Houston Public Library Website Review

So Houston has two different library systems–the Houston Public Library and the Harris County Public Library. They are not related. They do not share books between them. They are two completely separate entities. It’s a little confusing, but I’m sure it comes down to $ (doesn’t it always?). I tend to use the Houston library a bit more, just because it’s a bit more convenient for me. There is a branch across from my neighborhood grocery store (just over a mile from my house), and there is another about 3 miles from my work.

The library is high tech enough that it has a website (http://www.houstonlibrary.org) , and in general, a pretty good user-friendly one at that. You can request a book (or dvd, audiobook, etc.) and have it delivered to any library in the system for pick up. I usually pick up from the library in my neighborhood which has fairly decent hours. Most nights until 6 (so if I don’t fool around after work, I can make it), one night until 8, and it’s also open on Saturday. You can drop off your books at any library in the system which can sometimes be useful when you’re running errands. And speaking of high tech, there’s also a library app but I’ll cover that in another post.

Library 1a

However, because I’m kind of a critical person, there are a few problems I have with the website. The very first thing is that when you click “Log In”, it opens a new window. I realize that is a minor annoyance, but it just irks me. And possibly if that were the only issue I had, I wouldn’t even tell you about it. But it isn’t. When logging in, you don’t get a user name and password like most sites. You enter your last name and your library card number to log in. Your library card is a string of 14 digits. Random (as far as I can tell) digits. The average length of a string of numbers that a person can remember is 7 +/- 2 (thus why things like SSN and phone numbers tend to be in that range). And if you are lazy like me, you don’t want to dig through your bag to find your wallet that has your “non-essential” cards in it every time you want to use the library website, you have to memorize that 14 digit number. Eventually my brain will be overloaded with uselessness and just shut down. Yes, that’s my actual library card number’s length in the picture. Let that sink in.

Library 2

However, the real issue that I have with the library website is the search. And I have provided pictorial demonstration of the problems. When you log in, there is a very obvious place to search for items. There is a pull-down menu to help narrow down your search slightly (who searches by “call number browse” because I certainly don’t) and then a box to write out what you are searching. For my example, I have used a book that I had a hell of a time finding at the library, The Sun Also Rises.

Library 3a

So I searched by word, used quotation marks, and got 29 results that are sorted by date. WHAT? Sorted by WHAT? As far as I can tell, there isn’t another way to sort them. I want them to be sorted by relevancy or in this case maybe sorted by date with oldest first (as a lot of the results were other people’s books talking about the original book). In any way, the actual physical book that I was wanting was number 29. (#9 was an audio book version).

So after you search the first time, you can modify your search. I tried that:

Library 4

OK! We can finally sort by relevance! That should mean that the book version of The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway should be #1 in the list, right? Negatory. It’s number 9. Yeah, the original actual book is #9 in the list. I don’t even get it. And on top of that, there are lots of sneaky books mixed into the list that appear to be the original book, but when you click on the details, they are actually abridged by someone, or critical essays about the book or any number of things that are NOT THE ACTUAL BOOK. How can the original book be #9 in relevance?

Ok, so then I went back to modify my search again. (Granted, I found the book that I wanted in each of my searches but I wanted to see if there was a way to actually get the book that I wanted in at least the top 5 books in the list (if not the number 1 book) as I have accidentally requested the wrong book on more than one occasion!)  So this time, I click on the “Keyword + Encore” link and search through Encore. (According to the info, Encore is “a new and fun way of finding library information…” which I find a little overly enthusiastic.) So I search “The Sun also Rises” and it is the first one in the list!!! Maybe Encore IS fun. 😉

Library 5

So in general, the library website is decent. The process of ordering, picking up, and returning the books is pretty great. The process of finding the book to order in the first place could certainly be easier. And more efficient. But at the end of the day, I’m going to continue to use it because it’s cheap and convenient and a great way to read books I’m unsure if I will like.

I’d love to hear about your library experiences, good or bad!

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