N.O. library system transitions to upgrade

A recent upgrade to the New Orleans Public Library’s computer system made several things easier for library patrons, but it also caused some problems for the library’s partnership with its counterpart in Jefferson Parish.

The city’s 14 libraries finished a $210,000 upgrade to their catalog search engine last week, and change has increased usability and efficiency for the library, said John Marc Sharp, the library’s director of marketing and communications.

The new system, which also has a $40,000 annual maintenance fee, was paid for by the New Orleans Public Library Foundation, a nonprofit supports the city’s libraries.

However, the change also caused a wrinkle in the library’s reciprocal agreement with Jefferson Parish that allows residents in either parish to access unlimited materials in the other jurisdiction. The two entities are trying to work out a deal within the next few weeks, but if that doesn’t happen, the longstanding partnership could end.

At issue is the New Orleans library’s decision to move to the Polaris Integrated Library System to handle searches of its catalog. New Orleans made the switch because Polaris brings library searches more in line with what people are used to using on the Web, Sharp said.

The system provides search hints while users are typing, displays book covers during searches and generally looks more modern than the previous system, he said. In addition, the system is cheaper for library to use than the previous system, he said.

“It’s just more of customer-focused system,” said Sharp, noting that it fits perfectly with the library’s push towards more electronic offerings such as 3 million songs available for download and about 8,300 e-books. “It’s just basically an easier way for (customers) to search these offerings.”

But New Orleans and Jefferson Parish officials haven’t been able to determine if the city’s new system meshes with the system that Jefferson Parish uses for its catalog, said Marylyn Haddican, the director of Jefferson Parish’s libraries.

In addition, New Orleans and Jefferson Parish are still trying to iron out an agreement that would allow residents from both parishes to get library cards in either area.

The previous agreement between New Orleans and Jefferson Parish expired at the end of the year, but library officials still allowed residents to get reciprocal cards through an informal agreement, she said.

However, that system only worked when Jefferson Parish could review a patron’s history in New Orleans to determine if they had any fines or other issues.

With the city’s new system, Jefferson Parish can’t search a patron’s history, and Haddican said that means residents won’t be able to get a standard card from Jefferson Parish. Instead, they will have to settle for a “guest” card, which will allow them to check out three items at a time, and the card will be good for a shorter amount of time, she said. New Orleans residents who have Jefferson Parish cards will have those cards expire at the end of February if a deal is not worked out.

Sharp said New Orleans officials want to continue the reciprocal agreement because it’s a boon for residents in both parishes. He noted that more than 8,300 Jefferson Parish residents have New Orleans Public Library cards. Reciprocal agreements are considered good practice across the country, because they aid residents who are more mobile, allow residents to access more offerings and are far cheaper than interlibrary loan programs, Sharp said.