Matthew Reidsma

Work Notes

Updates from the GVSU Libraries’ Web Team.
Archive // Subscribe: EmailRSS

The Tale of the loathed Recall Button in the OPAC

This is an important update - please read it, especially if you work the desk or virtual services. Please also share with student employees who work with patrons.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about why the Recall button is back in the catalog. There have been several updates within Yammer over the past month explaining the changes to MeLCat and the catalog, but moving forward Patrick will make sure these updates are included in the Dean’s Updates.

Here is the Recall Button everyone is talking about. Wait, how did this little fella get back in the catalog??

The old recall button

First, you should know that recalling a book is the DEFAULT behavior of every online catalog everywhere. That doesn’t mean people like it, that is just how the software is built.

MeLCat was temporarily suspended at GVSU on February 1st as part of our software upgrade to FOLIO. FOLIO will replace Sierra, as you know, and that means that the Library Catalog As We Know It will go away this summer. There will be one search interface to Rule Them All, and that will be EDS. Requests, loans, renewals, etc. all will happen in EDS/FOLIO.

EDS and FOLIO are not as customizable as Sierra was. So, in the past, I was able to switch the recall button to a button to get a book from MeLCat. That was not something that any other library using Sierra did - it was code I wrote. Yay! Everyone loved it. However, MeLCat is taking a break! Boo! Now the button cannot go to MeLCat. Where should the button go?? Document Delivery (which costs a lot of staff time and money) or recalls? (Which costs a lot of patron civility and some staff time)?

This was a very tough decision as neither option is a good one. When the deadline came to shut off MeLCat, we had to make a decision, but we could always change it down the line. While folks looked at staff workload, budgets, etc., we reintroduced the Recall button.

After a bumpy start to recalls, it was decided to switch to Document Delivery. However, writing code takes a little time. Friday afternoon I got the code working to send Document Delivery requests from the catalog, but I decided to wait to push it live until this morning. I did not want to break something over the weekend. So, as of the morning, the recall button is gone from the catalog, and has been replaced by the Request from Another Library button! Yay! This button takes folks to a Document Delivery request form for the book they were looking at. I highly recommend you try this in the catalog so you can understand what it is like.

Here is what it looks like now:

The new document delivery button

Now, as we understand it, FOLIO/EDS will not allow us to make this kind of customization. So in the summer when FOLIO goes live, it’s quite likely we’ll be right back to the recall button.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Sierra's My Lists Retirement Annoucement

It’s hard to believe, but we’ll be moving to a new discovery system in 3 short months. Once we switch from Summon to EDS, we will continue to have Sierra as our OPAC until Summer of 2021. Clicks on book records in EDS will take users to Sierra until we complete the switchover to FOLIO in the summer. (Something has to move the crane, right?)

However, when we switch to EDS we will be moving all of our search links to EDS, rather than sending users to Sierra for “Find Books,” “Find Journals,” etc. In anticipation of this change, we also will be disabling the “My Lists” feature in Sierra on December 18th. EDS has an account-based saved records system that is much more functional than Sierra’s My Lists, and we’d rather not introduce confusion among our users with multiple different “My list” features.

Today I launched a help entry that will walk users through exporting their lists to import into Zotero. It’s a little convoluted, but that’s what we get for letting people store records in a OPAC that hasn’t been redesigned since 2004. We don’t support RefWorks, EndNote, or other citation managers, and I don’t have time to keep updating the help entry, so I chose the only free and open source citation manager. In addition, Barbara and others have great information on Zotero in LibGuides, so users can get the most out of the tools.

Banner alerting users that the My Lists feature will be disabled on December 18th

In addition to the help entry, the My Lists page now displays a banner letting users know that the feature will be going away on December 18th. It also links to the help entry.

In the next few weeks, a message will also be added to the page when items are being actively added to lists. There are a little harder to target, so they will take a little longer.

Patrick got in touch with Sierra, and there are currently 1400 lists by users who have active accounts. I’m also tracking the usage of the “Add to Lists” feature to see how often this is getting used. If you know of a faculty member or student who uses the My Lists, feel free to reach out to them to let them know that the feature will be going away in December, to be replaced with something better.

If you have content in your LibGuides about using My Lists, now is a good time for you to update it.

Stay tuned for more details on the loss of RefWorks integration in our discovery system, too. I’ve been tracking the usage of the “Export to RefWorks” feature in Summon, and it’s practically a ghost town over on that button. That said, I am sure some folks have RefWorks accounts since it is sort of built-in to Summon. Rest assured that users will still be able to use RefWorks (it is a free basic account that isn’t tied to any institution) but it won’t be as “seamless” an experience as with Summon. (Seamless is in quotes there because ProQuest has managed to keep a lot of seams in the experience, honestly.)

Let me know if you have any questions!

More Obvious Hours for Today

Since the Fall semester started, we’ve had significantly more traffic directly to our hours page (mostly from searches of “gvsu library hours”). Since today’s hours are on our every other web page across all our sites, we didn’t have as much traffic to the main hours page before, because the current hours were obvious and our previous research had shown that mot students were looking at hours for the current day. Well, now that many classes are online or hybrid, more students are looking ahead to plan our their weeks (or, at least that’s my working theory). Hence the increase in visits to our hours page.

Yesterday when I was working the desk shift at Mary I, I was looking at the hours page, and it took me a second to figure out which column I should be looking at. And so, this morning I made a quick change to the styles on our weekly hours page to make it easier to see the hours across our locations for today. It might take a refresh or a cache clear before you see it.

Today column in our hours is now more prominent

Real Time Occupancy Updates

Leading up to the Fall semester, we installed sensors that help us track the real-time occupancy of the Mary Idema Pew and Steelcase Libraries. The included software was designed to serve as a note to prospective visitors at an entrance as to whether they were allowed to enter or not, which doesn’t necessarily serve our purposes. A few weeks ago I built a little data collector and then started displaying real-time occupancy on the library homepage and a stand-alone page on the CMS.

Green boxes showing current number of people in each library

Last week, after reading Sarah’s Friday update about how she had visited the page a few times to get a sense of the buildings’ occupancy, I thought it might be useful to record that data for future decision-making and also to display a bit more of the occupancy data to our users. Knowing what the occupancy is right now is useful if you are coming to the library in a few minutes, but what if you want to know the best time to come when there aren’t so many people in the building?

Screenshot of visualized occupancy in bar chart form

So, in addition to capturing hourly totals, I’m visualizing the previous 24 hours of Steelcase and Mary Idema Pew occupancy.

For those interested in the technical side, I’m running a script on the server at 15 minutes after the hour every hour (occupancy tends to dip on the hour, because of the class schedule - folks leave for class 5 before the hour and folks who are coming from class don’t get here until between 5-10 after). That data is simply saved in a CSV file, which is parsed by the visualization scripts for each library. Those scripts look at the last 24 entries, and display them in a simple chart using ChartJS.

Embedding Help and Chat in LibGuides and Blackboard

For liaisons who are trying to find new ways to integrate library services into our LMS (Blackboard) or LibGuides to support newly online or hybrid classes, here’s a way to embed our library’s chat/search help widget into another website. Thanks to Debbie for reaching out with the question - I hope the answer is useful to others as well.

This is not a chat widget that will send chats to you - this tool first searches the help site for any relevant articles about the user’s question, and then starts a chat with the UX and Operations Team. If you are looking to add a chat widget for users to chat with you, shoot me an email and I can help you get set up.


  1. On the Blackboard page you want, Create an “Item”
  2. Give it a title, like “Ask the Library” and then go to the text editor. Find the “HTML” button (second to last button) and click that. A new window opens.
  3. Paste this into that window (Make sure that your browser doesn’t make the quotes fancy—they need to be straight up and down quotes, not curly quotes):

<iframe width="90%" height="640" src="" title="Ask the library a question"></iframe>

  1. Click “Update”
  2. Now click Submit.

You should have an embedded chat widget in your Blackboard site!

Chat widget in Blackboard


  1. Get ready to edit the guide and page where you want the embedded content
  2. Create a new item in the box where you want to add the embed, and select “Media/Widget”
  3. Under “Name” choose something like “Ask the Library”
  4. Paste this under “Embed Code” (Make sure that your browser doesn’t make the quotes fancy—they need to be straight up and down quotes, not curly quotes):

<iframe width="90%" height="640" src="" title="Ask the library a question"></iframe

  1. Click “Save”

You should have an embedded chat widget in your LibGuide!

Chat widget in LibGuides

I know it’s fun to change the things in the angled brackets to make them fit better on the screen you are looking at, but don’t. Most of our LibGuides and Blackboard users are on phones. They are using tiny screens, not dual screen monitor setups in the corner of their dining rooms. :)

The Gendered Chatbot

This weekend, GVSU released a virtual assistant app called myBlueLaker created by the start up n-powered, that allows users to type or speak questions about GVSU to get them information about their University presence (grades, registration information, etc.) as well as logistics (building hours, calendar, etc.) all in one place. I downloaded it this morning so I could make sure all the library related stuff was accurate.

Screenshot of myBlueLaker app

Wait - let’s take a closer look at something:

Screenshot of female assistant in the new myLakerBlue app

Yes, there it is. Another virtual assistant that is gendered as a woman. (And no, you can’t change it to a man or a gender fluid avatar or even Bender from Futurama.)

It’s almost like they updated the icon for the sexist web app that Don Draper might have created, “I Want Sandy,” which shut down in 2008.

Here I’m simply going to address the fact that they chose to make an avatar gendered as a woman to be a tool that helps you with mundane tasks. I’m not even going to get into what they are communicating with the little finger pose the avatar is doing on her face, or the face that “she” is a young white woman—I leave that to someone else.

There has been a lot of scholarship written about how using female gendered AI assistants reinforces negative gender stereotypes, but this also isn’t a new topic in the popular press. (I assume my IT department is not reading scholarship on technology and ethics, even if they should. They are understaffed and too busy, especially these days.) Last year, the U.N. even released a report declaring this gendering of assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana as a real problem, but the big companies didn’t say much in response. (They were too busy swimming in piles of gold, like Scrooge McDuck.)

The gender we assign to a chat bot, a email account, or any non-gendered thing affects how we interact with it. Recently on Twitter, the writer Bess Kalb explained how this gender bias plays out in daily life by sharing a story about her friend: “A friend’s male assistant is a fake email account she runs because people called her “difficult” and “impossible” for having small windows of availability until ‘he’ started running interference and then people just accepted she was … busy.”

In looking at virtual assistants, Loidean and Adams succinctly use Mireille Hildebrandt’s critique of technology on gendered AI assistants, noting “that the technologies we use not only reflect and embed our presumptions and social biases, but also reproduce them in new ways that have material effects on us”1. Writing in PC Mag, Chandra Steele emphasizes that this reflecting our of own biases is why our virtual assistants are women: “Though they lack bodies, they embody what we think of when we picture a personal assistant: a competent, efficient, and reliable woman. She gets you to meetings on time with reminders and directions, serves up reading material for the commute, and delivers relevant information on the way, like weather and traffic. Nevertheless, she is not in charge”2. GVSU’s female avatar for its myBlueLaker assistant continues to reinforce this stereotype: the app is specifically designed to “help” you with routine questions, like where a certain building is or what the library hours are. The problem, Steele reminds us, is that ” when we can only see a woman, even an artificial one, in that position [of assistant], we enforce a harmful culture”.

Many of these companies hide behind UX decisions for these gendered assistants - “the female voice or persona tested best” is a standard response from Cupertino to Redmond. But that’s a weak form of UX, where you toss ethics aside to give users “what they want,” even if what they supposedly want is colored by their own explicit or implicit biases.

Screenshot of n-powered app for Northeastern

The strange part is that n-powered, the company behind the app, clearly does not require us to use a gendered avatar. It’s possible that this was a default avatar no one replaced, but I am not so sure. The sample screen shot (above) on the n-powered website shows a Husky avatar, the mascot for Northeastern University in Boston, where the app started. That means that a decision was made at some point during this process to make the avatar of the GVSU app be a woman. (Or, at the very least, to keep it a woman and change the background to Laker Blue (Pantone 301).)

Why do we not just use the Circle G Logomark? Or Louie the Laker?

I have sent my concerns to the GVSU IT department, along with a brief list of suggested popular and scholarly readings (nothing sways IT departments more than suggestions to read ethics articles, right?) I will post updates as I have them.


  1. Ni Loideain, Nora and Adams, Rachel. Female Servitude by Default and Social Harm: AI Virtual Personal Assistants, the FTC, and Unfair Commercial Practices (June 11, 2019).
  2. Chandra Steele. The Real Reason Voice Assistants Are Female (and Why it Matters). *Pc Mag*. January 4, 2018.

Real Time Occupancy on the homepage

Some of you may have seen a few links that appeared on the homepage a few weeks ago to see the real time occupancy of both the Mary Idema Pew and Steelcase libraries. If you, like most people, looked at them on a phone, you might have been a little confused and thought you were having a stroke. You weren’t. Once again a vendor was selling us a product from 2003 at 2020 prices.

Anyway, Patrick and I spent a few weeks in email with their support team, and we finally got access to the data in real time. So of course first I had to build a new system that could take their data and make it usable. Then I built a widget that could go in the CMS. So now, you can go to the library homepage or the “Visiting the Libraries Safely” page and see the current occupancy of each building, right on the page.

Screenshot of real time occupancy

I’ll still make a stand alone page, but I need to wrap a few other things up before the semester starts. For now, you can direct folks to the homepage to see how busy the library is.

Better MelCat help in Summon

As part of my larger push to make it easier to move from our GVSU search tools to MeLCat, I added a little function to my custom Summon scripts that inserts a contextual help tip if you have the Book/eBook facet selected. (If you have more than one facet selected, it will show if the Book/eBook facet is the top one checked in the list. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ (Perhaps I’ll dig into the Angular framework enough to make a more sophisticated solution down the line.)

New contextual help in Summon

It might take a cache clear for this to show up. We’ll now keep an eye on MeLCat stats and see if it increases use!

A better no results screen in the Catalog

Every now and then, when I’m not at work, I do a search in the Catalog that returns no results. For some reason, the folks who made WebPAC Pro thought the best place to go when you don’t get results in the Advanced Search screen. To quote Andromeda Yelton, who was just as frustrated as I have been about this screen, “if I didn’t get any original hits from my search, limiting it to large print Albanian will not help.” Because I always encounter this page in a context where I am not working, I have never managed to write down that this page needed to be fixed. Until now!

The original no results page

I couldn’t just redesign this page, since Sierra just dumps a “NO ENTRIES FOUND” note on the top of the Advanced Search Page using a token in the template. So I wrote a little bit of JavaScript that checks for that message and then replaces it with some contextual help. The added benefit is that it ties in with my push to make getting to MeLCat easier.

The new no results page

It’s live now.

ILLiad to MeLCat updates

A few years ago, I added a feature to ILLiad, our interlibrary load software, that searched the Michigan eLibrary catalog (MeLCat) for books that were being requested from ILL. If a MeL participating library owned the book, I’d post a nice little notice to the user to let them know they could get the book faster through MeL. (It would also be cheaper for us.) Here’s what it looked like:

Screenshot of old nice alert box

Of course, this only worked on ILL requests that were manually entered. And based on the number of ILL requests that have been rerouted to MeL manually by our ILL staff over the years, it didn’t make much difference. Basically, everyone ignored my nice message and requested the item from ILL.

  • 2016: 469 requests
  • 2017: 552 requests
  • 2018: 481 requests
  • 2019: 393 requests as of September 19th.

Amy in ILL pointed out that’s 1,895 requests since we started checking MeL holdings for ILL requests. Amy continued “if we had paid our max-cost of $20 per item by obtaining via ILL, we would have spent $37,900 on the 1,895 books we obtained via MeL, so the savings is substantial.”

Amy and Deb asked if I could revisit this solution to try to bring these numbers down, since it takes a lot of staff time and can confuse users. As a first step, I wanted to look again at ILLiad, and make this background MeL search a littlemore obvious. I also wanted to make it work on every ILL request, including those that came in through OpenURL. So I rewrote the JavaScript call, revisited the PHP script that parses the MeL website in the background, and updated the visual styles to make the modal window.

Now, if you do a loan request and MeL has the title of the item you are requesting, it brings up a more obvious message that you can get the item faster from MeL, and includes a big blue button that will take you right to the MeL search. (This works whether the search leads to a single result (the record page) or if there are multiple results (the browse titles page).)

Here’s the new alert:

Screenshot of new modal window dialog

It just went live this morning, and I’m keeping stats on each time it is activated. Hopefully we can get those ILL to MeL numbers down for the rest of the year, and next I’ll be looking at ways to improve the catalog to MeL workflow!