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Overcoming a Day Full of #Fail
September 13, 2012 - 8:49pm

It was one of those days.

As I walked  to work, doing that risky thing of reading on my phone while crossing streets, I discovered Friendfeed was down. Friendfeed is where I get all my information, inspiration, and hot news. It’s where I go to vent when I’m frustrated. It also has a nice widget that I’ve embedded in many of my websites, from my CV to my obsessive catalog of Scandinavian crime fiction translations. When Friendfeed goes down, my pages get messed up, and I can’t go to my usual watering hole to complain, because . . . well it’s down.  Instead, I went to Twitter to see if anyone knew what was going on. Nope, just lots of consternation.

Once at work, we had a department meeting and worked through a long agenda which included nitpicky bits about how we’re using a new software platform for our research guides and  untangling how our new budget procedures managed to mislay a big chunk of what we thought would be in our budget, but apparently isn’t. I decided to ditch out on a webinar on my schedule since it’s all about doing something we can’t actually afford and I needed the time.

So I worked on an upcoming conference, writing copy for programs, wondering why Word keeps adding spaces between paragraphs even though I know I made changes to the default template and saved them. So I checked. Yup, my changes were gone, possibly frolicking with our missing budget on a beach somewhere.

An IT worker stopped by to troubleshoot Dreamweaver on my laptop.  There’s a new version this fall, so the instructions we put together about how to connect to the library’s site last year no longer work. He set it up, but after he left, I realized it’s saving my files in a funky place and I couldn’t figure out where. I wasted time flailing around, but by the time I got it to work, I couldn’t actually retrace my steps because flailing tends to leave a muddled trail. But at least the web content was finally online.

I went on a mission to find lunch. Burrito accomplished.

While I ate, trying to keep rice and beans out of the keyboard, I checked Twitter, followed a reroute of a Friendfeed group into Google+ and got a headache. I signed up for G+ long ago, but abandoned it, and now it looks all different.

So I checked my mail – surely that will work! - and found out that the survey I sent out before I left for work was borked. For mysterious reasons, the Google form that I had made public and editable was requiring a campus login. I checked the settings three times, then called the helpline and followed their advice to recreate the survey using a personal Google account. Once I finally remembered my password after a few false starts, I got in, and discovered that the default language has mysteriously turned into German. I did a little digging, fighting off an urge to do a Basil Fawlty impression in the middle of the library, and found out it’s a known bug. How to fix it is also known, but Google has fiddled with its display, so those instructions no longer worked.

So I hastily threw together a Surveymonkey version – which took a bit longer than usual because the interface has changed – and sent it off. Sat down with a colleague to look at budget figures. Figured out that yes, the money is still not there. Decided to take a walk.

It was a perfect fall day. Everything is bone-dry, but the prairie grasses smell wonderful, and the sumac is starting to turn red. Equilibrium restored, I got back to my desk, got some work done, and found out that Friendfeed is working.  Hurrah!

Though it wasn’t one of my best days, it made me reflect on how often to students, the library is one technology fail after another. The interface changed, the thingy didn’t work, they don’t know how to set up a connection to a public printer, and when they finally figure it out, the printer jams.  They copy down a barcode number instead of the call number, and wander the stacks, lost until they figure out they copied down the wrong bit. And when they go back with the right number, the book is missing from the shelves.

And then there’s the instability of what we have. Without much warning, interfaces are “improved” in frustrating ways. (I’m looking at you, Proquest.) Content is dropped from databases. A journal may be online, but not the most recent issues, or not the old volumes, or not after it changed its name and joined the Witness Protection program. Or the tools we use to get there do a disappearing act because their servers are down. This is almost always nicely timed to coincide with classes in which students are learning how to use those tools.

One thing that I didn’t have time to do was prepare for a class in which English majors will begin a process of learning how different kinds of sources get published, how they validate claims, and how literature reviews show how new ideas fit in a wider conversation. But I should have enough time before they arrive to throw a plan together.

The trick is keeping technology and its discontents in perspective, to work behind the scenes to keep glitches and gremlins as infrequent as possible, and to keep the focus on what you can do in the library, not on those painstaking how-to’s that will be outdated as soon as the interface changes - tomorrow.

And if all else fails - take a walk.


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