And All Work Stops

I’m sitting here late at night in the hotel working away as I build a survey. Let me say again, it’s late at night. Now I like my sleep as much as the next person, but late can be good. Late at night there is very little e-mail coming in. E-mail. You know – that nagging little thing that sits in your inbox and quietly demands a response. Late at night there are no phone calls. There are no updates from social networking sites. Late at night you can really dig into a project and just cruise . . .


Until . . .


Somewhere for some reason some part of the network goes down.


And all work stops.


The survey questions themselves are essentially written. I’m busy adding the login questions to branch my respondents to varying sets of questions depending upon their answers. Or rather, I was. Before the network went down.


This reminds me of an article I read earlier today. The point of the article is to highlight the inherent dangers of relying too much on cloud data and applications. A lot can happen. Servers can go down. Network connections can go down. Something between you and your data or app can go down. Of course when everything is working fine, it’s all very convenient.


But when something does go down, all you can do it sit, fume, and wait for services to be restored. I find it both interesting and frustrating that the very tools that enable us to do much of our work are also the same tools that prevent us from being able to do our work. Yes, a fascinating irony.


So I’m tired of sitting and waiting. I guess I’ll post this tomorrow. Sometime. When my network connection comes back up.


Reference: Google Users Live By the Cloud, Die By the Cloud

It all started innocently enough . . .

Back in February we noticed a small problem on one of our public computers. It was primarily a cosmetic issue. It affected the way our printing software behaved, but the software still worked. Yes, it worked, but it didn’t work completely correctly, and it was annoying to see this problem on 32 brand spankin’ new computers.

After playing around with this issue for a bit, I called our vendor to see if they had a solution. They told me to install hotfix 10. This is the point at which I broke the second law of the universe: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I installed hotfix 10.

Hotfix 10 did not solve the problem. It gave us a nasty surprise though, when we realized that our print installer no longer worked. After that, things went from bad to worse. Following our vendor’s advice, we installed more updates and made more changes to the server.

Unfortunately, these were not benign updates. They began to undermine the stability of the service. At its worst point we were receiving over a dozen alerts each day about problems with the print system. After another phone call Monday, our vendor took a surprising approach by rolling some of our software back to a previous version. They admitted that there were some “known” problems with our current version.

At this point we remain hopeful but not optimistic. We’ve gone a day-and-a-half without receiving any service requests, and sadly, this feels like a victory after the nightmare of the last three weeks. I can’t think of another time in many, many years where I was so glad for a service to just work for a full day.

So what is the result of all this? Our confidence in this vendor is understandably shaken. Our confidence in the server itself was unnecessarily shaken. The frustration level has been through the roof for both patrons and employees has been through the roof. We’re seriously thinking of rebuilding the server because of this incident.

And – strangely enough – I’m thinking of moving to the next major version of the vendor’s software. When this stuff works , it’s rock solid. And it really does work . . . most of the time. When it doesn’t, it’s very, very, very bad. But the new version brings some new functionality that our patrons need. They’ve been asking for it, and I want to give it to them. But at what cost will it come?

Notebooks Overtake Desktops

Reuters reports that for the first time worldwide notebook shipments were higher than desktop shipments. This 2008 3rd quarter shift has been a long time coming, and it will be interesting to see whether this is a temporary blip on the radar or the beginning of a sustained transition.

I have a lot of questions about why this is happening. Are businesses providing more notebooks/laptops to their employees? Some companies want their employees to be able to work from home and on the road, so perhaps the trend is partially business-driven. Are home users adding a second computer or are they replacing an older desktop with a laptop? Are more students choosing notebooks as the device that will best meet their needs?

Whatever the reason, notebooks mean mobility and mobility demands network access. Whether it’s WiFi, tethering to a cell phone, or some other means, users want to connect to the Internet. Everyone from Starbucks to McDonald’s has jumped on board with free Internet access, and it seems that more and more hotspots are popping up all the time.

Of course libraries have been offering free wireless Internet access for years, and with the shift to more mobile devices, demand can only increase. In addition to notebooks and netbooks, users are also carrying gaming devices and cell phones with built-in WiFi connectivity.

Our campus networking department recently advised us that we need to add at least three more access points to help distribute our wireless traffic. We’re currently wrapping up a major network reorganization which significantly reduces the number of publicly available wired connections in the building. While we were hesitant to do this, current network use patterns clearly revealed that we were spending a lot of time and effort to maintain wired connections that simply weren’t being used.

It will be interesting to watch the continuing evolution of user devices. As patrons access our resources and services with smaller devices, there will probably be more display options targeted to the smaller screens of these devices. There will definitely be more demand for network bandwidth and more devices on the network. And as easy as some devices are to connect, others are still not as user-friendly as one might wish. The preference for wireless access continues to affect the ways in which libraries approach in-building access as well as online services, and I’m looking forward to a new generation of applications running on these new devices.

Talking Tags

We’re currently in the midst of a library catalog redesign. Last week we had an open discussion forum to look at some of the new features that are available in the new release as well as some optional enhancements. On the enhancements side we looked at a book jacket service as well as LibraryThing. LibraryThing offers a set of enhancements which include tags, similar books, and other editions. I personally find the similar books feature to be very useful, and of course tag clouds are beginning to show up in more places.

LibraryThing sparked several interesting discussions. Two of the discussion points focused on issues that I’ve heard a number of times when discussing tagging. One point emphasizes the detail and specificity of Library of Congress subject Headings. The other point highlights the ability of keyword searches to retrieve content that users need. If we already have subject Headings and keyword searches, why do we need tags?

I think this is a valid question which deserves an answer, but perhaps not necessarily the answer one might expect. I don’t think of tags as a replacement for subject headings or keyword searches. Instead, the tags provide a function that goes directly to the core of web 2.0 technologies. Tags allow users to organize and interact with content in a way that is meaningful to them. Tags may also help users find books in the catalog, and it’s great if that happens. But I think it’s more significant that tags allow users to truly work with the content contained in the library catalog rather than just passively reading a screen and perhaps jotting down a call number.

In the end I don’t know if we’ll add LibraryThing enhancements to our catalog, but it’s definitely worth consideration. The product that has a lot of promise, and it sparked some interesting discussion during our forum. Many people saw the immediate value that these enhancements could add to the library catalog. Perhaps most importantly, we had a number of students present for our discussion, and THEY saw the benefits these enhancements would bring. That’s what’s it really all about, after all.

Playing Topsy-Turvy with the Library Budget

We’re still in the first week of classes, and the library is very busy. Every computer is is use almost constantly throughout the day. My colleagues and I have often speculated that if we could squeeze more computers into the building, every single one would be in use. Having an overabundance of neither space nor budget, I had another “what-if” moment?

What if – for just one year – we flip-flopped the materials and technology budgets? Setting aside what this would mean for monographs, serials, and databases, IF we had that budget for IT for just one year, what would I do with it?

Replace old public and employee computers
Increase the number of public computers
Add new ILS modules
Purchase test server
Provide additional training for IT department members
Provide additional training for other library employees
Make scanners and media card readers available on some public computers
Purchase equipment for laptop checkout program

Looking at my list, this seems to be a mix of operating essentials and services it would be nice to offer. In fact, it wouldn’t take anything close to the entire materials budget to achieve these. So . . . maybe it’s time to get a little more exotic.

I’ve heard a number of presenters talk about libraries as places for content creation, not just places for warehousing and access. With that in mind, I think a few media labs would be interesting additions. This would definitely require some construction work, so there goes part of the budget. The marketing students are always doing group presentations, so a video editing lab would be a possibility. A lab for the music students with synthesizers, Finale, and some of the Cakewalk software would be another choice. We have evolved into a Windows shop, so I’d like to mix things up with some Macintosh computers. And just to do a little something for the IT Department, I think I would shoot for a new and better server room.

So there is my first, off-the-cuff pass at topsy-turvy day. I wonder what other folks would do if they could play around with the budget for their areas?

Fall Semester Underway

Fall semester has commenced. So far so good. Our library computers and services are up and running, and everything has been relatively smooth. Of course we did a lot of prep work in the final weeks before the semester started. There were a lot of software updates, some last-minute rearranging, and patron loads. Things seem to be going well, but it’s not quite perfect, so I’m thinking about some of the little wrinkles and trying to figure out if there are ways to preemptively address these in the future.

Off-Campus Logins
A patron who called yesterday was having trouble logging into the library catalog from an off-campus location via WebID. I first checked her library account. The account had all of the required data for a successful login, so that wasn’t the problem. Next I dialed in from an off-campus connection and tried logging in. I successfully logged in with my WebID, so it seemed that all LDAP components were functioning properly. Since I didn’t know the patron’s WebID information, I tested her login with the old name/barcode method. That worked as well. About this time the patron revealed that she was also having trouble logging into Blackboard and registration tools. Aha! From that it sounded like there was some problem with the user account that was controlled at a level above the library. If the patron is also having trouble with non-library logins, then it sounds like a call to the IT Helpdesk is in order.

The same patron also asked questions using Blackboard. Although the library doesn’t provide Blackboard support, I gave it a shot. (I’m not sure how she was able to see things in Blackboard since she couldn’t login, but oh well!) She said that when she clicked her class, the syllabus wasn’t listed. Sounds like this could be one of a couple of things. There could be some problem related to her login. This sounds likely based on her initial description. As another option, it’s possible that the professor simply hasn’t added the syllabus yet. Since I was not enrolled in her class, that’s as far as I could go with troubleshooting. Yet another call that should go to the IT Helpdesk.

Printing problems come and go, but this was the first time I had heard this one. Some students are printing course slides in Blackboard to the color printer. When the next student tries to print, their job automatically goes to the color printer instead of the black and white one. The wrinkle here is that this is default Windows behavior. When you change the printer to a choice other than the default, subsequent print jobs from the same application will go to the last printer chosen. The dilemma then is whether to inconvenience the current user or future users. If we could find a workaround that reset the printer choice to the default after each job, that would annoy the current user who needs to send several jobs to the color printer. If we leave it as is, then there is a potential annoyance to the next user. Since this seems to be a single-instance issue, the decision for now is to leave the default Windows behavior as is.

All in all things are looking good. Based on the first week thus far, it sounds like our services are in good order. With the issues that have come up so far, two are beyond our control and one deals with the default behavior of the OS. I’ll keep my eyes open and see if any other issues pop up. It’s always good to be able to anticipate and avoid potential hitches and glitches whenever possible.

Cuil not so cool after all

A few days have passed and the hype is already dying down. Time to face facts. Cuil ain’t no Dark Knight. It generated some early enthusiasm, but it hasn’t really sustained it. I keep going back to the site, but I’m just not all that impressed with Cuil. It simply isn’t finding things that appear in the first few hits of a Google search.

Stephanie has written an interesting post on Cuil over at Dube’s World. In her post she tackles one of the annoyances I’ve had with Cuil. What’s up with those random images? Cuil’s search results display is nice. I like the layout of the brief summary. If the pictures were drawn from the website, I would like those as well. Unfortunately, the pictures usually seem to have no relevance to the website with which Cuil pairs them. What’s up with that? Does anyone know how Cuil matches images to search hits?

I noted a few days ago that Cuil couldn’t even find “iron man”. At least they’ve solved THAT little problem.    😉