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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Computer Fix

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 21, 2007

Our first library automation system was started in 1987, consisting of 4 libraries with 200,000 items in the area connected to the State Library's system in Caldwell.


Today, that same system, upgraded and replaced 3 times, consists of 73 libraries all across Ohio with 5.3 million items.


The first system was only for checkout and check in; each library still had a paper card catalog to access the system.


Today's system has an Information Portal accessing all items, with the ability to place requests for any item in the system.


In addition, users can manage their own accounts, download e-books, and access online databases.


The use of the system was recently tested with a minor upgrade of the year old software causing a month's worth of problems.


The latest upgrade of the system took place in 2005, and the first software upgrade was scheduled to handle the new 13 digit International Standard Book Number announced by the Library of Congress.


The system was down for only 3 hours in December to achieve the minor upgrade, and we were back online before Noon of the day.


Things seemed to be working fine, until libraries noticed that the normal 5-8 seconds for the system to place a Request for a book had grown to 45-90 seconds.


Otherwise, the system worked fine.  Engineers in the company headquarters of Provo, Utah began troubleshooting and trying this fix and that fix, to no avail.


It was an irritating problem, but we could work-around the issue and continue service.


Eventually the problem was resolved, and then no one could download e-books.


That problem was fixed, and then nobody could access his or her Accounts online in the "My Account" section.


Again, two engineers at SirsiDynix were assigned to the problem, but the solution took almost 10 days.


And now, the Kids Catalog doesn't work, and has to be reformulated.


The Library found two things from this minor upgrade.


A Library automation system is complex, larger and more sophisticated that most systems in the private business world.


We want access to our collections, with the average book, DVD, talking book, magazine having at least 25 access points in the system.


We want to loan things, and in doing so we have a database of borrowers (over 600,000 at this time) and the online systems to request, borrow, loan, and retrieve things.


We have attached to that, additional technology of e-books, and online databases to name only two.


The second thing we found is how much our system is used, and there is nothing like "down time" to make that apparent as staff worked around the problems with our users.


Fixing a computer or computer system is achieved through "trial & error."  Everything you do seems to impact something else, and as the systems become more complex, so does the fix.


I don't want to sound old, but I can remember when the biggest issue of the day at a library was un-jamming a rod in one of those card catalog drawers.


Oh well, time and technology marches forward.