Library hits glitch, but system now upgraded

// Cuts coming for new materials, staffing and main library hours but programs being added

An unforeseen trouble with transitioning the Tacoma Public Library System’s 140,000 records into a new cataloging system prompted a few extra days of library closures to allow technicians to fix the computer bug. All branches were set to reopen last week, but the glitch in the computer code meant they were closed through the weekend as staff went all-hands-on-deck to clear the issue. The main downtown branch reopened on Oct. 29, while the neighborhood locations reopened on Oct 30. “It all works,” said Library Director Susan Odencrantz. “But it was a lot of work for us and a lot of work for them to do, but it all works.” Library staff had been successfully testing the massive data migration since September and hit a snag last week when the final uploading failed to complete successfully. The California-based software company, Innovative Interfaces, which provides Integrated Library Systems to thousands of libraries of all types in more than 50 countries, reworked some code during the marathon work session last weekend and found the issue.

During the library closures the system neither had the ability to check out materials to its patrons, nor can patrons access the online library catalog. The new system adds several features that will make checking out, returning and searching for books and materials more user friendly. Patrons are now able to create their own reading lists, read reviews of books, share book suggestions, do renewals by phone, receive text alerts and conduct deeper searches on specific topics. Searches on specific topics, for example, will now include magazine articles found through keyword prompts as well as books, DVDs and recordings. The changes will be rolled out during the next few months with additional features being added periodically from then on. The new system is very “Amazon-like.” “It will all just keep coming,” Odencrantz said. “You can just select what level of search you want and go. It will all be on one spot.”

One addition will include the ability for patrons to search the vast archives of the Northwest Room for historical research of all sorts. The new system will also integrate e-books and printed materials into one location rather than having separate locations on the library’s website. Library staff not working on the computer system still reported for duty as usual, despite the branch closures. They were working on side projects, re-shelving books and filing clipping files that take back seats to helping patrons. “No one gets paid to stay home,” said library spokesman David Domkoski. “We were working on little things that we didn’t have time to do that we are getting done.” Tacoma has a history of being unkind to software upgrades. The sting of the city of Tacoma’s $50 million computer integration effort back in 2004 was the most costly. Cost overruns for customization work, computer consultant contracts with TUI Consulting Inc. and a parade of glitches marred the roll out of that municipal system when the SAP software failed to deliver on expectations, including the inability of city officials to draft a budget while facing a $30 million funding gap.

The library’s new computer system costs $568,000 over five years. Any cost overruns associated by the computer glitches are borne by the vendor, which is good news for a library facing a $3 million cut during the next two-year, $22.4 million budget. Those cuts will largely come in three areas: the materials budget will drop from $3 million to $2 million, the main library will shift from a six-day week to just five days for a savings of $969,000, and the layoffs of 16 technicians and support staffers for a savings of $980,000. Tacoma’s library system is used by about a million patrons a year. In the cue for the coming months are the addition of a mobile StoryLab with state-of-the-art computers and editing software, a mobile phone application, a new website, expanded lists of brochures in additional languages, additional senior services to connect them to technological resources and community partnerships.

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