Tag Archives: tpl

Vulnerable Toronto Public Library Computers

After 7 years of not letting the children touch the Toronto Public Library‘s computers with a 10 foot pole, yesterday we had made arrangements with another family to introduce them to Scratch and since we were already both going to be at the library later that afternoon I gave it a try.

Here, I’ll document the issues I had with the experience.

  1. One of the machines is in its semi-regular state (I’ve observed over 2/3rds of the machines in the Children’s Department being in this state at once before) of needing to do a forced restart because the timer software has crashed, other is reporting some sort of corruption and requires a reboot.
  2. The temporary code slip to get 30 minutes of time included a capital letter in the card #.  The terminal would not allow one to enter a capital letter.  We finally tried it with the lower case version of the letter and got in.
  3. Upon starting Firefox (at least they are no longer calling it Fire Fox), we see a screen where it is checking the addons, but it just hangs at that screen and didn’t seem to make any progress so we cancelled itDSC07132
  4. We were presented with an error-ish screen in firefox warning that McAfee is trying to install an addon but maybe we shouldn’t trust it.  DSC07133
  5. Presented with another addon install screen for Java Console.  Again, continue without any action taken.DSC07134
  6. One of the three machines we were using wouldn’t open one of the sites saying that the plugin required was vulnerable.  Checking the Plugin Status reported many issues.  For example the Flash player v 11.3.r300 was released June of 2012, and 18 newer versions have been released since (here are some of the dangers with that).  The Silverlight Plug-in was using version 5.1.10411.0 which was released May of 2012 and 3 newer versions have come out since (and Silverlight’s vulnerability database).DSC07148
  7. I tried to do a favour and upgrade it so we could continue our project, but of course they have blocked software installation by users.DSC07149
  8. The timer software they use is terribly intrusive giving multiple warnings that you need to save your work and be prepared to leave the machine, starting as early as 50% into the time.
  9. There was no obvious volume control on the machines, and the song my son programmed was barely audible so we just didn’t bother with doing any sound related activities (our theme for the day was music sigh).

The library has a fantastic collection, and wonderful branch staff, but their technology department continues to disappoint.  I have such little faith in their webteam, but feel I have little choice but to use their catalogue.   I feel sorry for the people who don’t have alternative choices for using computers and are only exposed to such a poor experience when interfacing with this technology.

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Feedback on Changes to Checkout Desk at North York Central Library

I wanted to share some feedback regarding the checkout desk construction I noticed on Friday at North York Central Library.  It might only apply to us, but I imagine others who checkout large # of items (kids books?) and those in wheelchairs might also be affected.

Of all the checkout locations available, there is only one I’m comfortable using and it has been altered.  It is only one of two that is low enough for the kids to participate in, and is the only one with enough space to handle the high-volume of items we typically have.  The extra wood-type level that has been added to the front section of the circle area prevents me from sliding our piles along the counter as we are checking out.  Days when we have 20 or 30 items (picture books for the win!) it is rather involved to pile 8 or 10 on the RFID reader, move that pile over, repeat two or more times, then sort the items so they can then fit well into our bags.  The extra bevel prevents the sliding (need to slide far enough away that it doesn’t get picked up again by a switch in card), and I suspect whatever is going to be installed on that space will limit any piling and sorting area.

I imagine that checkout spot is also the designated wheelchair checkout spot and I can’t speak for them but I imagine it might be an issue too, though not as much because there is no knee space in the section covered by the new block.

Plus to me, the aesthetic of the mixed materials (the stone type desk, topped with the almost matching colour non-stone) doesn’t convey the library as a place of culture and high standards I imagine it to be.

I understand we are an extreme user, and you can’t always take these edge cases into account when extending and improving things for the majority of patrons, but I wanted to share my feedback.

Thank you for your consideration.

[[ A note I sent to the circulation head at my local library ]]

LifeHack: How to Replace your Toronto Public Library Card

tpl-logoAs you may know, we use the library A LOT (over 500 checkouts so far this year (track it yourself with athenaeum)).  Somehow or other, the barcode on the back of my library card is wearing out (darn you Friction!), making it more and more difficult to get it to scan at the self-checkout stations.  The kids helped me (they are short) find the keyboard locked under the shelf checkout station, and we learned how to unlock it, pull it out and type in the library card # to get by.  This lasted a while, until I was almost ready to go to the circulation desk to claim a new card, thus suffer the personal horror of being assigned a new number, and more terribly, a new location on the holds shelf — when I had an epiphany.

It is just a barcode.  I know how to make barcodes.  Why don’t I replace the barcode on my library card?  I could just paste it over top the worn out one and I’d be off to the races.  But wait, why stop there?  I carry around three library cards (mine, my wife’s and my son’s), taking up over 40% of the contents of my pocket on any given day, let’s solve that problem too.  I proceeded to print up a sheet with all three library card #’s barcodes so now I just have a tiny slip of paper and presto problem solved, life hacked.  For those who carry a smart phone, it is even simpler as you just can keep an image file on your phone and display that to the barcode scanner and be on your way.

Only times you need your card now are when you need to present official identification to government officials.

Don’t get carried away with this though.  You wouldn’t want to ‘cheat‘ any other systems by consolidating your barcodes, or heaven forbid alter something’s code.

I wonder if there is a keen enough library user who wants their library card for life that will get a working tattoo barcode of their library card?

sample library card numberWant to do it too?  Super easy way is to just follow this link here to Barcodes Inc’s Generator. and look to your browser’s address bar and change the number where it says code= to your library card number — make sure you leave all the other things in place.  I’ll state the obvious, the barcode seen in that link is not a valid barcode, it isn’t your library card #, you must type your own personal number in there (and know that there is a small chance someone somewhere will have a record of your number in a log file).  If you’re going to do it yourself using the form (click advanced options) or have other tools to make a barcode I tested and found that the “numeric only” codes are recognized by the library’s scanners.  Thus pick “Interleaved 2 of 5” or “Code 128-C” to get you started.  Once you have your image file of your barcode, do what you want with it in terms of laying it out to be printed, or encoding it to be tattooed, or sending it to your smart phone.  Good luck, and have fun!barcode-tattoo-10Note this should in no way be limited to the Toronto Public Library system.  Anywhere that has a self-checkout that uses a barcode can be hacked in this way.

Today’s Toronto Public Library Catalogue failures

I’m tempted to start a series of posts on this topic: Toronto Public Library Catalogue failures.  What errors in cataloguing do I discover when using the library today?

Today I wanted to put a hold on one of our favourite books, LIBRARY LION by Michelle Knudsen.  The library’s system appeared to no longer carry the title (only an audio book version, and a reference copy).  We managed to find it during our visit though, checked it out and from my lists of checked out materials it gives me the link to the holding.  The link points to an event for Chinese Folk Dance happening in May.  Fail.

We also read a great children’s book by Neil Gaiman today and I wanted to find it again so I looked through all Neil Gaiman’s children’s books and it wasn’t in the list.  Odd.  I managed to remember part of the name, and found the book with a different search: BLUEBERRY GIRL.  I wonder why it’s not listed as a children’s book, and if he has done other children’s books that I won’t be able to discover too?

To round things out, earlier in the week I had read the amazing SUMMIT OF THE GODS Volume 1 and wanted to get the next volume.  I was on the record for the book already so I clicked through to the author, Baku, Yumemakura., but this was the only book they had.  I figured the subsequent volume wasn’t out yet, or hadn’t been acquired and was going to end my journey there when I had a feeling to try something else.  I went through via the illustrator instead and there it was, Volume 2!  With a duplicate entry for the author (one with birth year, one without).  A fault of the MARC record, or lazy cataloguers?

Athenaeum update

I updated my athenaeum project today with the following features:

  • now populates a ‘currently-checked-out’ shelf so you can see in one place what you have out from the library.  I found that since I was running it for a few weeks now, I had over 100 items in my ‘checked-out’ total shelf so I wanted to be able to get more granularity over the items I had out.
  • Further to that, I also add books to a shelf per month they are checked out. More to just capture the data at this point.  Should help me know which books we check out multiple times too.
  • I also added the ability to have multiple library cards right in the config file and wrapped that up in a YourAccounts class.  That way I didn’t have to manually get the 2nd library card in the script each time I was running it vs. checking it in to the repository (didn’t want to accidentally check in my library card # to github).

Please let me know if you’re using the script at all.

Athenaeum — A Toronto Public Library & Goodreads.com Interface

I’ve a heavy user of the Toronto Public Library and recently started using Goodreads.com, so I decided to join them together.

For now I just automatically take my checked out items and add them to some shelves on goodreads. You can see how I did it, and do it yourself too by checking out the Athenaeum project on github.

To see all the items I’ve checked out of the library since starting using this script, review my Checked-Out Shelf at goodreads.

Thanks