Decisions Blog

Archive for February, 2010

Age restricted DVDs

Public libraries self-issuing DVDs or academic libraries self-issuing material available to (say) postgraduates and staff only share a problem with on-line retailers: how do you establish the right of the individual to check the item out?

Although in theory, libraries are in a stronger position than on-line retailers because they have registration data about their borrowers, in practice this area is potentially affected by a number of issues ranging from data accuracy and completeness to the functionality of the physical terminals.

Regardless of operational practice, one need which may arise is the reporting of exceptions: that is to understand how big the problem is. This scenario assumes that borrower date of birth data are accurate and that there is an item type of “Adult DVD”. This will illustrate the principle, although the detail will vary from library to library.

The basic query returns the date of birth, the loan date, the item type and the loan count. The query is filtered on loan date (not least to cut down the refresh time) and also limits the results just to issues:


Once the query has run and has populated a default report, you can then create a variable that returns the age of the borrower at the point that the item was loaned. This is done using the MonthsBetween() function, dividing the result by 12 and using the Floor() function to round down to the nearest year. The whole variable definition looks like this:


There are many ways that the data could be displayed. Here is one example – a chart that displays the number of loans of an adult DVD by age of borrower at the time of the loan for borrowers between 7 and 17:


In theory, Talis Decisions could use external data to look up the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) details of a DVD, but in practice this is likely to be confounded by lack of consistent identifiers for DVDs, multiple editions of the same DVD and other data issues.

Does anyone have any experience or any views on this look-up approach? If so, please do post a comment

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – Take 2

I’ve mentioned KPIs in a number of previous posts, and promised to do so again. Some libraries not only use them but publish them: here for example is a publically-accessible report on performance against KPIs at Monash University in the USA.

It is important to remember that there are two parts to a KPI:

  • What you are going to measure (e.g. “percentage of items returned from loan re-shelved within 24 hours Monday to Friday”).
  • A target value or measure (maximum or minimum value (e.g. 90%).

The first (what you are going to measure) tends to have a longer lifespan  than the actual target number which can change – typically from year to year. An annual operating budget is a good example of a KPI: “what” is the same from year to year i.e. “how much money you are going to spend”. The actual budget value changes from year to year (unfortunately, often downwards!)

KPI’s are useful only as marketing collateral unless they can lead to action: action to improve a KPI that is falling short of target. Use of KPIs then becomes a five step process:

  1. Decide what you are going to measure (e.g. “percentage of items returned from loan re-shelved within 24 hours Monday to Friday”).
  2. Agree a target value (e.g. 90%)
  3. Collect actual real world performance data
  4. Compare target and actual
  5. Decide what action to take if they are not in line (e.g. reassign staff, buy an RFID sorter etc etc.)


Do you use KPIs in your library? If so please do add some examples via the comments option. If not have you tried them but not been able to make them work for you? And what has been the sticking point – deciding what, agreeing values or following through to action?

Age Bands and Class mark Ranges

It is sometimes very useful to be able to group items, loans or borrowers by some characteristic, where the groups are not held explicitly, but are based on something else that is known. For example:

  • Borrower Age Band (e.g. “under 10”, “11 – 15” etc)
  • Class mark Range (e.g. “000 – 100”, “101 – 200” etc)
  • Issue Transaction time periods (e.g. “morning”, “lunchtime”, “afternoon”, “early evening”…)

Here is a typical report produced by Talis Decisions:

Loans by Age Band

Note that the Age Band data are not held in Talis Alto. They are calculated by Talis Decisions using a variable based on the borrower age like this:

=If ([Age] > 1000; "Unknown";
If ([Age] < 11; "10 or under";
If ([Age] < 21; "11-20";
If ([Age] < 31; "21-30";
If ([Age] < 41; "31-40";
If ([Age] < 51; "41-50";
If ([Age] < 61; "51-60";
If ([Age] < 71; "61-70";
"Over 71"))))))))

This  example is described in more detail in the document Using the Talis Decisions Universes – Some Examples available from the Documentation area of the website. There is another example in the Community section of the Talis Decisions website from Aberdeenshire of a similar approach being used to segment stock by Dewey classifications.

As ever, if you like the look of this kind of report but are unsure of how best to tackle it at a technical level, we can always write one to your specification. Please contact your Account Manager to organise a quote.

And if you are already doing this kind of thing and feel that your experience might benefit others, please do let us have a description or examples which could go on the Community page of the website.

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Talis Decisions Universes V5

The Talis Decisions Universes V5 are available from the download area of the Talis Decisions site. These are primarily intended to complement the Alto 5 release. They do also include a number of improvements. These are detailed in the Release notice, but one significant improvement is in the area of rotations. Compare the Stock Rotation class in Universes up to version 4.3 with the Stock Rotation class in Version 5:

Version 4.3

Version 5

SP32-20100201-103444 SP32-20100201-103056

These changes should make it easier to write reports which show what items are in which patterns and where they are.

Note also that these Universes are available for Talis Decisions powered by BusinessObjects XI R2 and for Talis Decisions powered by BusinessObjects XI R3.1. They are not available for earlier versions.

As ever, please do let us know how you get on with these new Universes: and if you need assistance (e.g.. in writing a suite of rotation reports), or to arrange an upgrade from 5i so that you can use these new Universes,  please speak to your account manager.