Pennsylvania - 17 Bucks Co. librairies affected by bugs in Data Research system : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Sunday, January 9, 2000

Libraries reading into problems with computer system

Slow response times in checking out books have library administrators working to adjust the problem and speed things up.


As Bucks County's network of free libraries entered the new year, it was having computer problems, but they had nothing to do with Y2K. The libraries are experiencing growing pains with a new $1 million computer system that went online Dec. 21. The problems have resulted in slow response times from the computer database when someone is attempting to check out or return a book. That slowdown is subsequently creating some long lines.

The problem is affecting all 17 public libraries in the county system, in addition to the Bucks County Community College library, the law library at the county courthouse and the library at the James A. Michener Art Museum.

"The most consistent complaint has been about response time, and it's putting nerves on end," said Marilyn Moody, executive director of the Bucks County Free Library and district administrator for the library's Doylestown district. "They'll come to check out a book, the desk will scan the bar code and the time it takes for it to register on screen...should be two to three seconds. I've heard it taking up to, at the worst, five minutes. That's unacceptable in terms of performance."

As part of the same network, the James A. Michener branch of the library in Richland is experiencing the same delays, said Adana Hoy, branch manager.

"We're trying to remedy it by storing the bar codes and putting them in later," she said. "This is new for everyone, a trial period. I'm sure it will turn out well in the end."

New Britain resident Jim Chant took two visits to the Bucks County Library Center in Doylestown on Monday to return a couple of books on the English language.

With every intention of taking the books out again, he found a line "that almost reached to where the CD's are kept and it was moving so very slowly." He made another visit to the library later that afternoon, he said, but the scene was the same.

"One person said he had waited in line for 20 minutes so I decide to keep the books and pay the fine," he said. "(The system) appears quite expensive. With public dollars, sometimes you wonder if the people spending it care as much as you and I do."

Moody said no money has yet been given to Data Research Associates (DRA), of St. Louis, the company that installed the new computer system. Under the contact, the system must perform at a certain level before the county is obligated to pay for it.

John Bradley, assistant dean for library and instructional resources at Bucks County Community College where the new system's main components are housed, said when all of the bugs are worked out, the greatest benefit will be "linking all types of materials through the Internet." It's also meant to substantially update a system installed in 1986 that has software likely dating back to the 1970s, he added. "Someone will be able to look up a book and they will also find links to the author and other information," he said. "Some of the things they will be able to look up in the catalog will not be in print at all. It will be electronic resources."

The system will also allow a patron to search multiple databases, such as those at the law library, the college or a library outside of the county system, such as the free library in Philadelphia, Moody said.

At present, however, there have been system crashes in the last couple of weeks, Moody said, and the library's Web server also has not been working properly.

"The Web server is not reliable and that's a big problem," she said. "Our catalog is part of the Web."

Central Bucks West High School student Sheena Reed of Doylestown had her problems with the catalog Thursday evening while working on a book project on Ulysses S. Grant.

"I tried to log on and it wouldn't let me in," she said. "I went back to another computer and it did let me on, but it was slow."

Researching an English paper, John Yerger of Warwick, a Central Bucks East High School student, found himself nostalgic for the green and black screens of the old system.

"The research took forever and it came up with nothing," he said. "The old system was easy to use."

Moody said the county has been on the computer firm as much as the patrons have been on the libraries to remedy the problems. She is confident, she said, that DRA is "making every effort" to speed up the response times.

Mike Mellinger, president and chief executive officer of DRA, said it's normal to have to do some fine-tuning and debugging in a new system, particularly when about 1.5 million pieces of information have to be converted.

"It's probably not going as nice as I'd like it to, but that there are network issues is not a big surprise," he said. "It's a complicated system and our experts are spending a large amount of time on it. It's a cooperative effort and we are working to get it fixed."

Mellinger said "cleanup" on the entire system will likely take a few more weeks.

Moody and Bradley are hoping the response time issues are resolved well before that.

Bradley said a software "patch" was installed Wednesday night and tests Thursday did show improvement in the system's response times but, "it's still much slower than we want it to be."

"Both (computer) systems remain, we're just not doing any transactions on the old system," he said. "If this is delayed too long, we could go back to the old system for the time being."

Moody said the computer firm has offered additional patches and the library staff is reporting some improvement day by day.

"We're beginning to let the staff function as they normally would," she said. "(Saturday) is normally a busy day for the library and we want to make sure there are no additional problems than we've already been having. Talking to the staff (Thursday) night, they were saying they thought it was better, that it was getting back toward the times we were seeing under the old system."

Source: Bucks County Courier Times

-- Lee Maloney (, February 24, 2000


Nothing to do with y2k? With a system installed on *December 21* to replace software from the 1970s and 1980s??

Idiots. Of course it is y2k. Or they have clueless IT managers. Or maybe both.

-- Bud Hamilton (, February 24, 2000.

You caught that date of December 21st too, Bud?

I'd prefer to believe that some IT managers ARE clueless and irresponsible, but...

What worries me are the ones who are in such complete denial that Y2k is an ongoing problem. (Thank you very much Uncle Sam) If they refuse to acknowledge that Y2k exists, will it just go away? Psychologists would have a field day over that....

-- Lee Maloney (, February 24, 2000.

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