Monday, October 12, 2009

Introduction to Hands-on Learning

If you were to ask 100 people what the best way is to learn something new, a common theme you would hear among their answers would be to have an opportunity to try it out for themselves—a hands-on learning experience. There’s just something about “trying it out” that helps the new information stick a little better. Of course, researchers in fields of psychology and education would be able to give countless details about the rationale for hands-on learning. Most people, however, don’t need to know the “whys” to know that hands-on learning works.

So if hands-on learning is intuitively better than other approaches, why don’t all SirsiDynix customers take advantage of it? Well, they may just not know what to expect in a hands-on learning class delivered over the Internet. For some, distance learning is a new enough concept that it may be difficult to consider how you could pull off an Internet class in a hands-on learning environment. So to respond to this concern, we have created an opportunity for everyone to experience the SirsiDynix hands-on learning approach at no cost. The experience lasts 20 minutes, and it includes detailed descriptions of the various hands-on learning classes offered and an opportunity to actually go through the hands-on learning experience. We feel that this opportunity will enable you to determine just how effective these experiences can be for you and your staff as you migrate to SirsiDynix Symphony.

To sign up for this free class, go to and enter “Hands on Labs” into the Search field at the top of the Training Center tab. Then click on the class that meets your schedule.

Mike Hilmo
Software Trainer, Operations

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blended Learning

What makes a great Chicago Style Pizza? Is it the sauce, the crust, how about mounds of mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, or green peppers? I personally love all of those parts, but as Remy, the chef/rat for “Ratatouille” shows, it’s when they all come together that makes it great.

I was sitting in a post go-live meeting with a customer who had just gone through their migration to SirsiDynix Symphony
. The library had used every type of training we offered: web recordings, computer based training, classes taught over the internet, and onsite. I threw out a softball question to the library director, “Which method of training did your site like the best.” Of course the answer was going to be onsite; everybody loves onsite, or so I thought. The answer? “We thought it was all great.”

The library director then went on to expound on the virtues of what we call the blended learning approach. “The web recordings allowed us (the library staff) to work around our work schedule, and to repeat them as many times as they needed to.” “The internet classes allowed us to ask questions and learn from others taking the classes.” “Onsite enabled us to focus on our workflow with the help of the trainer.” “We thought it was all great.” I carried around a grin on my face for the next two days based of the comments that library director made.

That is our goal as a training team--to provide a blended learning approach with individual options for training. These options can stand on their own, but when pulled or “blended” together, the learning experiences are enhanced.

Ken Bonney
Training Supervisor, Operations

Friday, August 14, 2009

Got Users?

My colleague Jim Wilson enjoyed visits with several customers on the U.S. West Coast this week. Jim’s conversations with customers always reveal “how I done it good at my place” and “if only I could do a little more” topics. This week’s visits were no exception and led to review of a common challenge and some great ways to handle it in our Horizon and Symphony systems.

Usage of library collections constantly expands to encompass a growing array of electronic resources. Some users in the community focus almost exclusively on using databases, e-books and other resources from home, office and campus locations. While this usage typically doesn’t require a traditional check out transaction, it usually does involve some type of authentication. A question posed during Jim’s trip was how to capture this type of usage so that the library system considers users taking advantage of e-resources active and does not attempt to purge them as part of inactive borrower clean up. Libraries using Horizon’s RPA or SIP2 responder for authentication can include consideration of the borrower’s last authentication date in the purge process to avoid removing borrowers who use the library for access to electronic resources. Libraries who upgrade to SirsiDynix Symphony 3.3 can follow a similar process by indicating that SIP2 should update the user’s last activity date.

These simple changes in process provide great benefits for public relations, ensuring that all users can continue to enjoy full access to the library’s collections while the library maintains a steady or growing user base.


VP of Product Development

Monday, August 10, 2009

The World is Getting Smaller

At SirsiDynix we have a global power base of knowledge with offices all over the world. Each office is staffed with employees able to bring a global perspective to your training experience. We are now pooling that global knowledge to provide the best training experience for our customers.

In the coming months it may not be unusual to hear an accent in the voice of your trainer. Because of combining our global resources, we will be able to offer earlier classes for those customers in the Eastern Time Zone or any early risers who may want to have their training completed before breakfast. The earlier times will avoid having the training go through some customers’ lunch hour. (Nothing in training is a bigger distraction than an empty stomach.) Some of the earlier classes will be taught by trainers in our United Kingdom office. So you will be able to wake up to hear Symphony or Horizon taught in the Queen’s English.

For those of you in Europe or the Asia Pacific region, you may occasionally hear the cowboy or southern draw of our North American-based trainers. If you want to know if they work out of the Provo, Utah office, just ask the trainer if they were “barn in a born” or if they ”threw the apple car out the core window.”

No matter the voice of the trainer, our commitment is the same--to guarantee you and your library the best library automation training in the industry. To that I say “cheers, g-day, y’all have a good one, and sure do appreciate yah.”

Ken Bonney
Training Supervisor, Operations

Monday, July 27, 2009

Have a Backup Plan!

When was the last time you thought about your backup practices for your ILS and other critical applications? Recently, I've seen a few restores come our way in SirsiDynix Client Care, so backups are on my mind. There is probably no topic that is more crucial yet more easily overlooked or forgotten over the long haul.

Take a moment to ply your favorite search engine for the terms "restore nightmare" or "restore horror story" or "backup tape failure" and you'll find some harrowing tales.

Back when the earth was young, the rocks were cooling and I was first using computers (ca. 1986), a knowledgeable friend offered these words of wisdom to me.

There are two kinds of computer users: those who have suffered from a hard drive failure and those who have not yet suffered from a hard drive failure.

Of course there are myriad possible catastrophes beyond the mere hard drive crash that can send one running for the backup media... or make you wish you had a backup! These include but certainly are not limited to main board (mother board) failures, power and UPS failures, natural disaster, DBMS problems, OS updates gone awry, and of course the most vexing source of problems, human error!

With that in mind, take a little time to think a few things through:

1. Are you doing both full and incremental backups? If you can manage it, a nightly full backup provides greater security.
2. Are you verifying that everything you think is being written to a backup tape is in fact being written to the tape?
3. Are your ILS backups taking a whole lot longer than they used to? Contact SirsiDynix Client Care to see if old and large obsolete files can be removed, saving you valuable time.
4. How long have your backup tapes been in service? Do you know how often the manufacturer says you should replace your tapes? If they are past their date, you may find yourself unable to read files from those tapes when the need arises!

5. Do you store some of your backups offsite? If not consider it, or at least consider a fireproof and flood-proof safe.

6. How many backups are you keeping? Tapes are not perfectly reliable, which is one reason to keep many generations of full and incremental backups. If something goes wrong you can't restore from the most recent tape, you'll really want to have another on hand – or in a secure offsite facility. Plan to keep at least four to six full system backups on hand, or enough tapes to cover 6 to 8 weeks.

7. How often are you backing up your OS? Your entire application? Your entire database? Could you readily back up more often?

8. Have you thought about a SaaS implantation of Horizon or SirsiDynix Symphony? In a SaaS implementation, you have the confidence that comes with well tested backup and restore procedures created and overseen by SirsiDynix System Engineers.

9. For non-SaaS sites, SirsiDynix offers unattended backup scripts for most platforms. Contact your Inside Sales Representative for a quote.

Until next time,

Mark Witteman
Senior Technical Advisor, Client Care

Monday, July 6, 2009

Study Hall: It's not just for jocks any more.

I have heard it and I have seen it, time and time again in training. As a trainer, I have just gotten through a particularly tough concept and asked the class for questions. One person will always speak what’s on the majorities’ mind and state, “Well, I will understand it more, once I play around with the system."

Well, now you can, in our Study Hall class.

Study Hall is a two-hour class scheduled every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm Eastern. There is no agenda or formalities with Study Hall. Just two hours for staff to practice the things they have learned in training. There is a trainer in each class, but you may never hear them speak. The trainer is there in case a trainee gets stuck, but the trainer will not be conducting any formal training. A trainee may pop in and out of the class, but they do not need to stay the entire time.

We are also working on having e-library available to use in our Study Hall. This means that a site will be able to make changes and try things on e-library and have SirsiDynix clean up the database. We have the above mentioned days and times, but please let us know if there are better times that we could be offering the class.

Study Hall gives librarians and staff an opportunity to “kick the tires” on the Symphony system. We look forward to hearing you in a Study Hall class soon.

Ken Bonney
Training Supervisor, Operations

Monday, June 29, 2009

Regional User’s Meeting

Have you attended a SirsiDynix user’s group meeting in the past? Are you aware of the annual conference and that there are user’s group meetings held regionally throughout the year? If not, you should.

I just returned from SNRG conference (pronounced synergy – not snurg), the SirsiDynix Northeastern Regional Group, which was held at The Pennsylvania State University in State College, PA. This is an annual meeting hosted by different sites throughout the region. Over 120 people attended the conference.

In my humble opinion, we had a great meeting. SirsiDynix presented sessions on various topics including SirsiDynix Symphony 3.3 enhancements, WebReporter, Director’s Station, Enterprise, as well as sessions dedicated to answering questions about other products and services. We at SirsiDynix were pleased to have been invited to participate, but the real meat of this meeting, and that of many of the regional meetings, was the sessions conducted by the users.

The conference planning committee solicits ideas for sessions and presenters. Presenters facilitate sharing sessions based around modules or products – often including demonstrations of practices which were locally developed. These sessions were very helpful to the attendees. There was good discussion regarding how the software is used and configured to allow site-specific objectives to be realized. Attendees could state specific issues with which they were struggling and others could jump in with suggestions and options that work for their site.

I was very impressed with the cooperative nature of these attendees. Everyone wanted to learn and share and it appeared that all would walk away with a better understanding of the potential use of their respective systems.

My thanks to the wonderful team at Penn State for their hard work in organizing and running this conference. Ann Snowman and Dace Freivalds from the hosting Penn State libraries, and the rest of the SNRG 2009 Conference Committee, are to be commended. The conference ran flawlessly. They went above and beyond and arranged a conference dinner on Monday evening, topped off with ice cream from the renowned Penn State Creamery, and the tightly knit harmonies of the Nittany Knights Barbershop Chorus.

SirsiDynix has a wonderful community of users. All of whom endeavor to provide the best service to the users of their libraries. It is wonderfully refreshing to see conference attendees serve one another with ideas and helpful tips and pointers. I was pleased to be among them.

The next time you see information about a user’s group meeting – do your best to attend. You will learn something, I will guarantee, and even more importantly – you might just help a fellow colleague.

For additional information on SirsiDynix user groups and conference schedules, visit or

Terry Jarnagin
VP of Client Care

Friday, June 12, 2009

SaaS Ensures a Healthy Outlook for Your Library

Recently, I strained my back and had to undergo a procedure to repair a herniated disk. During the recovery, I realized how difficult it is to perform at a basic physical level when part of my body is not operating at full capacity. With each new injury, you start to understand how important the individual parts are to your overall well-being. The back, particularly the spine and spinal cord, lie at the heart of the central nervous system, and is vital to ensuring everything in the body operates efficiently. When it goes out, everything else seems to suffer.

Just like the spine, software has now become central to the operation of any business, especially libraries. When we lose functionality, or don’t have the funding to upgrade, our processes slowly start to deteriorate—limping along until they finally give up and come to a complete stop.

Libraries are constantly challenged in their business today. Challenged to stay up-to-date with technology, manage staff training, retain highly qualified technical staff, manage vendor and sub-contractor relationships, manage their core systems, deal with upgrades and feature releases, and purchase, implement, and maintain evermore complex systems. All under budget restrictions that would strain any seasoned MBA.

SirsiDynix has a solution to relieve these strains and meet these challenges… We call it SirsiDynix SaaS, a comprehensive software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that provides end-to-end managed care for all types and sizes of libraries.

In a completely hosted environment, SirsiDynix SaaS provides cost-conscious libraries and consortia with top-tier features and functions that address all library needs --- circulation, cataloging, serials, acquisitions, OPAC, federated search, digital collection management, and virtually all other capabilities provided by today’s leading library software. And all these systems are provided via SirsiDynix world-class hosting and server management systems.

In the same way our back and spine serve as the core of our bodies, SaaS provides a powerful channel for the central nervous system of the library to quickly deploy services and tools to staff and patrons.

In the coming months, I will continue to contribute to the “At Your Service” Blog to explain how SaaS can help ensure your library systems maintain a healthy outlook.

Stay tuned…

Brett Hall
Director, Managed Client Services

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Trainer's Digest"

Seeing how this is my first attempt to blog, I feel a little like Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame. As he often begins, “Have you ever wondered why…” Yes I have wondered why. Why it that people think an on-site trainer is the best means of training. We often get requests for live trainers. Someday I will get up the gumption to ask if the request for a live trainer is because the “pre-recorded” trainers we have been sending are not doing their jobs.

Are there hopes from a training site that a “live” trainer will give out the extra soap and shampoo that they have from their hotel room? Or, is it that the “live” trainer has minty fresh breath?

More often than not it is because a site wants the security of a one-on-one training experience, complete with a trainer sitting beside them watching as they complete exercises on the system. Well, we know have that one-on-one training experience through the new Hands on Lab (HOL)…

The HOL allows a SirsiDynix trainer, from a remote office, to give each training participant their very own virtual training database for a given class. The trainee is able to then receive valuable hands on experience on various modules as though they were in an onsite class with a “live” trainer. SirsiDynix trainers are then able to observe each person working through exercises on two large monitors we affectionate call “Brady Bunch Screens” (Think of the opening credits of the TV show and you will get the picture--pun intended) If the trainee runs into trouble the trainer, can watch his or her workflows on these screens and help them out. The trainer can even steer the trainee away from potential mistakes. Customer feedback has been fantastic. Right now the circulation, cataloging, and reports classes are taught in the hands on lab, with more classes coming. To find out when these classes are taught go out to and type in hands on lab in the search window.

For all intents and purposes, HOL classes are like having a “live” trainer is sitting right by you; minus the “minty fresh breath” or lack thereof.

Ken Bonney
Training Supervisor, Operations

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Reference Interview

In my first term of library school, I took a mandatory class entitled "Introduction to Information Services". We spent a great deal of time discussing that familiar and vital topic: The Reference Interview. We learned there was a true craft to determining a person's specific information needs, which may in fact be quite different from the question initially posed.

At the time, I was planning a career in which I would conduct reference interviews at a library reference desk. It amazes and delights me that I now find myself with over 15 years experience conducting reference interviews in which the enquirers are librarians and library technology experts!

Take an example from a Client Care case about a year ago. A school librarian called up asking rather technical questions about how zip codes are stored in a SirsiDynix Symphony system. Is it stored as short integer, long integer, or a string? Was is different for countries that used alpha-numeric postal codes (e.g., Canada) as opposed to all numbers (as in the USA)? If so, what role might the system's locale play in it?

After a back-and-forth discussion (reference interview), we realized that he was trying to understand why he wasn't seeing zip codes in their Address2 data. And it turned out to have dual causes: mistakes in the data provided by their district in the patron load data, and a change he'd made to the User Address2 format policy. The answers to the initial questions did not end up figuring into his actual information need.

Whether you're talking with Client Care, Product Management, or Implementation, you may hear similar questions during the "reference interview" to begin exploring the problem. In case you want to know in advance, the following are some of the details they may ask you. (They're also great questions to ask staff at your organization when they come to you for troubleshooting on any software product.)

  • What are the basic facts? In Client Care, this typically means product version, patch cluster, server OS and database type (ISAM, Oracle, MSsql, Sybase). Are we talking about an issue affecting all logins or some? All libraries or some? Is the problem in both the OPAC and the staff client?

  • What is the severity? Is this problem critical to the day-to-day operations of the library? Does the problem affect many users or few users? Is there a deadline for completion of a project?

  • What are you trying to accomplish? This seems like an obvious question, but if skipped, misunderstandings could occur. Often, just clarifying the inquiry will get you halfway to the answer.

  • Precisely what steps are you using? It's easy to assume that we all take the exact same route to create an item, place a hold, run a report, etc. But we all know what happens when we ASSUME, right?

  • What happens when you try? This is my personal favorite, and I probably ask one of my colleagues this question every day. Pertinent questions might include: Is there an error message? What outcome did you expect and what outcome did you get?

Bearing these details in mind will help anyone better deal with almost any service professional, be it a library technology vendor, car mechanic or physician! We hope it helps you get to root of problems quickly and effectively.

Until next time,

Mark Witteman
Senior Technical Advisor, Client Care

Friday, May 8, 2009

Welcome to SirsiDynix At Your Service

Welcome to the new “At Your Service” blog here at SirsiDynix. We are excited to discuss with you new service initiatives, new training methods, client care helps and more. We think this blog can help us work together even better and also give you access to ideas and thoughts from people with many years in the library automation field.

Let us take a journey together, and learn about best practices in library management, training your staff, how best to use client care, and more. We are excited to get started! I hope you are too and find much useful information in the forthcoming posts.

Please be sure to drop us a note and let us know what topics are of great interest to you, and we’ll try to cover your pressing questions along with giving helpful hints to achieve success in your use of library automation products.

See you soon,
Matt Hawkins
COO, SirsiDynix