Monthly Archives: April 2017

Breathtaking Sunsets seen from the 5th floor

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From the Fifth floor of the library one sees a great view of the Bay and of sunsets.
I propose that a camera be attached to the outside wall of the library to capture this view, and when the 5th floor staff sees a glorious sunset, they can click some link in their computer system that will display the sunset on the large monitors on the 1st floor as one of the rotated frames (and for fun, the sunsets could be digitally archived for replay and made available for public viewing.) Alternatively, the view can just be made permanently available on the library website as one of the things the user can select to see.

The camera should capture the view between the two tall segments of the apartment building, and exclude as much of the apartment building as possible from the frame, so the lens should be slightly telescopic. Once the view has been selected, it needn’t be changed. Cleaning the lens can be added to the monthly maintenance cycle, the camera can be made easily accessible to someone on the roof.

A toy idea, but they do get some breathtaking sunsets there.

Explain things

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The East elevator will not take you to the 4th floor. There is a button for the 4th floor, but it does nothing.

I asked a staffer why this was, and they said the 4th floor was the children’s floor and that the East elevator would not stop there for security reasons; apparently the area near the elevator cannot be watched, and whether the concern is for abductions or for children wandering away via the elevator, I don’t know. I’ll grant that the concern is valid, but then:

Instead of leaving people to wonder why the East elevator 4th floor button isn’t working, why not just tell people, so they get it immediately? Put a notice in the elevator near the buttons which says

4th floor access is restricted for security reasons

and then nobody will be confused about the elevator’s behavior. I had assumed the elevator was broken, but it’s not. Such a notice would have helped.

Recovering from the 2015-2017 mass discard of titles

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Presuming the titles & info were kept, of those things discarded for the “open space” project, then even if the same objects cannot be retrieved, replacement copies should be requested, yes at the library’s expense (thus revealing it was a COSTLY mistake), of as many titles as the public indicates wanting back, so Studs Terkel’s autobiography, for just one example, must be restored to the collection.

Interactus Interruptus

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I check out a DVD to watch. It turns out that a former borrower has damaged the DVD so that it will not play to conclusion.
The Library has equipment that can clean and restore CDs/DVDs, but you cannot check a DVD out, find it is damaged, hand it to them to be fixed (process takes a few minutes), and take it back home to watch. Instead, you have to check it back in first. But then you have to go find it in the stacks again and borrow it again.

So the only way to be able to watch the fixed disk, is to return the item, and then place a hold on it.

A staffer told me that the front-desk people cannot take the disk in the back, use the machine to fix it, and return it to the patron, because that takes that person away from the help desk. Help desk people have to go in the back (step away) for other reasons, so I’m not sure this objection is valid; but if so, then there should be a consolidated process for dealing with this (common) situation, which is to take the DVD from the patron and requeue it then as a hold, so that once fixed, the DVD is returned to the patron whose viewing was interrupted.

BPL’s website programming should be done in-house.

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If management/programming of BPL’s IT, website and public interfaces is not done in-house, that must be corrected.

Outsourcing the work has the overhead of oversight, which is a task poorly performed. The programmer should be on staff in the library so that the loop of requests / programming changes / testing is kept short. If there is not enough work for the programmer to justify it as a full-time position, then make it a part-time position, or give that person other work to do.

Make the computer do the work

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You are required to re-enter your library ID for each LINK+ book you wish to request. That is tedious and unnecessary. You are logged in when you make the request, and the system knows your ID, so the website should simply resupply the ID for each next LINK+ book you request. Namely, have the computer do the work, that’s what computers are for.

BPL should refer this issue to the LINK+ people, who should fix it.

A competent programmer at BPL could make the feature work properly even if LINK+ does not cooperate.

Requiring confirmation of logout is a security hole

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When the user logs out they are challenged “are you sure”? and the user is NOT logged out if they ignore this challenge.

This is an obsolete practice. Business and Social outlets simply log you out when you request it. I have pointed out many times that this is a security hole, since alone of places online, BPL won’t log you out when you ask to log out, and a user used to other services will press Log Out and walk away, thinking they had logged out, when they hadn’t, and the next person who uses the terminal can mess the prior person over. Just the other day I logged a person out of a public terminal at the library who had walked away leaving the “are you sure?” on the screen.

When the user clicks “Log Out”, they should simply be logged out. If they genuinely hadn’t intended to log out, they can log back in trivially.

This is one of many “suggestions” I have filed (multiple times) in the suggestion box, only to have it totally ignored.

All AudioVisual content will be lost unless …

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The public is a slob and a vandal. People leave grease and marks on CDs/DVDs/vinyls. They scratch them. The items are rendered partially or totally useless for all later patron accesses.

I told the audio people on floor 5, and I insist this is true and actionable as I state it: whatever IPR legalese notwithstanding, if the library purchased a physical copy of title T, then the library is authorized to copy the content of T as a digital image, such that if the original physical disk or album is damaged, the library can cut a new copy of T (albums => CDs), so the investment in obtaining the original copy is kept good.

Note: I never said the library would ever offer these image copies to the public. They are only used to restore damaged units. We paid for them, so the IPR people who complain that the library must keep buying new physical copies can go to hell, this use is special, the items are being put into a domain where they will get rough handling; we bought the original; and there will only ever be on the shelves, as many copies of the content, as physical disks we bought, so the IPR people are having their rights respected and can shut up.

The audio staff said “oh we couldn’t do that”, but yes the library could if the Director would consult the city’s attorney, and then the project would be to insure the library had digital copies of everything, to protect their investment, and so that anyone could borrow and air a cataloged title, even if the last borrower ruined the former copy of it. Fair Use is Fair Use. As things stand, over time the pubic will damage 100% of the library’s CD/DVD(/vinyl) holdings.

Not Acceptable.

Natsume Sōseki:
forever misfiled and unfindable …

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{I have since determined that I got it wrong and that Natsume is not being misfiled. However, the complaint of non-responsiveness remains. — ecsd}

The Japanese author (English-syntax-named) “Natsume Sōseki” is being wrongly shelved as if his (English-syntax) name was “Sōseki Natsume”. The catalog reports the author correctly, but the author’s books cannot be found where they belong, and only intuitively did I guess the author had been misfiled under his first name or I would never have found the books. If I were to put a hold on a title I bet the staff would not know how to find his books, either.

I have complained about this three times. I have been told that the library uses a 3rd party service to supply call tags for the books. Fine, but the tags are wrong and I explained to BPL that their job is to get their supplier to fix the problem (and note that fixing the problem fixes it for every library that uses the same service.)

EITHER
The floor people are not doing their job to refer the issue to the correct people within BPL,
OR
those people are not doing their job to refer the issue to the tagging company,
OR
the tagging company is not acting on corrections submitted by BPL, and by the way, just anyone in the world can verify on Wikipedia that an English Language speaker would name the author as “first name Natsume, last name Sōseki”. It is not a “matter of interpretation”. Jun’ichiro Tanizaki is not misfiled; Haruki Murakami is not misfiled; Shusako Endo is not misfiled. Only Natsume Sōseki is misfiled.

THE RESULT
is that it appears that nobody will take responsibility, the author remains misfiled on BPL’s shelves, and everyone who uses the tagging service is misfiling that author in the same way. Now, you’d think that it would be a point of pride for a library to get an author’s name right and file the author properly, but since nobody at BPL will accept responsibility, it seems BPL is content to ignore their manifest appearance of illiteracy — for the sake of being lazy, or due once again to the systemic failure to delegate and failure to designate a finally responsible party. This is mismanagement and lack of accountability and the public is disserved while all the staff at BPL and the tagging company are free to pretend that nothing is amiss. All the staff I have spent time talking to about this never took it upon themselves to record the problem and forward it to anyone at BPL who would undertake to solve it; instead, they remanded the problem to me, expecting me to seek out the correct persons at BPL to address the issue to — and note, I have complained about the issue via the “Suggestions and Comments box” and nothing was done nor was my complaint acknowledged. That is just bogus. See http://www.library-advocate.transbay.net/index.php/2017/04/10/accountabilitysuggestion-box-versus-circular-bin/ about fixing this nonresponsiveness.

If the problem died at the tagging service then BPL should indicate it will change tagging services. You do not keep rewarding people who refuse to do the jobs they are stated to have. If you were obliged somehow to keep using that tagging service, then embarrass them for refusing to do their job properly and by the way, since BPL has admitted that this author is misfiled, and they pretend helplessness at solving the issue, you’d think that the least someone at BPL would do is put a note where author “Sōseki” should be found, saying <<please find “Sōseki” under “Natsume” due to circumstances beyond our control.>> And they won’t even do that much.

What does “Closing Time” mean?

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The “Open Hours” are the hours of operation, but the Library Staff treat it as the “drop dead time to walk out the door and go home.” Anyone patronizing any commercial or other service establishment knows that “open” means “open” and if I have 30 seconds of business to do and you close at 6:00:00 PM, I can walk in at 5:59:00 PM and do my business.

Not BPL. They shut down the elevators at 10 minutes to closing — to hell with the elderly and handicapped, I guess. They shut off the checkout stations on the 5th floor – I think even if you are in the middle of checking things out – and you are forced to check out on the 1st floor.

So I give the library two choices:

EITHER

you honor the closing time as all retail stores do – and people can enter as late as 5:59:30 versus a closing time of 6:00:00 – and still be fully served. In this case, tough darts, the staff has to stay a little longer (so compensate them accordingly.)

OR

if you want to behave as you do now, then be honest and knock 15 minutes off the currently stated closing times. You are closing at 5:50 if you turn the elevators off at 5:50 and there is no two ways about that. Also, the checkout machines are all on or all off, period.

I have no problem with either solution, but I do have a problem with the “cake and eat it too” approach of pretending to close at 6:00 if they’re spending the last 10-15 minutes of that time telling you they can’t do anything for you because they’re closing. And shutting off the elevator is hostile. I know it is to discourage people from going upstairs near closing time, but closing time is closing time and this “social engineering” of the public’s behavior is not very clever (or polite) at all. If you’re shutting the elevator off to halt the public you can only do that when the public is already gone, so you cannot do that until 6 PM (and if someone needs to sue BPL under the disability act to make this point, then the statute they’ll sue under should be cited to BPL before that suit is filed so they will act before they get sued.)

A final word: the elevator must never be shut down so as to force patrons to use the stairs to reach the 1st floor. For anyone on the 5th floor with business still to do (since you turned off the checkout machines on the 5th floor), this is just grossly, gratuitously rude.

End the Authoritarianism

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One of the issues that plagued the Library in recent times is the harassment of whistleblowers. Staffers who “outed” problems with the library’s administration were threatened, suffered internal harassment and faced dismissal.

Let’s be clear: disclosing malfeasance and confronting inefficiency are good things to do, and the only people who should suffer penalties are the malfeasants and those defending the inefficiencies for the sake of their egos or to spare themselves work.

The Iron Law must be – and I want to see the Library’s charter amended if need be to make it manifestly apparent: any harassment of “whistleblowing” is grounds for immediate dismissal of the persons doing the harassment.

We live in a society that pretends to us (when we are young) that all people are equal; yet in adult life everyone lives in various pyramids of power. That there are superiors and subordinates may be a necessary fact of executive (administrative, operational) life but I tend to hew to the original concept: everyone is an EQUAL in every other way. This means that anyone and everyone must have their opinions respected and heard at every level without regard for “rank”.

In brief chats with various library staffers, they have told me that they are not allowed to object to policy, are not allowed to discuss objections to policy with the public, and that management is not generally interested in bottom-up information flow. This amounts to a “gag order” which contravenes not just the principle of free speech, but the principle of enlightened management. Staffers have the right to be heard from about things which affect them, and in particular, no one person is so much cleverer than the rest that they cannot be corrected or challenged, especially by people with direct experience to the contrary of what they are told to do and how they are told to do it.

Any rules which interfere in such a free flow of information are invalid and should be rescinded. If I am the Director and I give a “marching order” and a department head sees a pitfall in my approach, not only are they entitled to object – in full view of the staff – but if I am a Director worth my position I should demand that they do, I should welcome the feedback. Very few things in the Library are so time-critical that the Director could say “just do as I say, for there is no time to discuss the issue.” Any person with power who discourages feedback is a weak leader and should not be a leader. Moreover, the “not invented by me” defense is a defense of ego, not rationality, pragmatism, or efficiency. Anyone who wants anything done in some particular way should be able to defend why they want things done in that way. or there is no reason to comply with that person, and “because I’m the boss” and “because I said so” are things we should expect never to have to hear any longer in a community of workers such as the library is. If I am the Director (at any level) and I say “do X and do it in way W”, I should also be willing and able to explain why X needs to be done and why X needs to be done in way W. I should also give hearing to people who object to way W (“I suggest a way that may be better than W”) and even task X (“I suggest an alternative that makes X unnecessary.”) No-one is omniscient. It is only fair to argue points.

Free Speech. Any staffer should be free to express their personal opinion about how they feel and what they think about what goes on in the Library to anyone. The only requirement is to identify whatever opinion as the speaker’s own and not representing the policy of the Library. It does not matter if what the staffer says embarrasses the Library or someone who works at the Library at any level so long as the opinion is not false or slanderous. If a staffer tells patron Ms. Jones that in their opinion, the library’s handing of some issue is lacking, then after all, either the staffer is poorly informed (and should be corrected), or the staffer is correct, and it is fine for Ms. Jones to take issue with the library over the handling of the issue based on the staffer’s say-so; besides which, internal mechanisms described above should already have put the library on notice that a dissent to the handling of the issue was registered, initially internally. I WANT the Library’s dirty laundry to be aired publicly so the matter can be discussed openly and whatever resolution can be attained will be attained. And I would want any sitting Director of the Library to agree with me: Open Discussion. Let the Sun Shine In. I Welcome Dissent. I Welcome Debate. I will sit as Philosopher King under the Magna Carta that I am Not Divine; the most I can say is that the Buck Stops With Me.

We need to exit the “punishment culture”. Along with the openness must come forgiveness. It is rare to know things in a Mathematical way, executives have to make guesses, and guesses are often wrong. The bottom line is motivation: were you acting in the best interest of the Library to the limit of the information you had on hand when making your decision? Did you insure to poll for feedback from everyone with useful information to contribute to the making of that decision? When a failure could not be foreseen, there is no warrant to punish the decisionmakers for having made an incorrect decision, but only for having arrived at a position at variance with the facts then known. it may well be that a decision is fraught with consequences should it be the wrong decision, but with everyone weighing in and the Director using their best judgement going in, the decision may yet fail. These things happen. We cannot expect people to fall on their swords based on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. You pick yourselves up, having learned better, and try to avoid similar outcomes in the future. We can ask no more, that is life as it happens.

Free Speech for the Staffers, and free information flow both up and down the “chains of command.” Any rules to the contrary, any reprisals, are invalid.

To Sort or Not To Sort the DVDs, is the question

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As the public is well aware, the DVDs on the 1st floor are only grouped by first letter of the title and are not sorted. This is certainly a nuisance, especially seeing several copies of the same title scattered throughout a specific section, asking the obvious question “can’t this be better sorted?”

In fairness, a library staffer told me that the public disarrays the sorting very rapidly, making keeping the DVD section sorted a thankless, time-consuming (time-wasting?) task.

Let’s examine the “public puts it out of order quickly” issue. When I remove a DVD from a stack to read the cover to see if I’m interested in the title, I do something to keep my place, the place the DVD came from, to be able to put it back where it came from (even though as things now stand, it doesn’t matter as long as I put M-something back in the M section.) Enough people are in a hurry or otherwise have sloppy habits so that at best they put the DVD back near where it belongs (if that.) We don’t want the slovens to do that. What would be better is to have an “I give up” pile, so the public does not refile a DVD in the wrong order.

Here is an instance where the public should be told to mind its behavior, and I endorse that the library can be firm with the public in this regard: put up signs in this area saying Please put it back exactly where it came from, or put it in the ‘refile’ bin. The subtext is If you can’t refile it correctly then don’t pretend to try. “Refile bins” should be put at the end of each shelf for this purpose. Once an hour a library staffer can refile all the DVDs, which should not take too long; and in the meantime not having found title M-something in order in the M section, the patron only has one other place to look, the M-refile bin.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t:

As someone hostile to having my time wasted having to search a section end-to-end to see if a title is or is not in the section, there is the nasty guerilla tactic of putting a hold on a title, which makes a library staffer have to find it for me. That is unfriendly, but what else can I do at wit’s end close to closing time? The problem arises when many other people figure this out and do it as well. Now the time savings of not having to refile DVDs exactly is sucked away by staffers having to find titles (just as the public does) in a linear exhaustive search since the sections are unsorted.

As an IT professional (kissing cousins of librarians) I can tell you that sortedness is next to Godliness. Imagine that it is not 150 M-something DVDs in random order, but the phone book, and someone asks you to find the telephone number of John Smith who lives on Shattuck Avenue (as opposed to John Smith who lives on Hearst.) You immediately see this is a nearly futile task to perform (in any reasonable time.) Because you have to look through the entire phone book until you find the correct John Smith; and what if the person asking the question made a mistake, and the Smith they want actually lives on Allston Way, and not Shattuck? You have to read every entry in the phone book to know that the John Smith being sought is not listed. Back to reality: perhaps there are only 150 M-something DVDs, but I (as just one patron) face the “exhaustive search” problem to determine that a given DVD is not present. Multiply me by as many patrons who are trying to find things and see how much human time is being wasted because the DVD sections are not sorted.

Back to what the staffer said, then: the public’s bad habit of putting these sections out of order ends up costing everyone a lot of time and headache. From the IT problem-solving perspective (or Operations Research, or Economics, if you like), we have to determine what is “cheapest”: having the library staff put the DVDs back in order, or leaving things as they are and forcing everyone to do “bucket searches” for every DVD they want to find. Intuition suggests that the sorting is mandatory and that what must be done, then, is to eliminate the disarray. Thus my suggestion above: if you pull a DVD to look at it, either put it back where it belonged, or if there is any doubt where it goes, then don’t even try to refile it: put it in the “refile” bin and leave the refiling to the staffers. The public must try to eliminate “scutwork” on the part of the staffers to compensate for public laziness, inattention and sheer error.

Operations Research – what I suspect has not been done is for the library to assess how quickly the DVD section is in fact put out of order by the public given the public’s current habits. This would be nice to know within close bounds, so that the expense of reordering sections can be determined. Starting with the M-section completely ordered as of Monday morning, how soon is the M-section no longer reasonably ordered? By noon? By end of day Monday? By the end of the week? How quickly a given section is disarrayed tells us how often the expense of resorting must be undertaken. Every hour on the hour is obviously infeasible for the staffers. So if we say that having the sections totally sorted is paramount, then the means must be found to stop the public from screwing things up so royally so quickly. My suggestion above is one suggestion. Other people might think of other ways to finesse this issue.

And finally, if despite the suggestion above, the public insists on refiling things and puts the sections out of order regardless, then we see that we have to leave things unsorted because the public refuses to behave itself properly, and if that is the case – then so be it, and I and others are condemned to linear exhaustive searches by the unremitting slobs amongst us. Argh.

The Main Elevator
does not tell you what floor you’re on

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Inside the main (West) elevator, the LED display of the current floor is blank. Apparently the LED controller has failed. The problem has been outstanding since at least mid-December 2016 despite having been reported to the library by at least three patrons about a dozen times in all.

This causes problems because if a passenger enters on the 5th floor and presses the button for the 1st floor, if the elevator door opens, the assumption is that the 1st floor has been reached, even if what actually happened was the elevator stopped at the 2nd floor for a new passenger, and I have, and have observed other people, exit the elevator thinking we’ve reached our destination, only to find ourselves on the wrong floor.

(Resolved sometime in June, 2017.)