I've worked at a library for over 10 years. For most of that time, the receipts we've given people that check out our items have essentially been plain text, dot-matrix printouts of barely more than a title and date. In late 2008 we joined a consortium running the Evergreen Integrated Library System. Suddenly everything was different! This was better, that was worse, no one knew what this thing was, and those features weren't even there yet. The receipts, though, were very similar.
Something about them is very different though. Now there is an option to change the templates for the receipts and mold them into whatever shape or style you might want. It doesn't require using any bizarre forms processing language or choosing from one or two equally bad layouts in an options file, these templates are made of regular HTML with a few placeholders for the patron or item specific information.
Think about the other items given to your patrons as they walk out the door. Your program fliers probably aren't just a short paragraph typed up in Word's default font are they? Is your website a single page with dark Times New Roman on a light background? I thought not. (I hope not.)
Update 4/17/2012: I didn't see it until today, but Aaron Schmidt wrote a great article for the User Experience blog on LibraryJournal's site, explaining more about the reasons you might care about improving the looks and information usability of your receipts. He does a much better job of explaining the why; after you've read his article (go on, it's a short post) come back here for some how.
So, what is the default, anyway?
The basic information is here; the book is due back in 2 weeks, the movie in 1, and the barcode is included in case you have cause to need it. You can parse out what you need, but aside from the subtitles you wouldn't know one is a book and the other a movie. The dates are also absolutely tape-on-the-glasses nerdstyles; I mean, I love me some ISO 8601 (this approximation, less so), but I don't know anyone that uses it for non-computer things. You can also see from the last line that we still enter all of our user information IN ALL CAPS. HELLO FROM 1985. (Don't tell me about postal this or that, I don't care.)
At JCPL, anything handed to a patron or frequently used by staff is based on the following layout.
Plenty of changes here, if you look closely at the second item there's obviously some kind of textomancy happening, the dates are also written in an easier to read manner, and there's almost nothing left that's in all caps (no database changes, for better or worse). There's also local library branding and the patron's first name. That adds a nice little touch of personalization and will really help those families where each child wants to check out their own items. To try to preserve my sanity, the branch name and phone number are workstation aware, so one set of templates is used at all of our locations without edits. Neat.
So, here's the template for that default receipt:
Templates have header, line item, and footer sections. The line item section is repeated for each item checked out, renewed, etc. The text between percent signs are the library/patron/item text placeholders. Generally speaking the upper case placeholders work anywhere and the lower case only work in the line item. The good news is that there are many more than the ones we see here; to see them all, there's a Macros button in the template editor. Keep in mind that each receipt type (checkout, checkin, holds, etc.) has a different list, so check it out.
So I upgraded the look of our checkout template, what does it look like now?
Witchcraft! What are all of these spans doing up in here? And whither these false CSS classes? The answers require a little backstory…