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

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.

Library Media Servers

Several months ago a friend and I were enjoying the Blu-Ray vs. HD debate until that mess sorted itself out. I remember saying at the time that I thought either format was just a stopgap measure until better/faster broadband and home media servers combine to allow us to purchase our high-definition movies online and download them directly to our own servers for storing and playing in a variety of ways.

This (kind of) reminded me of the way our music library worked when I started college. Students could search the catalog, but we were not allowed to browse the LPs. When the library started adding CDs it was under the same restriction. Students also could not handle these media items themselves: all of the items and equipment were managed in a sound room that output to numbered listening stations. If students needed to listen to the same track – or even worse, to a few measures of a track – over and over, they had to constantly ask the librarian to restart the section.

Of course that changed with time. But with so many bits and pieces of technology now in place, I want to achieve a similar end for different reasons. I want to take that old notion of students not being allowed to handle the media items and change that into students not having to handle the media items. We have a couple of online music databases that in some ways obviate the need for a media server. However, most libraries will have a collection of media items that are not available through subscription services. Whether it’s a video of a lecture held on campus or that one particular Mendelssohn recording that brings out the nuance a professor wants to highlight, online subscriptions can’t be all things to all people.

So when will media servers come into their own as a library tool? From a number of comments on Engadget, it sounds like a lot of people are taking a do-it-yourself approach for home servers.

What would this service look like in a library setting? (I’ll set aside copyright discussions and leave those to others since I have little experience in that area.) There should be an intuitive yet flexible librarian interface for importing data. The system should be able to read import media from many sources: ideally, if the library can play it and the player has an output jack, the media server should be able to import it. The media server should integrate easily with the library’s patron authentication system. The media server should be robust enough to serve many simultaneous streams to in-building, on-campus, and off-site locations with no performance degradation. Oh, and the user interface should be both slick and powerful. That’s not asking too much, now is it?  😉

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.

Some Big Screen Goodness

We recently dropped the last pieces of hardware into our new group collaboration rooms. We have a dearth of group spaces in our library, so these three new areas will probably be a hit with our patrons. As we were planning the rooms we decided that we wanted to include a computer for group work, and since everyone in the group needs to be able to see the project, some sort of large-screen monitor seemed to be the way to go. After considering several options, we finally decided on 40″ Samsung TVs as the group monitor. There’s nothing unusual or innovative about this layout, but we didn’t have it before, now we do, and I think it will be very popular with patrons once the fall semester gets underway.

In the meantime we’ve noticed and interesting phenomenon with the rooms. We’ve had the rooms available for some time before the hardware arrived, and they were already getting a lot of use. We still see groups using them since the new hardware has been installed, but many times the groups are just working around the table and ignoring the computer and TV. There could be several reasons for this. Perhaps some of these groups just need a place to meet but don’t really need to view or assemble presentation materials together. Or perhaps they are using the equipment but not at the moment that I happen by.

There is a third possibility that we’ve discussed, and it’s perhaps the most interesting of the three. We’ve wondered if the patrons just don’t realize that the equipment is there for their use. Granted, we have not advertised these new tools. However, they’re sitting in a public space, and the patrons are definitely using the space. One colleague suggested that since it looks like an expensive setup, the patrons are hesitant to use it. If that’s the case, that will certainly change soon. However, it raises an interesting question for me. How often do libraries roll out new services or spaces that, by their very design, somehow communicate that they are NOT for patron use? Perhaps this is just an anomaly. Or perhaps it’s really happening. I’ll have to scratch my head over this one for awhile.