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Fixing a Zip Code Problem in WorldCat

We have a funny problem with WorldCat.org and at our library.  When you are in the library or on campus and search Worldcat, our library appears to be 257 miles away when trying to find copies in a library nearby.  It works fine if you are off campus somewhere else in town.  So what gives?  OCLC is looking a the IP address of the browser and doing a lookup to determine zip code location.  Unfortunately, the lookup for our IP addresses on campus thinks we are in Fairbanks because that is where the statewide university system connects to the broader Internet.

We reported this to OCLC  3 years ago when we first noticed it.  They had no way to specify or customize how IP addresses were associated with zip codes since they used an unspecified external service for their geo mapping.  They offered that when WorldCat Local came it might be fixed.  Turns out that’s not true.  A couple of months ago we came up with a work around, not sure why it took so long for us to think of it.  When we link to WorldCat on our website, we include the Ezproxy prefix so the site is included in the proxy server.  We’ve configured the proxy server to automatically authenticate users on campus so they don’t have to login but to continue proxying the WorldCat website.  Since Ezproxy is a URL rewriting proxy, we then use a search and replace command to insert the correct zip code:

Title Consortium Library WorldCat Local
URL http://consortiumlibrary.worldcat.org
DJ worldcat.org
Find &referer=
Replace &loc=99508&referer=

It’s not perfect.  It only works when users access WorldCat from the library website. If users on campus go directly to WorldCat or end up there from GoogleBooks they will have a Fairbanks zip code.  Since OCLC seems unable to offer a real fix, my colleague had the clever idea of contacting geo IP services and getting them to correct the zip code for our IP ranges.  Maybe we will get lucky and fix the one that OCLC uses.

Bookin’ Librarians had a great weekend

This past weekend, the Bookin’ Librarians completed the MS Challenge, a 74 mile ride from Hope to Seward on Saturday and then 74 mile ride back to Hope on Sunday. The ride is a fund raiser for the National MS Society. I hed done the ride in 2008 and 2009 as an indivdual, but this year was joined by some fellow librarians and friends.

There were six of us riding–Drew, Judy, Megan, Mike, Paul and Scott–plus my wife Ruth came along to provide moral support and a cold beer at the finish line each day. Unlike previous years, we had wonderful blue skies and sunshine on both days. As usual, the race volunteers were great and there was plenty of good food and variety at the rest stops–pancakes, soups, grill cheese sandwiches, pizza, etc. I think I gained 5 pounds during the ride.

The really neat thing is how many people made donations to the MS Society on behalf of the team. We raised over $5300 which put us in second place among the friends and family teams and Scott was the second place fundraiser overall.  Many thanks to our generous colleagues, friends, and family!

More Mobile (and text)

Last week we debuted a mobile version of the library website using the techniques we developed for the mobile library catalog.  We automatically redirect to the mobile site for a selection of mobile browsers  (iPhone/iTouch, Android, Palm WebOS, Blackberry, Mobile Opera, Mobile Firefox, and Symbian s60) that covers a broad segment of the smartphone and high-end feature phones.  In addition, we have a link to the mobile site on the front page so users of mobile browsers we may have missed can make their own choice.  Also, low bandwidth users might prefer the mobile site.

The mobile home page is laid out with a set of icons to selected resources on the library website with an emphasis on those that might be more useful for mobile users.  However, we took a different approach than some web developers which only make a selection of pages available via the mobile version.  Instead we make every page on the main website available in the mobile version.  Mobile users also have the ability to toggle to the full website if needed.

Another nice feature is that we link to the mobile version of  library resources when possible.  For example, we link to the mobile version of the Ebsco databases like Academic Search Premier.  We will keep our eye on other vendors and link to their mobile versions when they become available.

Finally, the work we did to make a mobile version of the website allowed us to easily add a text version for screen readers and non-graphical browsers.  We had  text version before but only for the home page, now the entire website is available in a text version.  A link to the text version displays at the top of the page for screen readers and non-graphical browsers but is hidden from regular web browsers.

Mobile version of Library Catalog

We just debuted a mobile version of our library catalog optimized for display on the iPhone.  Our library system vendor is working on an iPhone application which we are investigating.  But developing html pages optimized for a mobile browser has a number of advantages over a dedicated application:

  • Catalog displays automatically when mobile users visit the web site, no need to download and set up an application.
  • Mobile html pages can be easily tweaked to display on other devices like Android, BlackBerry, etc.  No need to develop applications on multiple platforms.
  • Techniques learned to make the catalog mobile-friendly can be used for other library web services.
  • It’s free in terms of no additional licensing fees.  Its not clear what library vendors plan to charge their customers for applications they develop for the iPhone and other devices.

Our library catalog runs on SirsiDynix Web2 (not to be confused with Web 2.0) but the customization could probably be made to most web-based catalogs. We borrowed design ideas  from the great folks at NCSU Libraries. They’ve done some great work on providing library content to mobile devices. Thanks guys!

iPad in the Library

Yesterday I saw a student with an iPad in the library for the first time.  It looked like he was actually unboxing it.  It’s interesting because it took a while to see iPhone’s around Anchorage when they first came out (admittedly AT&T was not here yet) or netbooks for that matter.

In my view, students aren’t usually early adopters at least in terms of gadgets and devices, i.e. not a lot of disposable income.  I got a Nokia 770 Internet Tablet when they first came out in late 2005.  The 770 was like an iTouch, a media player with wifi for Internet browsing but no celluar. But it could  tether via bluetooth to a phone with data and was extremely hackable (based on Debian Linux). I was so excited when I saw a student with a 770 a few months later.  Over the years, the iPhone and other comsumer “smart” phones have become standard equipment and herald the growth of the mobile web.

I also bought a OLPC XO when they first came out in late 2007, mainly to support the project (you actually had to buy two, the second one was sent to a child in a developing country).  They look like Fisher Price toys and students had no idea what they were.  But netbooks came out in the following months and finally last fall I started to see students on campus with them.

So back to the iPad.  I was pretty shocked to see a student with one so soon.  Will we see a good number of them on campus next Fall?  Will it replace a laptop or netbook as the device to carry to campus?

The other interesting challenge posed by the iPad (or maybe just brought into sharper focus) is the implications of widespread adoption of dedicated e-content devices (ebook readers, media players, etc) for libraries.  Traditionally libraries bought physical media that was borrowed by users.  While the shift to electronic content via the Internet posed some challenges, libraries have adopted fairly well, i.e. we buy subscriptions to content that our patrons can then access using their web browser.

But mobile devices pose two challenges:

  1. Can libraries offer content in the multitude of DRM restricted formats offered by the device vendors?
  2. Will publishers use this shift in the market to squeeze libraries out of the equation?

I think libraries can handle challenge # 1, it’s challenge # 2 that has me worried.  Where does the library fit into the iTunes equation?