Sierra 2.4 so far

[updated 2017.1.26]

So the Melbourne, Australia office updated our Sierra to 2.4 last night.

This has a lot (but not all) the functionality of the desktop app in the new web access version, as III moves away from a Java-based app.

So far, I’ve noticed that Create Lists does not let me scroll lists as easily. The print function is not ready for prime time; I cannot configure the printer through the web printing as I could in the app, especially for label printers. I haven’t tried receipt printing yet, but that will probably have the same problem, so looks like we cannot

The print function is not ready for prime time; I cannot configure the printer through the web printing as I could in the app, especially for label printers. I haven’t tried receipt printing yet, but that will probably have the same problem, so looks like we cannot use that at the circulation desk as I had hoped.

More fine tuning needed.

We don’t use the built-in macros so that limitation doesn’t really affect us. We use a third party program called Keyboard Express (a shareware product we licensed years ago) which fills in what we want, or handles keyboard commands, and that still seems to work.

Following the holidays, I expect to change the domain to libcat.uafs.edu and get a certificate and — we hope — get away from the https problems the WAM is having with our online vendors.

Update: well, due to a perfect storm of delays on both sides, III didn’t change the domain yet, so we are still struggling with the popup warnings and blocks for some services through the WAM. We’re not alone in that, of course.

On the bright side, we can now do most routine operations (aside from printing) through the web service. This has come in handy already for a staff laptop which didn’t want to load the Sierra desktop to work on inventory in the stacks.

Star Micronics TSP650 printer

One of the more popular type of posts on this blog, I note by my stats, are those dealing with the practical use of printers.

So, let it be known that today I completed the manual and installation of a new printer at our primary Circulation workstation.

We’d been using a Star SP542 dot-matrix receipt printer, as at the time we needed to get one, we were hoping to eventually get permission to print money receipts for fines (instead of expensive 19th century receipt books).  State auditors insist on sequentially-numbered receipts (it’s a rule, period, no debate permitted, so no use telling me reasons not to do it).  Thermal printing doesn’t hold up over time, so we needed receipts that would last if we did them for fines, etc.

Frankly, we’ve found the dot matrix to have cleaning problems — lots of cut paper scraps get into the works, and you have to remove the ribbon, then remove a plate and vacuum it out weekly to keep it from jamming up.

Anyway, since the money receipt printing has fallen through (don’t ask), we don’t need long-term printing.  We switched to a Star TSP650 (aka 654 the cutter model) printer, which uses only thermal paper, no ribbon.

The manual is at http://libcat.uafortsmith.edu/screens/man_starTSP650printer.html and it covers the setup for use with Millennium Circulation.

Now, the printer driver either lets you do very short slips with no graphics, or — as we selected — 200mm long slips with a big logo at the top, that are actually easier for everyone to handle.  Also, if somebody sticks them in the book pocket, it makes them easy to fish out.

Using 8 point font for legibility means the last digit of the year is cut off on each line.  A smaller font becomes too hard to read.  The actual date is printed in full at the top just under the logo, anyway, so the year should be obvious.

Since it doesn’t completely cut (“partial cut” meaning one little bit in the middle is left, so one tug will free it), the paper doesn’t leave little scraps, which should avoid a lot of cleaning problems.  No ribbon.

The “receipt” selection (instead of 200mm length) just runs out paper forever, until you turn it off.  Since the 200mm works well for us, we’ll stick with that for the time being.

Please, Release me, let me go…. and print

So, the campus is getting the print control system that the Library staff have wanted for so long.  Yay!

Thanks to the preparation, however, it’s being done up in a major way, by replacing all the i.d. cards with new ones, and a system to have the cards act like on-campus credit cards — pay for printing, meals, bookstore, and a growing range of things.  It’s a lot of work for our campus IT people to help the contractor set up, but it looks like it’s going to be a great system.  21st century tech stuff.

The contractor is Blackboard (that is a statement, not an endorsement or criticism), another branch of the company that does the campus learning software system.

Of course, that means that the Library (like many other places on campus) needed to have Printer Release Stations for each printer location.

The subcontractor for this is Pharos (that is a statement, not an endorsement or criticism).  You hit print at a computer, you get a popup option to password-protect it, and the job goes to the Printer Release Station.  If you show up within 2 hours (before the job automatically deletes), you can enter your password (if you used one) and print the job.  That alone will save paper, as we have a lot of waste just from jobs sent to the printer that aren’t ever picked up.

If you notice that you forgot a footnote just after you printed, then you can print again, but only release the last version.  That saves printing a version you don’t want.  More saving paper and toner, not to mention wear and tear on the printers.  Looks greener all the time.

We do have students who bring their own laptops.  That’s a little more complicated.  We have Windows 32-bit systems, Windows 64-bit systems, and Macs among students.

Windows 32-bit systems are usually 2GB of RAM or less (XP and older Windows don’t handle RAM larger than that very well).

64-bit systems (3GB or more of RAM) are usually Vista, and soon Windows 7.  It seems that when Vista proved to be slow on some new computers, vendors went to the slightly faster 64-bit version of Vista to make performance look better… but 64-bit systems have more compatibility problems, including with printer drivers.

Now we’ve got a 32-bit Windows driver and a separate 64-bit Windows driver, and we have a handout explaining how to get the right one.  That is, provided the student knows the difference, which many don’t — they just bought what was on sale.  So, we’ll need to help them with that from time to time.  I think the instructions I did up will cover most cases.

Then we have students-+ with Macs.  The catch is, we are a primarily Windows campus.  (Please, no judgements or advice or proselytizing — I don’t make the decisions, I just try to deal with them.  Besides, I do Windows.)  I don’t have a Mac to experiment with, or save screen shots on, and neither do the tech people, so at this point, Mac users will just have to save their files off in .rtf format and bring them up on a Windows computer to print.

The printer drivers are “universal” drivers for HP printers.  That means that the handful of other printers on the network may choke, but that’s not a big factor.

Now, aside from paying the Cashier, there are going to be two quick ways to put money in your account — online using a credit card, and through a special station on campus using money or a credit card.  Of course, that device is not cheap, and since non-students will need it to pay for printing/copies at the Library, we ended up hosting the single PHIL for the entire campus.

PHIL stands for Payment Headquarters In Location.  Personally, I think of it as Payment Headquarters in Library, but I’m admittedly biased on the acronym.

PHIL is a metal box, which we mounted on the supplied metal stand.  It won’t have much money from cash; most people will use credit cards to top up their accounts, we expect.  Public users will be able to purchase cards, and then put money on them to pay for printing, which is likely to stay down to a couple of bucks at a time.  Screen in front will show you your balance, let you deposit money in your account, or buy a card.  Pretty simple.  Basic black and fairly discreet.

Naturally, some people will not be entirely content with having to pay when they’ve printed for free all this time (except for our color printing service, which at this point is still not on the card system yet).  But, everyone else is charging — often more than we will — including the public library.  And students will get some free credit on their cards each semester to start with.  It should make them more aware of the cost of things, and that’s something they need to learn before they go out in the big wide world where everyone else expects payment.

TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.  (Anyone remember their Heinlein?)

ILLiad and Canons

I spelled that correctly.  Really.

It’s “Canon” as in the manufacturer, and OCLC’s ILLiad interlibrary loan service.

After long consideration and talking to Innovative Interfaces people, we’re moving away from the Innovative Interfaces ILL module, such as it is, and setting up ILLiad.

I’d gotten a Canon MX-700 all-in-one to replace our old fax machine earlier.  It seemed to be doing well, so when we needed a color printer to handle the occasion ILL that we need to print, I just got another — on sale, of course! — since it could double as a scanner with an ADF (Automatic Document Feeder).   Inkjets are expensive for cartridges, but we don’t print that much color from it, and send black&white to a laser printer instead.  They could both use the same cartridges.

When it came time to train on ILLiad’s “Odyssey” function, which scans in documents to lend, the Odyssey software crashed.  It wouldn’t even open — just crashed the ILLiad software completely.  Apparently it didn’t like the Canon MX700 driver at all.

Hmmm.  So, I installed the driver for our older, less reliable Epson 4490 (they’ve been dying on us at an accelerating pace).  Then tried it without the Epson attached, but kept the Canon MX-700 attached.

Now, Odyssey came up, said it couldn’t find the Epson (we told it never mind) and Odyssey opened.  Then I chose the Canon from the list of available scanners.  And we were in business.  The trainer couldn’t explain it.  Did the same thing on another computer.  Install the Epson driver to find first, and it came up.  Canon only, it crashes.

Now we needed a scanner (just a scanner, no ADF, no printing) for another ILL workstation.  I had just gotten in a Canon 8800F so I put that on with the 8800F driver.  Try to load Odyssey and — Crash.  Try something else.  Crash.  Crash.  OCLC claims it works with any TWAIN scanner.  Crash.  Consult, check all the suggestions off.  Crash.  Crash.  Install the Epson driver.  Crash.  Install the MX700 driver.  Crash.

The librarian in charge of ILL finally worked it out.  Turn the Canon 8800F off first, then load Odyssey, then turn the Canon back on.  Then Odyssey seems to be happy with it and lets you change to the Canon.

Scanners are notoriously wonky creatures, and OCLC software is very particular, but at least we have a workaround.  If anybody else has an explanation or better way to do it, I’m open to discussion.

BTW: Dell PCs using Windows XP Pro, USB interfaces.  I love USB interfaces because they allow you to switch equipment so easily.

Zebra TLP2844 printer manual is up

The manual for our new Zebra TLP2844 thermal transfer printer is up.

We needed a one-up label printer for our serials, that could also print the routing list as part of the process.

The TLP2844 is a thermal transfer printer, which means that instead of using thermally -sensitive labels (which fade over a short time, we’ve found to our dismay), the TLP2844 uses a thermal process to tranfer ink from a ribbon to the plain label. This should last for years.

For books, you can get spine/pocket label combinations, and those can be printed with a more durable resin ribbon.

For the serials, however, I went a little cheaper and got paper labels, and printed on them with a wax ribbon directly from the Innovative Interfaces Millennium Serials module. The setup info for all that is on the manual page. These will work for in-house circulation until we bind the serial.

Unfortunately, MilSer does not recognize the particular size of label (3×2) we use from the Zebra, so I have to tell it that we’re using 4×4 labels instead of 3×2, and the spacing is a bit wonky after the serials label prints if we have a routing list. If there is no routing list, the next label comes out blank. Still, it does the job, quickly and neatly.  We stick on the serial label, and staple the routing list labels (still on the backing) and pull them off later after routing is completed.

We had been using a standard dot matrix printer (remember those?) but had a continuing problem with the label feed. I insisted they “waste” the first label, leaving it blank, and feed it through into the guide bar so the remaining labels would go through properly. Often somebody decided to “save” that label (and avoid the extra task of detaching it) by not feeding it into the guide bar, so when the printed label came out, it jammed in the guide bar.  Then they took the guide bar off the printer to avoid that, and so the labels kept jamming because they didn’t feed properly through the ribbon guide without the guide bar holding them flat against the platen.  On top of that, they had to feed out the printed label, and doing that by using the platen knob on the side stripped the gears (because people forgot to disengage the gears first) and made it even harder for labels to go through properly.

They needed a “black box” kind of printer that didn’t need any adjustments (or have removable parts).  The standard dot matrix printers were designed for batches, not one-at-a-time labels, but that increased the chance of mismatching labels to issues.

I’m hoping that the new customizing of III’s labels in Release 2007 (due out RSN: Real Soon Now) will allow me to print a barcode on the labels. We use a barcode for counting circulation of a serial within the library, but right now, with no barcode on the issues, we have to go to a rolodex full of cards with the barcodes for each serial title.

While I created a barcoded label using our Wasp Barcode Labeler software, which pulled the right title and barcode for it from an Excel file, it’s an extra step and shifting back and forth between softwares, and it was decided not to do it.

Wasp will let me do book labels (I got a roll of spine/pocket labels and tested), and once I see how the new Release 2007 (or the next version) allows me to customize, we might see about getting another Zebra for Tech Services. I’m also looking at the option to print book bands for ILL.

Star SP542 printers and our manual

[updated 4/19/2008 — see below]

I’ve put up a page for our new Star Micronics SP542 printers that have been added to the two circulation workstations. Software settings for Millennium, for the printer software, for Windows printer settings, and so on.
We have finally retired the old Gaylord Model C card chompers, may they rest in well-deserved peace. I’ve trained a lot of people on them (here and at my previous job/library) and they were great in their time, but I’m not sad to see them go now. I’m not nostalgic about no longer hearing that loud noise they make when they jam, either….

With some parameter setting, I’ve gotten the Stars to print out a list of everything each patron checks out on our Innovative Interfaces Inc. ‘Millennium’ system, when the checkout is completed as a date due slip. We elected to do everything on one slip, rather than one item per printout. The Fort Smith Public Library does it the same way, and it saves paper. The function is built into the Millennium software, plus setting up things in the printer software and Windows.

I also experimented with using it to print out receipts for payment of fines, etc. We are required to use something with sequentially numbered receipts, which has restricted us to handwriting in multi-carbon receipt books up to now. I found trial software which will allow us to print out everything we should need, AND sequentially number it automatically, but we still need to get the arrangement approved formally before we license the software and proceed, if that happens. It is possible to do it, however. The software has no connection to our Millennium system (since Millennium doesn’t have the sequential numbering as of Release 2006) but it’s not too hard to type in the info, scan in the barcode of the patron, and print enough copies automatically. One copy for the patron, one for us, one for the accountants. All originals, since it’s cheaper to print multiple copies for the occasional receipt, than to use multi-copy paper all the time for date due slips.

The possibility of using the printers for receipts, which need to last a long time, is why we went with the SP542s rather than a thermal printer. Our experiences with thermal printers is that, without a ribbon, the thermal print fades over time. We can’t have that happen with financial records if we want to get approval for this system. The SP542s are dot matrix printers using ribbons.

[update 4/19/2008]

We’ve had some trouble with both of these printers after several months use.  I think I’ve narrowed down the problem, however.

They have a design flaw regarding how difficult it is to clean them.

The standard paper rolls (same ones used in calculators) used in these always has the possibility of trim fragments coming off, and the cutter action tends to create a lot more.  All these bits and pieces go down inside, and eventually jam or trip a sensor and the printer signals Windows that it’s “busy”.  Windows, of course, refuses to forget that message and won’t print until you fix the printer and reboot the computer.

So, I turned off the bidirectional capability, and opened up the older printer, shook it out, picked out pieces, vacuumed it (carefully!) and put it back in use.  Still not working.

When I open the printer, I can flip up the cutter mechanism, and remove the ribbon.  Under that is a plate, held down by one tiny (about #4) sheet metal screw, and some places where it snaps in.  I finally opened that up (last thing before sending it back to the vendor), carefully removing the little spindle that turns the ribbon, which is held in place by it, and lo — LOTS of fragments still inside.  So, cleaned those out, replaced the spindle, and the plate, and all, and got it back in action.  The older one still slowly blinks red — which seems to indicate it hasn’t reset after replacing the paper roll, according to the manual — but it’s printing again.  I’d about given up on it.  The newer one also needed cleaning, but it’s red light is now off and it’s behaving itself.  So far.

I call this a design flaw because it is not simple to remove this plate — it’s rather awkward, and takes a little maneuvering, but it comes out — and it will need to be done every month or so from now on.  Remember the little drawer in the old Gaylord book chargers, that you just yanked out and dumped?  Well, that’s the single thing about those that should have been copied by Star.  At least, they should have made it easier to get into the areas you need to clean.  Not a fatal flaw, but one that should have been addressed in the design, IMHO (In My Humble Opinion).

So far, I’d still recommend these, but I’d warn buyers that they’ll have to do regular cleaning like this.