Self-service till. Photo: The Grocer.

Earlier today I read an article in The Grocer that highlighted the findings of an online survey saying that 73% of supermarket customers are shunning self-service checkouts.

Really? That many people really don't like them? Why?!

Admittedly, a few years ago when the technology was relatively young, self-service checkouts were temperamental to say the least. Items not recognised by the scanners, scales not registering items in the bagging area, or interfaces that were just too difficult for customers to use.

One hundred years ago, in April 1910, the Shinfield Three Mile Cross Council School opened in the hamlet of Ryeish Green just outside Reading. Over the years this school developed, changed roles, and eventually became Ryeish Green School, a comprehensive secondary school.

I consider myself lucky enough to have gone to Ryeish and enjoyed practically every day there and come rain or shine I'd be trudging my way up the Hyde End Lane hill to school.

I gained some good friends and have many great memories of my seven years there. It was through working in the school's library that I went on to study in the field of librarianship at Aberystwyth University. It was also because of those happy memories that I was excited about going to an open day there last Sunday to celebrate the school's centenary - the first time I'd been back in almost 10 years.

However it wasn't a complete day for celebrating as the local authority, Wokingham Borough Council, has made the decision to close the school.

Koha Library System

At work I'm responsible for two online systems - the Shop's website and Koha, the library software we use to manage our DVD rentals service.

Over the past week I've been tweaking bits here and there, hacking away (rather crudely in some cases, but hey - it works!), and adding some functions to the systems that have until now been lacking.

The main developments were based in Koha and getting it publicly accessible to allow our customers to find out which DVDs we had available.

What's Koha?!

In terms of the software, it's a free, open source library management system (the first such system in the world) that is used by libraries of all sizes worldwide. Based on library standards, it includes modules for circulation, cataloguing, purchases, periodicals, reservations, borrower management, and much more.

The name Koha comes from the Maori word for gift or donation. In Maori culture "you would bring a koha (Contribution) to an event like a funeral or wedding or big meeting, often food or the specialty of your region. When it's your turn to host an event all your guests will bring a Koha, to ease the burden of catering for a lot of people." [extract from http://www.koha.org/community/resources/about-the-logo.html]

Being as our installation is on our own computer and not a main webserver we've up until now restricted access to the system to just staff use via the 'librarian' screen but our customer satisfaction survey revealed that our customers would also like access to our holdings data.

We'd previously believed that providing this information might stop people visiting the shop if the DVD they wanted wasn't available. That may be true in a few cases but being able to offer the service as a point of information outweighed this.

Getting the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue - the publicly visible part of the system) running was pretty simple. A quick change to Apache's setup allowed access to the software but that was just stage one.

  • Lock down
    Ensuring the rest of the computer, and the staff interface, was not put at risk. Koha's built-in password protection and another change of the Apache config prevents access from anything other than authorised machines.
    What also helps in the lockdown is that the computer serving the pages is sat behind the university firewall so that stops external access. Staff and students can get through to Koha by using a university computer or by connecting by VPN.
  • OPAC passwords
    When a borrower is registered they aren't given an OPAC password as standard so this needed changing.
    By working with the 'change password' script I managed to combine the necessary functions with another script that sends a welcome e-mail out to new members. When it automatically runs overnight, the script will set the OPAC password and include details of how to log in by e-mail to the borrower.
    For existing borrowers I merged the same code in to the module that issues items. When issuing it checks to see if the borrower has a password set, if not it then checks to see when they joined. If it's not today (so as not to include new members) the system sets the password and sends an e-mail about the updated system.
    Over time this second function will become all but redundant as the majority of members will have their password set by the welcome script. This extra code, though, will then catch those that fall through the net if the script fails to run for any reason.
  • Reservations
    I don't want people to be able to make reservations on a DVD that's sitting on the shelf. A quick change to the templates allowed me to only show the Reserve link if the item in question's already on loan.

I'm hoping that all my little patches and tweaks will provide the service I'm hoping for. Looking forward to the feedback now!

"But Aberystwyth needs a development. What's the point of having all these new houses (in the town), along with a new assembly government building, if the town has no heart?"

This is what Meirion Jones, the developer behind Aberystwyth's highly controversial shopping centre plans, says about Aberystwyth.

Garden Carpentry - CoverYesterday I wrote about the discovery of an innocent-looking household project book. Taking another look, it turns out it's not so innocent as it first seemed.

The very first project in the book is to build a greenhouse. Nothing as easy as the boot scraper or bird house (that feature later on in the book) to get you started. No, it's the 10ft x 6ft (x 7ft 6in high) span-roof greenhouse.

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