Hennepin 1 – Study tour 07

Had a great day at Hennepin County Public Library (HCPL) on the outskirts of Minneapolis, Minnesota. HCPL has a great team managing their web services. They have 4 librarians working on web development (all former adult, teens or childrens librarians), 2 programmers who are also librarians, an intranet staffer, a support staffer and an Office products trainer. All ILS and PC management are handled by their network services department, which is large to enable to manage all their PCs at their 26 branches.

Sharon McGlinn, manages their new Book Space, the adult reading area. It comprises booklists, forthcoming books (hugely popular), new materials, book club information, find a good book advisories. Sharon worked with 5 adult services librarians to develop the goals for Book Space, then worked with their graphic designer to produce the look and then with Glenn Peterson, one of their developers to get the required functionality.

Their webpages are mostly dynamic, database driven. They have one blog for the Book Space page, but their categorisation determines which genre page the feed will go to. Glenn has developed staff templates to simplify the adding the adding of blog content. Sharon keeps the site current by sending reminders out to staff, including suggestions for contributions – they need to keep the content dynamic. The challenge is to find people who will be passionate about the website and contribute to it.

Glenn Peterson developed a booklists admin function with their ILS, to simplify the generation of booklists. It uses the bibliographic numbers from the catalogue, cover images from Syndetics and a preview facility to see how it looks before going live. Book Space also includes topselling lists, book club info and user created booklists – only need a username and password to add one. Each staff generated booklist includes more the of the same type authors, related lists, awards lists, Syndetics content and live links to the catalogue. User generated lists pulls content from the catalogue, they can add comments and make it public or keep it private. Sharon then chooses appropriate user generated booklists to be rotated through the Book Space homepage as a highlighted list.

Where forms aren’t in use, they use Dreamweaver for webpage editing. Their website gets over 140,000 requests per week, with 12-15,000 individual visitors each month. They have submission guidelines for user created booklists, which now number more than 200 (in less than 2 months). They are now looking at their options as to how to manage these booklists, as it has turned out to be wildly popular.

Book Space also contains their audio book information, both linking to their audio CD collection and their downloadable audio – which they get through NetLibrary and Overdrive, so only for MP3 formats, not iPods. Their research books and authors sections links to relevant databases and websites. Book Clubs list needs to be further developed, Sharon is looking to get the book clubs themselves to contribute content. The book clubs can reserve the kits online, by title, by date of availability and more (another script from Glenn).

Christine Clifford took me through Reference services. They use Tutor.com’s “Ask a Librarian” software. It runs 24/7 – they contract Tutor.com to answer questions during the hours that HCPL staff are not available. Have offered this service since 2001 and has been 24/7 since 2002. They get between 350 and 600 questions a month, depending on time of year – email reference gets about 25 a day. They had 10 million visits to their website last year.

Librarians throughout the service are scheduled to monitor the service, with 55 currently on the list to provide the service, mostly one at a time, but two librarians at peak time, with backups as required. The schedule is posted on the Intranet.

They are trialing IM in house at present, using Microsoft Office Communicator between their Reference Work Group and Web Services Team, mainly chosen because it works with Outlook. They are testing Trillian for use with their future IM Reference service and are also looking at the Meebo widget – working through some issues with this at present.

Their Research and Reference page contains their subject guides. Each topic shows the most popular databases and websites for that topic first, then other content, which is automatically generated. To avoid the generalist databases coming on top with for all sub-topics, they skew the criteria so that only the most relevant content appears there. Topics are further broken down into sub-topics. A librarian is in charge of each topic and their image appears on the page with tips on information seeking on that topic or events etc, which are changed regularly. 42 librarians contribute to the 29 topics in this section.

The sidebar on each page contains pre-packaged catalogue searches, e-books links, news headlines, available classes, events, the facility to change topics or subjects via a drop down menu and more. They are looking to upgrade the 2 year old pages, with the recent purchase of a federated search tool. They are considering changing the librarians’ snippets to a blog, which will be easier to manage and enable archiving of the content.

HCPL has a number of web tools available to all staff, which have been developed in-house to make contributing content fast and easy, they don’t need to have any coding or HTML type skills.

Marilyn Turner, head of Web Services shared her experiences with getting their web services going and how they keep up the momentum. The Web Services department is located close to the ILS and Network staff. They have to work closely with them – systems need to be accessible, upgrades and backups need to be carefully scheduled (an issue when they first went 24/7 on Ask a Librarian). The Web Services Team also works as a bridge between IT and branch staff, whom they work closely with on content.

She recommends reporting on what can be done and to pick things that will make an impact with the staffing you have available. Take it on the road to decision makers to show the great things you are doing – eg. Online memberships, they now get 500 applications and amendments each month. Public libraries are there to serve all in their area, not just the people who come in the door. Need to have your web services staff at the table – have a representative on all teams, as web services covers all branch provided services. They have expanded ownership of the website by having librarians contribute content to booklists, subject guides etc and the simple web tools they use make it easy for them to do so. They have noticed a changed culture as a result of this, with librarians sharing ideas, content and inspiration. This is of huge benefit to library users, as shown in their increasing stats. Over 100 mostly librarians are contributing content to the website (150 librarians out of 500 staff at HCPL). Get started with new, enthusiastic people as contributors.

Internally, each department has its own blog – 5 divisions and the Directors office. Some sub divisions also have their own blogs, others just use the administration blog. They have found it to be a better communication tool than email, because it doesn’t have to be kept where it clogs up the email client, the posts are searchable and archived. They are also looking at using wikis for some of their manuals, rather than putting them up through their CMS.

Web Services is about providing the tools to make contributing easy. The focus is the content, not the technology. End of part one – that was all just until lunch. More in next post, so stay tuned.