Staff exchange

This past Thursday I participated in Staff Exchange at the library. Those of us who signed-up got to spend a half-day in our choice of locations and departments. Naturally, I chose LAS, Library Automation Services.

It rained on Thursday, so I arrived at Central Branch early enough to change my clothes. Unfortunately, they were cleaning the mens room off the lobby at the time. The security guy was helpful though. He told me I could use a small storage area around the corner. It had no door, but the room was lined with cupboards, so by opening a couple of cupboard doors, I got some privacy.

LAS is in the sub-basement of Central Branch on the river side of the building. The building is between two of the downtown falls and the normally pokey river rushes right through there. The offices are down in the river gorge and have large windows looking out at the water shooting over several cascades. Nicest view I’ve ever seen from a sub-basement.

The department head took me on a tour of the server room. It’s the first time in years that I’ve stepped into climate-controlled raised-floor data center. Ordinarily, these room are packed to the gills with stuff. With equipment becoming smaller and more powerful, there was a surprising spaciousness.

FIrst I met CARL. CARL is an ILS, or Integrated Library System, from The Library Corporation. It’s our primary application. As such, CARL runs on an HP Integrity NonStop computer, (formerly known as Tandem Computer). If CARL, goes down, the entire county library system goes down. Hence the choice of a Tandem. I was careful not to press the power button.

Next to CARL is a smaller server that handles patron communication for CARL. Once a day, CARL sends a list of patron communications to this smaller system (I forgot its name.)

The smaller system then sends out emails, or telephones, or mails postcards to patrons to tell them a hold (reserved item) is ready for pickup, reminders of upcoming due dates, and overdue notices. Patrons can also phone in to this system to check their account or renew items.

LAS also handles all voice communications for RPL, the Rochester Public Library. The next set of big boxes were the phone system. This was the oldest and largest system in the room and is scheduled for upgrade soon.

Next to that was the telecom rack. LAS handles all the Internet stuff for the Rochester Public Library, and all WAN connections to the town and village libraries in MCLS, the Monroe County Library System. I also learned LAS provides WAN and Internet for many city and county departments and the NYS Appellate Court.

Behind that was one of the web servers and the mail server. With the new web site, much of the public-facing web is now served by the vendor, in much the same way I provide hosting for my clients. But the library-specific stuff—principally the online catalog—is still served by a medium-sized Sun server at LAS.

Finally in the back of the room are all the LAN servers for RPL and all the LAN cabling for Central Branch. Oh, and the fire supression stuff was back there too.

Next on my tour, I spent some time with PC Support. They’re in charge of all staff and public-access PCs in RPL, and most of them in MCLS.

Internet content and spam filtering were next on the tour. Under Federal law, we’re required to maintain content filters on all access to the Internet in order to maintain funding. This is something that goes against the grain of nearly all librarians and is therefore handled with great care by the LAS staff.

The Board of each participating library decides what each of five levels of service (Adult, YA, J, staff, and one other I can’t remember) are allowed to use on the Internet. They can also decide which ones a librarian can override on request. Yes, there are people who ask that the porn filter be overridden for their session.

Some, like a couple of the popular Internet gaming sites are restricted simply because of the bandwidth requirements. Those sites could quickly consume all the bandwidth to a branch, making it impossible for other patrons to use the Internet, and for the staff to conduct library business, like checking out books.

I was surprised at the primitive nature of the spam filtering employed at LAS. True, much of it is removed by the ISP, but still, it’s just a list of domains to bounce. I wowed the staffer in charge by giving her a tour of the anti-spam and anti-virus services I supply to my clients on my server.

Next stop was with the web team. These two staffers maintain everything available on libraweb.org. They showed me the back-end of the new content management system and I got a tour of the new AquaBrowser OPAC, Online Public Access Catalog, search system that will go live in a couple of months. Then we talked shop for a long time. This was another instance where I was able to share useful stuff too.

Finally, we closed the loop. I sat in with “The Queen of CARL” the staffer who handles all the software stuff having to do with CARL. Everything setting up how the barcodes look, to circulation rules to management reports pass through the single staffer’s office. Now I know who to ask when I have questions about CARL that my boss can’t answer.

Four hours later I left, head spinning from information overload, thinking that I’ll have to keep an eye out for position postings in LAS.

Next year, for staff exchange, I’ll visit Cataloging.