MDPLS Puts the Wow Back in the Wowbrary

I really love dealing with the people at the Miami-Dade Public Library System (MDPLS). They're so nice. (Maybe it's something about librarians. Our librarians at UM Law are also very nice. Then again the ones over in the main University library don't seem, based on my rather small sample, to be nearly as nice. But I digress.)

Here's yesterday's story.

For some time I have been a happy user of the Wowbrary. This free service gets information from libraries around the country, including MDPLS, about their new acquisitions and serves it up to readers (by subject area of interest) in the form of a tidy weekly RSS feed.

I read this feed in my feed reader, and pick out the books that sound good. I click the link in the feed for “borrow” and this (after a required MDPLS login) takes me to the MDPLS catalog page for the new book. Often these show as belonging to “collection development” or in cataloging or something, and it can take a few weeks before the book actually turns up in my local library but that is not a problem: as my request is in the system, I can set it and forget it until the book turns up. (The MDPLS online catalog allows users to request that books be delivered to their local branch regardless of where the copy may be held.)

This worked great for at least the last year and half (see Wow! MDPLS Does Wowbrary). That is, it worked until this week. All of a sudden, when I clicked through to a record for a book (I wanted Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks), everything looked the same — but it wasn't. I could click 'place a request', followed by 'submit request' just like I used to, but then instead of putting the request into the queue…it rejected me with the message,

Requests are not permitted for this title. Contact the library for assistance.

And it wasn't something special about the Culture. I tried several titles and they all produced the same result.

I was sad. It seemed that the MDPLS had instituted a landrush policy. Now I would need a way to keep track of which books were due to come in, and keep trying to reserve them until they become available at some random and unforeseeable time. Record-keeping. Work. Frustration. Loss of my place at the head of the queue for desirable new books. (There can be a high cost to being late to the party: A few months ago I put in a request for one of the multiple copies of “The girl who kicked the hornet's nest” and now I'm number 174 of 568 waiting for it.)

But then I had an idea. Why not call the folks at MDPLS and ask them to put it back the way it had been. Maybe this wasn't a policy change but just a glitch. And so, late yesterday morning, I did just that. In short order I was put through to a Ms. Lewis, who listened to my whole sad tale. At first she seemed a bit puzzled. Was this program something I paid for? No. Was I reserving the books through the Wowbrary itself? No. Was the error message maybe from outside the MDPLS system? No. Eventually Ms. Lewis asked me to write it all up and email to her so that she could pass the whole thing on to the right technical people. Which I did.

And about four hours later, Ms. Lewis called me back to ask me to test whether it was fixed. And it was.

Not only that, but now it's better than it used to be. With the old MDPLS cataloguing system, I used to have to do a new logon for each book, even in a single browsing session, which was something you didn't have to do with multiple requests within the MDPLS system. Now even when I make multiple Wowbrary-originating requests in a single session, I only have to log in the first time!

The most amazing part of this story to me is that Ms. Lewis thanked me for reporting the problem.

And she said she's signing up for the Wowbrary herself.

Meanwhile, Jeff Levinsky of the Wowbrary tells me that they've served up information on 48,041 new titles at the Miami-Dade library since the wowbrary began covering it a few years ago

Please don't tell anyone. I don't need the competition for the new books.

(Now do you suppose I can get the MDPLS to fix the Search Plugin? It's broken, and the folks at librarysearch.org don't seem to be updating their to-do list.)

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