Customer Insights

Success in the Cloud: A TLC Customer Interview

“You know, obviously, this is going to be more difficult,” begins Matthew Mattson at the start of his interview with Jamison Reynolds (Director of Marketing) and Rhia Stark (Digital Engagement Manager) of The Library Corporation (TLC). “Because I’ve been on CARL a lot longer than I’ve been on the Oracle platform,” he finishes with a laugh.

As a long-standing user of the CARLX integrated library system, and with responsibility over Web Technologies at Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), Matthew is used to being a reference for the CARL ILS but has only been in a hosted environment since February 2020.

The three have gathered remotely to discuss LAPL’s transition from an on-premise environment to hosting through TLCCloud Services, powered by Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI). Matthew shares how the library planned for this momentous move, how to expect the unexpected, and what other libraries can gain from life in the cloud.

Some content has been edited for clarity and consistency.

Moving 27+ Years of Data Into the Cloud


Los Angeles Public Library has been a CARL customer since 1993, with local servers out of the Central Library that entire time. Tell us about the plan to switch to a hosted environment.


We’d always been on-premises, and we were scheduled to go hosted in the Fall to the previous host.


You were prepared to make this move into TLC’s previous hosted environment before we selected to move forward with OCI. What happened next?


We postponed. We understood the reasoning and the logic was sound, but we didn’t want to be the first due to our size. So we waited until Somerset moved to Oracle. When TLC had that one completed, then we went next.


After the delay and the pivot toward OCI, how did the implementation go? What was your overall perception of the process?


In all honesty, we had a little bit of an advantage of having been stopped late in the previous move, that we had a lot of our checklist already completed. Now granted, we had to go back and redo things with new addresses and stuff, but it was almost like we had a trial run of almost moving to the other one. So we kind of had to restart the process, but the advantage of it was that we’d already thought of most of the things that we needed to do and so we were very confident in our checklist of moving to the Oracle platform because all the things that we were thinking about previously, they were already on our list.


What were some of the items on your checklist?


Our biggest thing was all twenty-seven years’ worth of stuff that we’ve put in that we suddenly had to start thinking about again. We have Ad Hoc Reports that aren’t just talking to the quote unquote “CARL database.” They’re talking to a bunch of different stuff. And vendors! All the vendors who either run our client or SIP2.

Most of our checklist was not: does it checkout a book?. I mean, that was very quickly: Yup — the CARL client works as we expect. Moving on now. What about these literally eighty-seven different Ad Hoc Reports we’re running that are talking to a bunch of different stuff? Do we even know where all of them are running these days? And all the scripts we have to change?

So we had to think about everything that we’ve ever set up in twenty-seven years that was used to talking to ourselves that now had to talk to someplace else. That was really what was most of our time was just trying to make sure that we thought of all that stuff.


If we could zoom out for a second, let’s put this into a percentage chart. If you’re thinking about the active time that went into the OCI migration, what percent of that was re-thinking about processes that had to happen? What percent of that was testing? And what percent of that was smooth sailing after go-live?


In planning, I would say 80% of it was trying to think of all of these things: Who do we have to talk to, what needs to be changed, who has to know the new address, who has to talk through the VPN tunnel, and who can go public. That was a new thing for us: the fact that there was a public and a private address, and that you had to know who you wanted to route through the tunnel versus what could go through the public.

In terms of planning, that was absolutely the biggest chunk. If you do that part right, once you move, it’s all good.

Quite honestly, we didn’t really concern ourselves with the functionality testing in that way. Maybe we should have more, but in general as long as your connection’s there, it’s going to work. CARL didn’t suddenly switch how it works; it’s just talking to a different endpoint.

The rest was more, What does the staff need to know?

View from the Cloud


Can you compare the performance of CARLX while locally hosted to the performance after the implementation and after some of the configurations were finalized?


We haven’t noticed any problems, any issues. If the staff members didn’t know we moved, I don’t think any of them would tell you that anything changed in terms of the Client performance. If you’re at a Circ desk, there is absolutely no difference from when they were talking to Central Library versus when they’re talking to wherever the hosted facility is.

And part of that is because we actually reduced the amount of traffic on our own network. All the public that’s accessing the catalog and the SIP2 clients and everything, that’s not going through us anymore. That’s going directly to the hosted facility.

As big as we are, any traffic that’s not on our network is good! Because we’re always running at capacity on our network, anything that we could offload like that was great. Now obviously all the staff communication is still going through the VPN and that’s going through our firewall. But I got two hundred people at a time on my catalog in peak hours, and they’re not using my network anymore!

The other thing that the hosted facility does for us is that not only does it make maintenance easier in the terms that we don’t have to be a part of it (it used to be that someone had to be on-call in case they needed physical access), but it has speeded up. When we do our quarterly updates, just the fact that the hosted facility has so much bigger pipe and bigger servers, we’ve gone from being down for like six hours for the updates to less than two.

There is no time during a twenty four hour, seven day, three-hundred-sixty-five days a year that someone isn’t using our system. So obviously the less down time we have, the better. For a place like us, that’s important because every time we’re down, we hear about it.


How has your staff adapted to the hosted environment?


TLC was primarily responsible for the servers themselves in terms of doing the quarterly updates and stuff, but the servers were here and that does entail staff time. If there was a problem, first of all, we had to determine: Is it us? Is it our network? What’s going on? And then even if it was the server: Is it something that we can do locally?

Obviously there is a tremendous amount of staff time that isn’t concerned anymore with the CARL system. And it’s not that they’re now sitting around twiddling their thumbs because, believe me, they have plenty of other stuff that’s requiring their attention.We run probably a good twenty-five dedicated servers that are doing various things.

So the fact that we don’t have eight more of them to worry about is a good thing.


Can you quantify the amount of staff time saved in hours per week?


I don’t know that I could because it wasn’t a consistent thing. We might go weeks that we don’t really have anything, but then we might have staff have to devote a significant amount of time to working with CARL to do whatever. So it’s very hard to quantify that but even if I can’t put a number on it, it is just one thing we don’t have to think about anymore. We don’t have to worry about it.

Only thing that we have to maintain is that VPN tunnel and basically once we got it right, there’s no maintenance involved in that. It’s just there. It’s not like a server or anything; it’s just a configuration on the firewall. It doesn’t change. You don’t have to do anything to it. You don’t have to update it. You don’t have to babysit it. It’s just there.

We just don’t have any staff time, in that kind of a sense, making sure that people can get to the CARL system.

Advice for Other Libraries


What advice can you share for other libraries considering moving to a hosted environment?


Do a complete inventory of your processes.

Because, like I said, it’s just so easy to forget about something that’s just been sitting there doing stuff for ten years. It’s not enough just to say, “Oh well, it’s the CARL system. Here’s all of the stuff that’s the CARL system.” Because I guarantee you, if you’re a library that’s been running it for a significant amount of time, you’ve got stuff that you’ve forgotten about that is touching the CARL system in some way. Whether it’s Reports, whether it is a vendor, whether it is how you’re doing authentication for some of your databases.

You’ve got something out there that just is not on your day-to-day radar, and so you really do need to do a complete, thorough inventory of your system to see what all really is touching your ILS system. Because it’s more than you think it is. Like I said, if you do that part right, once you move, it’s all good.

It just becomes so much less of a concern on your part because everything is now in OCI’s hands. This is what they do. They’re better at security than you are. They’re better at uptime than you are. Just because that’s their business. As good as any library is in its IT department, they’re not going to compete with a professional hosting service for all of those intangibles and all of those tangibles.

That’s something that you just are freed from. And as long as you get it right in the planning, once you make the move, things become very easy.

 

For more information, visit TLCdelivers.com/TLC-cloud-services

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The Might of Oracle: A TLC Customer Interview

“Putting on the pressure!” jokes Lynn Hoffman, Director of Operations at the Somerset County Library System of New Jersey (SCLSNJ) as Digital Engagement Manager for The Library Corporation (TLC), Rhia Stark, presses record on the virtual meeting platform. Lynn reports from her bedroom-turned-office in New Jersey, Rhia reports off-camera from her home-office in Colorado, and they are joined by TLC’s Director of Marketing Strategy, Jamison Reynolds, from his dining-room-office in West Virginia because his deck-office was being rained on.

It’s the middle of July 2020, and the three have gathered remotely for an interview in the time of COVID-19. Six months prior, the library had the distinction of being TLC’s first hosted library on the newly re-envisioned TLCCloud Services hosting platform, powered by Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI).

As the first TLC customer to migrate onto the OCI platform, Lynn Hoffman discusses the benefits of switching from an on-premise solution, how the support of the CARLX integrated library system team made a difference in migration, and what libraries can expect if they make the transition to TLCCloud Services.

Some content has been edited for clarity and consistency.

Where SCLSNJ Likes To Be


Let’s start first with your history in libraries and how you have come to be so well-versed in both the administrative and the technical aspects of this project.


I’m a librarian by trade and everything I know about technology has been learned on the job. I love technology though. I started my career as a children’s librarian, but I was tinkering around with the children’s department website back in 1996. So, I’ve had a long history of using technology and kind of exploiting it for the things it can do. And in my current role it very specifically falls under my umbrella.

We’ve gone through a lot of change in the five years that I’ve been at Somerset County, and a lot of that has been a learning process for everybody. And I am a big nerd, so I loved learning new things. I love having a question of like, “I wonder if this can do this…” and then seeing if it can do that — finding documentation, or digging stuff up online, or whatever the case may be.

And I think as a whole, that’s the approach that our technology staff tend to take. I would put our tech team toe-to-toe with IT professionals in a heartbeat.


Somerset County Library System was the first TLC customer to migrate onto the new TLCCloud Services platform. Can you talk to us about the timeline of the project?

This year’s TLCU will be virtual – check it out at LSCommunity or CARLCommunity


We heard about TLC’s desire to move everything over to OCI at TLCU [TLC’s annual user conference] in October 2019. I sat in on Justin Duewel-Zahniser’s [Chief Technology Officer] session about tech updates and he spelled that out. Don West [Director of Operations, TLC Denver] reached out to me probably a couple weeks later and said, “You know we’re moving forward, do you want to go?” And I of course said, “Sure, we’ll do anything!” From there it really turned around pretty quickly. We made the transition mid-January.


What was that like?


We were the first of CARL customers to move and so there were some growing pains, but that’s kind of par for the course. And that’s actually where Somerset County Library really likes to live: “We’ll try it. We’ll try anything!”

I think from our perspective, one of the reasons that we, as an institution, like being a guinea pig is because we a) like playing with new things and figuring things out but also b) if what we are able to find out as part of that process helps build kind of a structure for that transition for other libraries, we’re happy to contribute to that from a greater good kind of perspective. So, I know that lessons were learned from the process of our migration that absolutely will have come into play down the road as other customers have migrated


That’s a great perspective, and we do very much appreciate that philosophy. I’m sure many of our customers appreciate that you can share what you’ve learned.

Migrating from On-Premise to Hosted


So let’s back up a moment. SCLSNJ migrated to TLC’s CARLX integrated library system about two and a half years ago from a locally hosted, on-premise solution, right?


Yes, that was on-premise. We made the decision to go hosted as part of our migration; that was one of the requirements of the successful solution. And I say this often about our migration process: it was project-managed like nobody’s business. It was extremely successful and smooth, and a lot of it comes down to the project management on the TLC end.


Thank you! How did you feel about moving to a hosted environment?


The entire concept of having a hosted ILS makes me very happy. I do not enjoy being in the business of the care and feeding of servers, so having gone live with CARL two and a half years ago as a hosted system was awesome.


Prior to implementing CARL, who on your staff was responsible for maintaining the server?


So that would be Wendy Clarkson, she’s our Automation Manager. She is, for all intents and purposes, our official sysadmin for CARL; although there’s a team of us who really contribute to that. But she’s been in the ILS sysadmin business for, I want to say, twenty five years. That’s been her career.


From your perspective, how has her role evolved in the library, having gone from maintaining a server to a hosted platform? How has her work-life changed?


Moving from an on-premise to a hosted solution, it made really a very big difference.

I know that in the back of Wendy’s mind all of the time was, “Is our server ok?” We had it in our server room; the room has a UPS [Universal Power Supply] and all that kind of good stuff, but there’s always that sort of nagging feeling.

Like if there was randomly a leak in the ceiling because of air conditioning condensing problems, then our server may have been at risk. Or if someone was fiddling in there who shouldn’t be and unplugged something — because we had other vendors coming in and doing stuff with our equipment with other things that plug into it — that’s something she didn’t necessarily always have control over.

So just from a peace of mind standpoint, I think it’s huge for her. That’s a big thing that kind of took up more mental space than I think she might have realized until it was taken off her plate and wasn’t there anymore.


That sounds like a lot of anxiety.


Yeah. Well, I don’t think it was ever really like active anxiety. I think three years ago she wouldn’t have said, “You know, I love my job but I’m really anxious about maintaining an ILS server.” After we moved to a hosted solution, she’s like, “Oh! That’s a big thing I don’t have to think about any more.” 

Editor’s Note: During the review process, Wendy shared, “You’re totally right, it’s just a weight I don’t have to carry anymore and that’s been great!”


What does that look like for her now?


Things like backups and OS updates on the server all used to have to be carefully timed and scheduled by our sysadmin. Knowing that’s happening out there somewhere that we don’t have to worry about, and that TLC’s taking care of all of the scheduling and making sure that we’re up-to-date on OS means that those tasks are now off our sysadmin’s lap, and that’s really huge.

And one of the things that that’s done is it’s freed up some time for her and she has been boning up on her SQL skills. So instead of spending that time on a server that didn’t necessarily add much in terms of value to patrons or to staff — like, they don’t care — instead she’s been able to do some poking around in ad hoc [CARL Ad Hoc Reports] and come up with things that actually do have a useful basis.

It’s a skillset that she didn’t have before, and I know she was a little anxious coming into it, but she’s getting pretty good with SQL.


Can you quantify that? How many hours a week were freed up?


I’m going to say, probably as much as two or three hours a week, which isn’t a ton. But when it’s suddenly empty, you can do something with that amount of time.

From Host to Host


So you originally migrated to a hosted platform as part of your ILS migration to TLC. Can you talk to us more about what the migration process was like going from one hosted platform to another?


Moving to a new host is a more straight-forward procedure than if you’re on-premise and moving to hosted. We did have some technical details to work out and part of that is just a function of making that shift.

Our state library is heavily involved in providing our connectivity, and so they were very helpful in making sure that all of the third party connections worked correctly. But there were a couple of things there where it took some tinkering and poking at settings and stuff to figure out why the connection wasn’t working in the way we expected it to right up front. It was great: the network team in the CARL office was happy to talk directly with the JerseyConnect team, so I know they put their heads together and solved a lot of those problems really, really quickly.

When we did go live, really we didn’t have any issues to speak of. We decided to sort of NAT some of our third parties’ stuff through our existing VPN tunnel, and then migrate them slowly sort of after-the-fact. And that seemed to work out really well. We didn’t cut everybody off and say, “Ok, everything has to work going through this new IP immediately,” which I think was a big help.

The data transition was fine. We didn’t see any issues with that at all. And then there were a few things on our end just in implementation that we overlooked because we’d never done this before. Like we have a bunch of internally built scripts that make fancy things happen for staff. And a couple of them broke and —  oh yeah, no doubt — it’s because we have to change the way that we are hitting the Ad Hoc server in that script.

We were all in brand new territory. I fully expected that there would be things like that, so it didn’t come as any particular surprise to me and it certainly didn’t provoke any anxiety on my part. It was just, “Ok these are the things that happened, so we’ll figure them out, and everything will be fine.” Once we got it working though, everything’s great. It’s humming along like nothing.


That’s excellent news!


I will say, I have a tremendous amount of confidence in the expertise in the CARL office. You know, if something didn’t work with our first attempt to solve a problem, I had no worries at all about whether TLC would keep digging at it until we figured out what the solution would be. They were fantastic!

And knowing that the mighty weight of Oracle is behind our hosted site makes me feel extremely confident in the uptime and security of the system. Having the might of Oracle behind this whole solution gives it a lot of credibility in terms of being able to scale as needed, being able to redirect traffic as needed from one data location to another, and in terms of uptime and delivering on those promises.

Advice for Other Libraries


You’ve shared that SCLSNJ is keen on trying new things, and everything you just said is from your library’s experience. What do you think could be a hesitancy for other libraries going hosted?


I’m sure that some of it is about control. That you always know what’s happening if your server is in your server closet. It may be nothing happening or it may be something bad happening, but you always know what’s happening. You have that control over it. And I think that’s part of it.

I also think latency is another potential issue. That data traffic is inherently going to be faster on a local area network than it is coming across a VPN or somewhere else outside of the world.


Is that perception? Or is that reality?


It’s perception. I would say it’s perception, for sure. That may have been an issue five or ten years ago, but we’re not seeing it. We’re not hearing it from staff that, “This takes too long. I have to wait forever for x to happen.” It’s just not happening.


What would you tell libraries that are thinking about migrating?


From the perspective of migrating from an on-premise solution to hosting through OCI, just do it. Don’t wait. I think it will be amazing how much kind of hidden time you spend on server-related stuff that you don’t realize you’re spending that time on until all of a sudden it goes away. There’s no downside in my opinion to making the switch to hosted. And there are lots and lots of benefits.

 

 

For more information, visit TLCdelivers.com/TLC-cloud-services

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Things they did not prepare me for in Graduate School

Things they did not prepare me for in Graduate School
Megan Fisher, Bee Cave Public Library

  1. The intricacies of trying to build a walk through Sneetch-bot from scratch.
  2. How much I would overuse 586 field (it’s my favorite) or how many times I would yell at my computer screen because I totally fixed the problem in the record and why won’t it just save already.
  3. How to deal with a global pandemic.

I’m writing this blog from a makeshift standing desk. It’s made up of a cafe table, a small decorative trunk and a bunch of halloween light boxes. My at home coworkers keep trying to attack the images of glow in the dark spiders and won’t stop laying on my keyboard demanding attention. They are also fluffy, have tails and have no useful opinions with regards to how to increase digital literacy.

I’m one of the lucky ones: my director and city manager have been more than accommodating in making sure we can all work from home; I have fast wifi at my current location; and I was able to outfit my personal laptop with everything i needed make sure I could function during the duration of the shelter at home policy.

My job as a cataloguer should make working from home nearly impossible. I have several colleagues from around the country lamenting about how they don’t have a viable way to work from home right now, due to the nature of their ILS system and the need to have the books physically on hand. But like most of you out there, my job has many hats, some of those hats are amazingly suitable for working from home and can be worn with fuzzy slippers.

I’m taking frantic calls from patrons that have never used our OverDrive system before but need to find books to distract them or their family because they already read all 20 books they checked out before we closed.

I’m working on collection development, despite not knowing when the items I am listing will go on the shelves. This also seemed like the perfect time to really dig into the LibrarySolution cataloging system and prepare for migration. If I mess up now, there will be plenty of time to fix things. There are all kinds of continuing education classes in Excel that I am moving off my “to-do” list. Ya’ll, I can do very fancy spreadsheets now.

After trying to coax my coworkers into using Teams for the past year, now finally seems like the right time to really start to use the program. I’m thrilled mostly because now I can send them endless gifs of Fiona the Hippo… but also so we can hold conference calls and I can teach everyone what I am learning about the new TLC system even though we aren’t face to face.

During these online meetings with coworkers, these calls with patrons, and the messages sent back and forth with the TLC team as we work towards migration, I’ve noticed something…. no one wants to stop the conversation. We want to talk to someone because we’re all feeling the strain of not being able to go anywhere or see other people outside of our bubble. We want to know how other people are doing, WHAT they are doing. No one knows how long this will last, or what’s going to change day by day. It’s fair to say it’s a bit scary out there right now.

Asking someone “Are you OK?” at the start of a call and ending it with “Stay safe” are the new Hello and Goodbye. Asking if someone’s local store has restocked on toilet paper and pepperoni is the new “do you need anything else?”.

I don’t think anyone was prepared in grad school for the day when we would have to debate how we protect our staff and the public and still serve them all. No one could have the foresight to stop in the middle of a lecture on the organization of information and say “by the way, if all the libraries have to close because of a pandemic here is the universal list of do’s and don’ts”. After all of this is over, I’m not even sure we could compile  that list. There is no one-size-fits-all. There is no RDA manual to tell us where to put the comma and how long to stay closed.

So for now we muddle through and do what we can. We hope that the powers that be remember how bleak things were without us when it comes to next year’s funding. We binge watch continuing education videos so we can come back with a new skill (sorry, I don’t think binge watching “the walking dead” counts as continuing education…yet.). We contact coworkers and friends to check on them. And in return our nonliterary related friends probably ask us how the heck they can access digital items and send us that picture of the library cake (you know the one). We carry on as best we can, like we did that one time we got a shipment where all our preprocessed books came in with the wrong spine labels. We got through that catastrophe and we can get through this pandemic.

This is our current normal. And we are prepared to adapt as best we can. We may not have a manual for how exactly to get through this, but we will because just like how we build entire candy lands out of cardboard, or how we can plan programs based on whatever we have on hand, we can duct tape this thing together from our living rooms.

So maybe Grad School did prepare me for this in some ways.

  1. It taught me to be flexible, because things don’t always work out the way you intended and unexpected obstacles are just part of the job.
  2. It taught me that sometimes you have to take what you have and figure out how to make it work.
  3. It helped me develop a “I don’t know that now, but I will figure it out”

But seriously, if anyone knows of where I can get some pepperoni, let me know because my store is empty and my at-home co-workers are totally unsympathetic.

Megan Fisher
Bee Cave Public Library
Bee Cave, TX

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Removing late fees and fines (NPL)

 

Kent Oliver is the Director of the Nashville Public Library (NPL). NPL has been using TLC’s CARLX since July 2017. They have recently implemented the automated renewal of library materials to further enhance their community’s user experience.


In the 1980s, I joined the Daniel Boone Regional Library (DBRL) in Columbia, Missouri, and was literally amazed that DBRL did not charge overdue fines.  In a major college town (home of the University of Missouri), this was a revelation.  At the time, this was far from standard public library practice, with only a handful of public libraries embracing this approach.  DBRL had concluded that charging fines did not improve the return rate of borrowed materials.

Jump forward to the last five years, during which more and more public libraries have moved in this direction, especially in major urban areas.  Rather than only focusing on rates of overdue material returns, libraries are grasping that fines are a barrier to service in our society.  Since July 5, 2017, Nashville Public Library (NPL) patrons have been able to borrow books, movies, and music without accruing overdue fines. This timing coordinated with our migration to TLC’s CARLX integrated library system. Prior to NPL going fine free, if patrons owed $20 or more in overdue fines, use of their library cards would “freeze.”  That is no longer an issue.  What’s more, NPL erased overdue fines patrons owed prior to this time.

Accessibility for everyone in our community is a core value for NPL.  This change has increased patrons’ access to the two million-plus books and other materials they can borrow with their free library cards without increased issues related to filling material holds.  Additionally, revenues from overdue fines–which were not a library revenue generator– were on the downturn and would have continued to decrease, in large part because of the rise in usage of e-materials that automatically “return themselves”.  Any potential future revenues from overdue fines would not have outweighed our commitment to accessibility.  The Library does still charge fees for lost, missing, or damaged items.

Certainly libraries that rely on fines for a significant portion of their budgets, or are in a budget reduction mode, may find a loss of fine revenue challenging.  Fortunately, NPL was able to make this change with the support of NPL’s Board, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County’s Metro Council, and Mayor Megan Barry.  They recognized the access issue, as well as the fact that the $159,000 in overdue fines represented a mere 0.02% of Metro’s $1 billion budget.

While tracking the outcomes of this change is more of a challenge, anecdotally, we know patrons love it.  In the future, we hope to plot library card holders throughout the county to determine if our usage penetration in neighborhoods is on the rise.  As a result of NPL going fine free, more Nashvillians benefit from our services and improve their lives as NPL inspires reading, advances learning, and connects our community.

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