Everything is, indeed, impermanent.

The ambiance of libraries has remained the same for many years, but mechanisms by which visitors conduct research have been replaced. Card catalogs are no longer relevant. And once-impressive electronic systems are antiquated. To stay on the forefront of technology, pioneering libraries are looking to the example of Google and Amazon.

In Idaho, the Boise Public Library has had an electronic catalog since 1975. In June, however, it switched from a traditional online system, which required specialized knowledge and advanced search skills, to “smart” search options similar to conducting a Google search.

“Our customers have told us for some time that they wanted a more intuitive interface,” said Chrisanne Brown, Boise Public Library’s Acquisitions & Technical Services Manager. “Unfortunately the products that have been available were missing key features, so library staff had been researching options.”

In 2011, Boise Public Library, which consists of a main library and three branches, began testing new cataloguing systems. By mid-2012, the essential features were in place, and a version was presented to customers as an alternative way to access the catalog.

Garry Beaty, Boise’s CIO, who has served the city for seven years, said that the city has invested many years tackling baseline issues. Now that the foundation is strong, the focus is the customer.

The goals of Boise Public Library’s new Enterprise Discover System, which was funded by a consortium of more than 15 Idaho libraries, are to create a positive customer experience, retain key features and options from the traditional catalog product, and to integrate the new version with a new website.

The Enterprise system offers a user-friendly experience and additional features. Library visitors can now access:

  • Smart searching: As search terms are typed into the search box, fuzzy logic provides auto-complete, corrects misspellings and offers dynamic search suggestions based on past successful searches for the same keywords.  
  • Precise results: The user can narrow a search by selecting options for author, format, publication date, availability or holding library, and can also deselect options of no interest. 
  • Increased options: Users can multi-select titles for placing several holds at once or add a group of items to a list, and text or email results. 

These features are available to the more than 4,500 visitors that Boise Public Library serves each day.

“We view this as a service enhancement, an investment in customer satisfaction and loyalty, and a necessary cost of staying technologically relevant,” Brown said. “The implementation also provides a foundation to better support our customers’ access to both physical and digital media in the future.”

Other libraries have followed the same course, such as New Jersey’s Mount Laurel Library. The library’s website provides visitors with the option to conduct searches with the new system or continuing to navigate with the traditional catalog.

In Boise, website users have the same choice. Eventually, the library will discontinue access to the old system, where customers have their "wish list"  — books they both like and want to check out next, for example. For a customer's wish list to be available on the new system, they must migrate titles over.

Such enhancements are part of the city’s response to automate and simplify transactions between government and the public.

“One of our focuses this next year is a government view of what we can do for citizens,” Beaty said. “How do citizens want us to respond to them so they can access our services easily?”

That is a question — whether the topic is libraries, utilities or education — that calls for public attention. As it turns out, the city of Boise is responding to numerous citizen needs via technology. Check back in the coming weeks for additional information about leading efforts taking place in Boise.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Jessica Renee Napier  |  Contributing Writer

Jessica Renee Napier is a California-based writer who began her journalism career in public broadcasting. She teaches yoga, enjoys traveling and likes to stay up on all things tech.