askSam -- A Lifesaver For My Information
Joseph Umhauer, Head cataloger/System librarian
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As the System Librarian/Cataloger for our University library, I am required to oversee numerous tasks. This requires that I have knowledge of our automated circulation system, our cataloging vendor, our campus network and, of course, on various operating systems, including Windows (98, NT), UNIX and one thrown in by the vendor of our automated system plus numerous software packages used by these various components.
Of course, not only do I have to make sure that these products run, but I also must make sure they are up-to-date, that scheduled utilities and reports are run as well as implement any new changes to these products and procedures.
This requires keeping track of a lot of information. Of course, all these have manuals that contain the appropriate information to successfully use the products, but that is not enough. It's the hints, work-arounds, and hidden tricks, etc. that you learn from experience, that really help in the day-to-day struggles.
I tried the various standard database products, such as Foxpro, FileMaker, Access, and even a few shareware products, to help me organize this mountain of information. But none of them worked to my satisfaction. The problem was that the information I needed to keep track of was so varied that none of these products could handle it. I needed something that could deal with data that may be as short as one sentence and as long as several pages. The information came from manuals, email, memos, technical bulletins, personal experience, etc. It didn't always fit into a specific type of field or length of data.
Thankfully, I discovered askSam, and it was the answer to my problems. Its' versatility and searching capabilities was exactly what I was looking for. askSam does have its qwerks and it did require some effort to understand, but it was worth it. I now use this exclusively for my database needs (and even for some of my word processing). It has become indispensable to my work.
As an illustration, a major part of my work is to run and maintain our automated circulation system. As part of this I have developed 3 main files, they are:
a daily log file
a problem log file
a system's knowledge file.
The daily log file is the least structured. It has just 2 fields: “Phone calls” and “Log”. This is my work diary in which I record the major events of the day. This helps me keep track of when and who. I record when I do a certain utility, procedure, who calls, when a specific problem appeared and was solved, and who I worked with, etc. This allows me to keep track of the large range of things that may happen or that need to be done.
My second file is my problem log. This is a structured file in which I record problems, and questions about our automated circulation system. Our vendor has its own database that assigns a log number for each submission as well as the question/problem and solution/response of support on the incident. I take the basic information from their log and add it to mine. But I also include a keyword field in which I put relevant keywords that are not in the rest of the narrative but which will help in searching this log later. This is invaluable since I can track how the vendor responds as well as have solutions available whenever the problem/question reappears.
The third file is my kitchen sink. It's the file that contains all the pieces of knowledge I've learned about each system over the years. It contains knowledge from the system manuals, from the problem log mentioned above, plus bits & pieces I've learned from experience. This data may be a paragraph long or many pages long. So many times, I know I have run into this problem or that situation before and can't remember the solution. This file allows me to plug in a few words and instantly retrieve the answer.
Of course, askSam's ability to hyperlink with these files is incredibly handy as well. I link all three of these files extensively. The daily log is linked to both files to track the timeline for different problems, changes, etc. I link different logs together since many parts of the solutions will change or be modified from the original occurrence. I also link the system knowledge to the log file, since the log contains information needed time and again by the system.
Of course, I have dozens of other askSam files that help me to keep track of other parts of my job, but these 3 files best illustrate the ability of askSam to handle my varied informational needs.
Head cataloger/System librarian
"Optimistic, even in the face of reality."
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