webpages are simpler then others, and the Salt Lake County Library system has a site that is stuffed full of features and links. This provides many ways to access the information, but also means that there are more ways for users to get lost. Focusing on not only what databases are available, but how easy it is to find them will help me to understand what the user experience is like.

Pathways for Accessing Databases:
From the website of the Salt Lake County Library System, there are many ways to access the various databases that the system and the Pioneer state library system offer for users. On the front page alone there is a quick search feature, links to featured resources, and a side panel made up of databases and services related to books and movies. There are also at least three links to additional pages with lists of databases.

Main Database Page:
Whether it is one of the links on the main page of the website, the link from the top bar of the page frame, or from the tool bar inside the OPAC, the user looking for databases is directed to a central page. This page called “Database Research by Topic” actually offers various ways to interact with the resources. First is a Quick Search interface, like the one on the front page of the library website. After that there is a list of pages each with databases on a specific topic—one of 17 areas, and under that is a link to an alphabetical list of databases. At the bottom of the page there are direct links to specific vendor’s interfaces, so users can search all EBSCO databases or all Thomson-Gale databases all together.

In addition to these access points, links to databases are also present from within lists of recommended websites. Kids and Teens Homework Help Pages contain lists of resources, both internet and subscription databases. The databases are lumped in with all of the other pages, with a caveat that users will need to have their Salt Lake County Library card number to access them from home. In addition, the library has pages aimed at adults wherein subscription databases mingle with websites.

Beyond the various pages with links to the subscription databases, perhaps the most interesting way to access the databases is through the Quick Search. This search tool allows users to simultaneously look in more then one database, as well as the catalog, and the webpage. It also allows searches in specific topic areas, such as Biographies, Science, Arts, and others. In order to use the search users need to have a Salt Lake County library card number, they are then directed to a page listing results for search term from each individual database. These results can be grouped in lot of different ways, by relevance, by database, and by traditional sorting features of author and title.

Assistance in Using the Databases:
The Salt Lake County Library does offer some guidance to assist their patrons in using their databases. In particular, the library offers an explanation of what databases are and why users would want to use them over just searching the internet. For children and parents they offer a good description of why databases are good choices for homework assignments, and even have a letter that students can give to their teachers

Beyond these short explanations, users can find tutorials within most of the databases to guide them in finding answers, though the library does not make any mention of these tools. They also do not have general database use assistance, such as explanations of Boolean logic.

Database Choice—Descriptions and Age Appropriateness:
One of the most difficult factors for libraries and library users is selecting where to look for the answers to any information need, something that is exacerbated by the internet that offers millions of different possibilities. Librarians overcome this information overload by becoming familiar with a wide range of resources so that they can direct people to the ones that might closely match their needs and developmental level (such as a consumer health database as opposed to Medline). On library webpages, it is necessary to provide some of this type of guidance so that users know what they are likely to find in a database—especially when sites require users to log in with a library card number in order to use each and every database.

In a lot of ways, the descriptions of databases are crucial tools to assist users in making decisions, they need to tell users not only what the database is, but who it is aimed at, and what kinds and forms of information will be retrieved. While the Salt Lake County Library does have an alphabetized list of databases with descriptions, these kinds of lists tend to overwhelm the user if they don’t know the specific tool they are looking for. For that reason, the library breaks the databases down by topic, creating subject specific pages. These pages contain lists of databases with descriptions that all have a similar topical link. Many databases are in more then one subject area—such as biographical tools are in many as they profile people in many subject areas.

Another major issue in listing databases is whether to group services offered by one provider or lump them together. For instance, World Book Encyclopedia offers interfaces for Kids, Students, Spanish speakers, and an adult interface, some libraries list each interface as a distinct tool, while others group them. In general, Salt Lake County Library system groups about half of their databases together. They break up EBSCO and Thomson-Gale databases into the individual subscriptions, but for the ones they lump together, they provide a list of the services offered within the broader subscription. This allows users to see all of the interfaces in one place and to find out about some tools that might not be individually listed. For instance the entry for the World Book service looks like this:

World Book Encyclopedia
Here you will find links to World Book Online’s:
World Book Encyclopedia
World Book offers more than 25,000 encyclopedia articles that are carefully edited to suit the educational level of the users most likely to use them, from grades 4 through 12 and adults.
World Book Atlas
The 500 maps in the online atlas cover the whole globe interactively, linking to each other, and directly to articles on continents, countries, states, provinces, cities and other places shown on the maps.
World Book Dictionary
The dictionary contains approximately 248,000 entries. Users can either search for a word or double-click on any word appearing in a World Book article for a definition.
World Book Research Libraries
U. S. History – Witness the origins, struggles and continuation of the United States of America.
Political Science & Law – Peruse the major developments in law, order, justice and government.
Enciclopedia Estudiantil Hallazgos
La Enciclopedia estudiantil hallazgos en línea es una enciclopedia de conocimientos generales. Contiene información sobre gente, lugares, objetos, acontecimientos e ideas. Aprovecha esta enciclopedia para investigar y divertirte.
Special Features
Behind the Headlines – A feature that uses World Book articles to explain the complex events that shape our world today.
Back in Time – The approximately 13,000 historic articles from past World Book Year Books present a you-are-there account of the most significant events of each year.
Surf the Ages – Visit imaginary news sites from Ancient Times, The Middle Ages, or Modern Times. Then, link to dozens of e-zines, want ads, bookstores and other types of simulated Web sites, written from the perspective of that time.
This database is brought to you by Salt Lake County Library Services

Some of the larger subscription databases, such as EBSCO and Thomson-Gale, are listed by the individual database, even when the search interface is the same. In part this is to highlight the wide array of topical areas provided through different databases—from Consumer Information to Science searches, but in this case it is also because access to some databases is provided by the Pioneer State Library system and some by the Salt Lake County library system.


One advantage of many of these large database systems is that they feature age specific interfaces that allow children to search material that is either aimed at their interests or written at their developmental level. The searches aren’t perfect, but the library can list them as suitable for youth which helps direct students and parents in their information search. At Salt Lake County system there is a page specifically for students, with just those databases aimed at youth. There is no effort, however, to direct different age groups to the appropriate tool.

For instance, EBSCO produces multiple search options and interfaces for different age/grade levels. Two of these specific age appropriate searches are listed on the student resource page, but the descriptions do not mention the fact that they are aimed at different age ranges—even though EBSCO explicitly names the “Student Resource Center” as Middle School and High School. The page also does not include  link to the Searchasaurus interface, which the library does have access to, and which is aimed at lower grade levels.


Overall Review of Database Accessibility:


Taken as a whole the Salt Lake County Library has many paths to access their subscription databases, but they could strengthen their service to their patrons by providing more complete descriptions of the databases, particularly those aimed at children. In addition, the need to sign in for each and every database is very cumbersome, as compared to establishing proxy access that would permit users to access databases for a certain amount of time. By making a few small corrections, the library system could greatly increase their ability to serve youth with their databases.

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.

Salt Lake County Online Public Access Catalog

The first OPAC I’m reviewing is that of the Salt Lake County Library System. It is accessible initially from a tool bar at the top of their website, in both English and Spanish, as well as accessible from within the physical library, where Catalog stations are available for users to search the database. I’ll divide my discussion into the three areas discussed in my previous post:

  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/tools are available to evaluate the results of using the catalog, particularly for those looking for materials for Children?

Tools and interfaces for accessing SLCLS OPAC:

The SLCLS’s catalog is accessible from five different interfaces in two languages, each with their own set of tools to help users search the databases. First is the basic search, which allows users to enter terms in one of five areas: two title search areas, one for author, one for subject, and a general keyword search.


The second interface—the Advanced Search—offers many more tools to access the catalog. It offers four modifiable spaces to create a Boolean keyword search of the catalog using 16 different keyword terms. In addition it allows users to modify the results of their search through selecting as many limiting characteristics as they want—from library location to genre and format.


The third search interface is one designed just to search the Audio/Visual holdings of the library system. Like the basic search it offers simple searches, but in this case it is narrowed down to just title and title keywords of DVD, Audio Book, Music, and Software items.


The fourth interface to SLCLS’s OPAC is called “Starts With” and it allows users to search through the alphabetical lists of one of 16 formats, such as titles, authors, and series, by entering the first word in a specific field.


The final search interface is called Children’s Searches. It is a very basic interface, with only three tools to provide searchers access to the library’s holdings. These are Children’s Author Keyword, Children’s General Keyword, and Children’s Title Keyword. This interface allows users to focus on finding only those materials specifically labeled children’s.


Assistance Available for Using the Catalog

There are several different types of assistance offered to users of this OPAC, ranging from tips and hints included right on the face of the interface to a separate selection of Help and Instructions provided by the manufacturer of the OPAC, and accessible from the top of every page.


In the Advanced Search interface, there are several types of help available.

While the more detailed information provided by the manufacturer does not precisely match the OPAC as customized by SLCLS, it does allow users to learn how to use the catalog and how to perform specific searches. Horizon, the Integrated Library System (ILS) used by SLCLS, offers three basic search interfaces as explained in the ‘Help and Instructions’ section: Basic Search, Advanced Search, and Power Search. Interestingly enough, SLCLS has modified these interfaces to create 5 different ones, three using the ‘Advanced Search’ format (AV Search, Starts With, and Children’s Search), one using the ‘Power Search’ (interestingly this is the Advanced Search on the catalog), and the one Basic Search.  Because the specific searches are customized by SLCLS, there is no information specific to assisting users with them. For instance, the Children’s Search uses the same basic template as the AV search, so there is no information available as to what is searched in the Children’s Search, such as whether it includes Teen materials, AV materials, or works by Children’s authors in other genres.


What explanations/tools are available to evaluate the results of using the catalog, particularly for those looking for materials for Children?

Once a search has been attempted, the question becomes how well can a user determine which result will most closely match their information need. There are a lot of factors in this, one of which is how well can the results be sorted through to find those that might suit. Another important factor is what information is present in the record, and how well can this information be assessed/accessed.


The OPAC of the SLCLS offers a variety of features for evaluating results, from a limit option, to suggestions of different spelling/alternative word choice, to information about the location and availability of items. They even offer a help section about interpreting your search results, which explains what formats the results will be shown in, and what further steps you can take with the information found. Users can sort or limit searches, they can view the full details of the item, they can request or book an item, and they can create a list of items or e-mail them to themselves to view later.


While the catalog has a specific Children’s search, it is interesting to see what features are present for children and those serving children to evaluate the results of searches using that interface and the others. In order to illustrate this, I’ve performed several simple searches in different interfaces, and then examined the various tools to evaluate the result and find the best source of information. Say I want to find non-fiction books on trees for children, entering the basic search I would type Tree in the general keyword search. The search produces 2606 results, none of the first three of which appear relevant to my search need. At the top of the page is the option to limit the results based on a variety of criteria, which should help me to weed out extraneous results. One is listed as “All Children’s Nonfiction,” which leaves me with 328 results in the category Nonfiction with the keyword Tree. These results range from a book from the Magic Tree House Nonfiction series to a book about creating Origami Trees. Conducting the same search in the Children’s Search reveals a similar range of entries, which need to be picked through for relevance. It is possible to use the Starts With search or enter Subject starts with to browse to find a subject that is more relevant to the search topic, and then narrow it down to Children’s Non-Fiction.


Beyond these tools to narrow down the results, the library catalog also provides users information about each item through the detailed record view of each item. These sometimes provide further information that can help users decide if this will fit their information need. Horizon also provides further information to explain how to use the detailed record page of each item.


Overall Review of SLCPL OPAC

For a catalog with so many interfaces that have so many tools, with such extensive tutorials and explanations provided, it is incredibly difficult to actually find anything using just the basic searches offered. Because the preferred format of searches is Keyword, and the keyword searches do not rank based on relevance, discovering items within the search seems based merely on happenstance, particularly for general searches. Once a search has been conducted, there are a lot of options for evaluating the results, particularly on an item level with both professional and user reviews.


Perhaps because of the availability of so much assistance in the use of the catalog, it is possible to overcome the shortfalls of the actual search engine. Certainly there are some features that could be very useful for children and parents who are trying to locate materials.


Salt Lake County Public Library

The first library reviewed in my study is the library system that I used as a child, which I had the opportunity to visit while at my parents’ house over the holiday. The Salt Lake County Library system is a large county library system with 19 branches that serve a population of just under a million residents  , 75% of which have library cards. In 2007  they reported 13,585,286 items circulted, from a collection of around 2 milion items. Not only are their branches busy, with around 4.3 million visitors in 2007, but their website recieved almost 8 million visits from outside of the library.

I selected this library as a complement to the other large library system I am reviewing, because it is of a similar size and has a similar budget. It also has an impressive web presence, offering a virtual library experience to its customers, many of whom take advantage of it. They reported impressive numbers of patrons using their electronic resources: 11,830,982 catalog searches, 981,953 searches of their 72 electronic databases.

My inital questions for my study of this library revolve around determining what specific electronic resources they have, what pathways there are to use them, and to what extent these libraries have information avalible to assist children, parents, and teachers in their use both on their website and in their physical buildings.