As described on our
Website and Intranet Design
page, some organizations use large commercial web software
packages for their website applications.
Often these packages are beyond the technical skills of
the end-user staff to configure, customize and maintain.
Such a package is iBistro,
the online catalog component of the Unicorn
Library Management System from Sirsi.
iBistro is essentially a
web software system wrapped around a
server (such as a Sun Microsystems SPARC machine running
Solaris), the Apache web server software, and an
While the package comes with a set of GUI configuration forms,
the underlying structure and function remains a "black box"
to the average library staffer charged with maintaining it,
and "customizing" it for the individual library's needs
is an uphill struggle.
It's not that iBistro isn't a good product: we've seen
it and we're impressed.
The problem is simply that is so big, so complex (not to be
confused with complicated), that some of it is more than the
average library can chew.
can help! Here's how ...
iBistro Technical Components
UNIX (Solaris, Linux, etc.) OS
HTML pages and templates
CGI Perl scripts
C language programs
Makefiles for compilation
The base technologies on which iBistro are built are well
chosen. Kudos to Sirsi: if we were to design and build it,
we would have chosen the same. But to fully master it requires
some expertise in all of the components listed to the left.
Most libraries, including those in
the technical staff charged with customizing, configuring and
maintaining it, don't have all of that expertise.
just happens to have experience with each of these technologies.
We've used UNIX (then Solaris and Linux) since 1980.
We've actually helped
develop and build commerical UNIX operating systems.
Not only are we end-user experts, we know what's under the
hood, including the C code.
We run Solaris and Apache on our own workstations.
We've written dozens of shell, Perl, CGI and
(We won't mention HTML because these days everybody is
a "web designer". :-))
We recently visited the main library of a sizable consortium
The staff was intelligent, competent, and dedicated, but
some of the technology was new to them.
In their words,
"Changing the HTML isn't the problem. The problem is gettng
there and understanding the layers upon layers."
So we gave them a short course in UNIX and the shell command language,
identified baffling files as shell and Perl scripts and explained
basically how they work, described in principle what makeall
did with an overview of Makefiles, and solved a problem they were
having with cron file syntax.
Just learning about shell wildcards and variables,
regular expressions, commands like
grep and find, and how to navigate and change
permissions in the file system was a help.
In just a few hours we were able to clarify much
of the guts of iBistro for them, because we have experience
with the underlying core technologies.
We can show you how changes made through the iBistro
configuation GUIs result in changes to source files.
This will clarify how the system actually works.
Furthermore, we can advise when, where and how to make hard-coded
changes to files, opposed to what changes you must
make through the maintenance and configuration GUIs
so that they are persistent, permanent and won't be
overwritten by other changes accomplished via the
configuration GUI programs.
Customizing the User Interface
The bookseller design paradigm isn't necessarily the right
one for library patrons.
How to make some changes to the iBistro interface
are not well documented, resulting in some pages getting the
"default" look and feel.
It is sometimes unclear when to change HTML files directly
vs. changing ".env" files.
We can help you customize the interfaces.
In addition to our technical expertise we have considerable
background and experience with end-user design issues,
with focus on usability and our design philosophy that
"The system is the interface".
To get expert help for your Sirsi Unicorn iBistro
Design MatriX at
(310) 455 3107 or