Succession planning and your databases

by Kathy Bryce Tuesday, May 03, 2016 8:45 PM

We’ve heard recently from several long time clients that they are retiring soon or considering a move to another job. Most are concerned about their “legacy” when they leave, and so we have been talking about succession planning with regard to their databases.  Many have been using Inmagic software for many years and know it well.  However for their replacement coming in fresh, it’d be helpful to provide some documentation and background information, especially if there is no overlap and the new person will be faced with learning the software on their own.

Sometimes it’s hard to look at a system from an outsiders perspective especially if “it works fine and has always been that way”. For example, we came across a client recently who used basic everything, i.e. basic query screens, basic reports and basic edit screen.  He regularly needed to work on writing abstracts which often exceeded the default 3 lines provided in a basic edit screen, so he would use the scroll bar up and down to view the contents as he typed.  

image edit-ASK

Basic edit screen

Edit screen from the Andornot Starter Kit with field groupings, boxes sized for contents, added help tips.

It was something he’d never thought about, but he had to admit that creating a new edit screen with the box height set as unlimited made life much, much easier. Basic screens also always list fields in the textbase structure order, but fields may have been added over the years resulting in no logical groupings.  Think how confusing working with basic screens will be to a newcomer to your system!

We therefore suggest you make it easier on your successor by doing a check of the usability of your databases and writing up notes on your infrastructure. This will also be helpful for new IT staff, and if you have to contact Inmagic for support.

  • Which version of the software is installed and what are the serial numbers?  What is the operating system of the server? Where is the software installed and who has access set up to use it?  Are there any older versions of the software that should be uninstalled?
  • Where are all your databases located on the server?  In multiple folders?  Are any restricted to certain staff or have other special permissions? Do they have passwords? Are there any older copies that may have been saved as backups or are the remnants of recover operations?  Search for *.tba or *.cba to check, then delete the duplicate copies now to avoid confusion later. Are there any obsolete or test databases that could be deleted or archived?
  • Are all your database field names clear and unambiguous?  In older versions of DB/TextWorks there was a limit to their length so we’ve seen some pretty cryptic abbreviations!  Are all the fields in use still?
  • Do you have unused report forms or edit screens.  Are they named clearly and consistently?
  • If you have Genie or WebPublisher PRO, where are these installed and what is the web address and full UNC server path? Do you have access to these folders?  If you have DB/Text for SQL, do you have access to the Admin tool? Is the Importer set up for automated import of data?  If so, what is the source and the format?
  • For WebPublisher PRO are there test or unused query screens? Is the data live immediately or is there some script that transfer databases nightly to a webserver? (This can cause much head scratching trying to figure out why changes don’t appear if this workflow is not documented.)
  • If you haven’t upgraded to version 15 or 15.5 yet, note that this requires an upgrade to your textbases and thus the textbase and forms creation date will be updated too.  This was previously a handy way of checking on the vintage to help determine the history and retention value.

Check out our series of blog posts from last year on Spring Cleanup for your Databases which provide some detailed suggestions covering many of these points:

See also our post on Retirement Planning for Servers. Please contact us if you need any assistance.  We are available to analyze your databases and infrastructure and can write up a report and/or implement changes to your databases to make them easier for your successor to work with.

Heritage Burnaby Website Wins Heritage BC Award

by Kathy Bryce Wednesday, March 02, 2016 2:23 PM

The City of Burnaby’s Heritage Burnaby website (www.heritageburnaby.ca) has won one of Heritage BC’s 35th Anniversary awards. Heritage Burnaby won in the category of Heritage Education & Awareness for the upgrades in 2015 to the Heritage Burnaby website and search engine.

This site was initially developed by Andornot in 2008, then upgraded in 2015 to use the Andornot Discovery Interface (AnDI), Instead of having to search each collection separately, users canHeritageBurnabyResultScreen now type in a keyword and instantly see a combined listing of results from the collections of the City of Burnaby Archives, the Burnaby Village Museum, the Office of the City Clerk and Burnaby Heritage Planning. Searches can be narrowed down through facets for repository, type, date, subject, person, place etc. A good example showing the diversity of material is a search on “carousel” which is one of Burnaby’s heritage landmark buildings. This retrieves nearly 150 records with photos, sound recordings from the Archives oral history collection, books from the Museum library, and documents submitted to council, as well as the artifact records.

The new search interface is also now more forgiving, with automatic spelling corrections and “did “you mean” search suggestions which are very helpful for proper names and places where the user may be unsure of the correct spelling.

As part of this project several publications on the history of Burnaby were digitized and made full text searchable. A couple of these were indexed at the book chapter level to allow zeroing in to specific pages. These are viewable online with search words highlighted. Museum staff have reported that they are now “finding many wonderful connections between photos, records, landmarks, artifacts, and library resources” that were not apparent before. (Lisa Codd, Curator)

The update also included development of a new website with content managed in an Umbraco CMSallowing staff to add blog posts and update content easily. The research page provides more information on the types of materials included, and allows users to search only specific collections, or select neighbourhoods on a map, to see all resources from specific areas. The new website design is responsive to provide a mobile friendly interface, and includes features for streaming audio and video files. Behind the scenes, records are maintained in multiple Inmagic DB/TextWorks databases and extracted and indexed by AnDI when approved for public access.

Everything you wanted to know about Burnaby is at your fingertips,” as a result of this new upgrade! Please contact Andornot if you’d like to discuss options for updating your search interface or combining a search of multiple types of materials into one combined search.

It’s not about you! Designing for your end users.

by Kathy Bryce Wednesday, October 21, 2015 4:54 PM

When we are working with clients to design new search interfaces, we always stress the importance of defining who will be using the system, and then trying to meet the specific needs and expectations of these end users.

It’s Not About You
We often have to remind clients that “It’s not about you!” Archivists and librarians in particular often ask us for search pages with lots of options as they personally are used to constructing complex queries. However the trend with most search interfaces is to keep these simple with a single Google style search box. 

We suggest that you think about other websites your end users search, whether that be a university or public library catalog, or Amazon or other shopping sites.  Nearly all of these now use a discovery style interface that is geared to letting users put words or terms into a search box, and then narrowing their searches down from the search results page through facets or filters.

Like most other search interfaces, we do usually include some Advanced Search options but the website usage statistics we’ve collected for our hosted client sites over the years indicate that most are rarely accessed.  Pre-selecting search limiters removes the possibility of serendipitous discovery of unexpected resources, and the expectation now is that the results will be displayed by relevance so that the closest matches appear first.  We therefore discourage clients from specifying a traditional title sort, as if the user is looking for a known item and searches on words in the title, it will appear at or near the top of a relevance ranked display.

Use Cases and Personas
One of the ways we suggest you try to relate to your end user needs is through the creation of personas or user profiles.   For each of these personas we then suggest you think about factors that might impact their searching behaviour.   First and foremost - what are they looking for and why?  What will they want to do next when they’ve found something of interest?   So for a publicly accessible archives site, you might create personas for the following types of users.

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Carol is looking for pictures of her grandparents and the house where they lived

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Lucy wants a picture of an old farm implement for a school project

billionphotos-1207381

George is compiling a history of a local church.

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John works at City Hall & wants to find maps or plans of an area slated for redevelopment.

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Kevin is interested in a local railway line that runs through the area.

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Daphne is writing her thesis on a local political movement.

Make the process a fun exercise by incorporating graphical representations using images from a stock photo site such as billionphotos.com– search for avatar to find these examples, or contact us to help you. We find images make it easier to visualize how a person might behave, rather than just assigning an abstract name. The usability.govwebsite has an excellent overview article.

Avoid Jargon and Acronyms
You will also need to consider your personas familiarity with the subject area. Again “It’s not about you”, unless you are designing for a very limited audience, jargon and acronyms should be avoided.  Most government websites have guidelines on writing in “plain language” to convey information easily and unambiguously.  However we still see archival sites that include references to the GMD or to the General Material Designation.  Think about walking up to someone in the street and asking them if they understand what this term means! 

Spelling Matters
Spelling is a huge issue.  Too many times we’ve looked through search logs and seen searches that result in zero hits as the search terms were spelt incorrectly.  Think for example about medical terms and how to cater to the public that might be looking for Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Lots of potential to spell this wrong, but worse, you might have indexed relevant items under the medical term of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or the abbreviation ALS or A.L.S.!   Many modern search interfaces now feature Did You Mean spell checking, but maybe you also need to seed the indexes with lists of synonyms or common misspellings of proper names found in the collection. 

It’s all too easy to make assumptions about your end users abilities and their knowledge of web searching techniques. Let us guide you through the process of designing your new search interface based on our knowledge of best practices. We’ll try to tactfully remind you that “it’s not about you”! Contact us to discuss the possibilities today.

Updated search interface for the Interior Health Library Catalog

by Kathy Bryce Monday, August 10, 2015 9:35 AM

The Interior Health library catalog search interface has been given a revamp to modernize the experience and improve the functionality.  The old interface using WebPublisher PRO (figures 1&3) expected users to figure out how to construct their searches in advance.  The new interface (figures 2&4) using the Andornot Discovery Interface (AnDI) allows users to put in their keywords and then narrow down the hits from the results screen. 

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Figure 1

IHA-NewCat
Figure 2

IHA-OldCat2
Figure 3

IHA-NewCat2

Figure 4

This, plus the more forgiving search syntax with built in automatic typo and spelling correctionsNewCat3 with “Did you Mean?”  suggestions, will result in an improved search experience for IH staff. In addition the site is now responsive ensuring that it is just as readable on a cell phone or tablet as on a desktop PC.

As before, the new site includes canned search links for special topics and collections, and a more prominent listing of new titles through an embedded RSS feed.  Book covers from Open Library are included automatically  based on the ISBN field if they are available.

Contact Andornot to discuss similar upgrades to your search interfaces.

New search interface for Interior Health - policy and procedure documents, guidelines and protocols.

by Kathy Bryce Monday, June 08, 2015 10:07 AM

Interior Health contacted Andornot to discuss possible options for providing better access to their policy and procedure documents, guidelines and protocols.  These were available in several locations and were indexed in separate PDF’s depending on service area.  Maintenance of this system of indexes was becoming problematic and unsustainable. Interior Health needed an easy to use search interface for clinical staff to quickly find and link to the documents, whether they be on their SharePoint intranet, a vendor site or part of their subscription to Mosby’s Nursing Skills. 

Interior Health already owned a copy of Inmagic DB/TextWorksand the library staff were familiar with it, so we created a new database to catalog these documents.  The intranet search application pulls data from DB/TextWorks and is powered by our Andornot Discovery Interface (AnDI) to provide a faceted, discovery style interface geared to be as simple and uncluttered as possible. AnDI features spell checking with Did you mean functionality to catch common misspellings and typos, and staff have added some common acronyms to the records to ensure that documents can be found using nursing jargon.

We were able to extract data from multiple PDF’s and SharePoint lists to build the ClinicalCareFindItinitial database and batch modified records to populate additional fields. As a result, searches can be refined by Interior Health site, practice area, agency responsible, format and keywords.   We also note which source document or manual a specific guideline is part of.  The relevance ranking of the search results was adjusted to ensure that Interior Health (IH) wide documents always appear first. This approach really helps IH staff quickly locate the policy or protocol they are seeking.

Behind the scenes, the database also tracks who developed a document, when it was endorsed, and review dates to allow library staff to better manage the administrative side.  The search interface is hosted by Andornot with access restricted by IP Address to Interior Health staff.

Since the launch the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Comments from nursing staff included:

  • WOW oh WOW.  My brief interaction with the Clinical Care find-it has been an incredible experience so far.  Congratulations!!!!
  • A thing of beauty doesn’t describe this work well enough.  It is definitely the birth of an amazing solution.  I had a look at it yesterday, and it is a very intuitive piece of work.
  • OMG! It IS a thing of beauty.

And from the person responsible for administering the system:

  • As far as managing workload the drudgery of adding links to 5 separate indexes x 3 alternate titles/keywords (so sometimes 15 entries for one link/document!!!!) has been almost eliminated.  Now there is only “ONE” and it’s great!

This project is a good example of how library staff can assist other groups within an organization to better organize and improve access to their information and resources.  Prior to the start of this project Interior Health had looked to develop a new system internally, however library staff were able to convince them to utilize their existing software and Andornot’s expertise and hosting service to create an efficient and easy to use new system.

Contact us to discuss how we can help you provide improved search access to any collection.

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