Miami-Dade Public Library System administrators as well as anyone else in the county willing to listen have experienced numerous complaints from patrons and employees about the antiquated browser employed on the system’s computer network.
Patrons of our little South Shore Branch on Alton Road in South Beach not to mention patrons of the other branches have long complained that their email providers’ rich text editors as well as other functions no longer work.
As everyone knows too well, so-called improvements or upgrades are dictated by designers from the top down with little input from users. We are advised to welcome change; that means their changes.
The rule for upgrades: “Take it or leave it and be left completely out of the picture.”
Major email providers have “asked” their customers to upgrade their browsers in order to take advantage of not only new features but the previous features as well. But library patrons must wait for the network administrator to do that, hence they have been left entirely in the lurch for at least a year, conditions getting worse by the day.
South Shore patrons worry that their diminutive branch is being neglected due to its size and the perception that it is not important in the scheme of things. The branch, located in the upscale South of Fifth neighborhood, has patrons of all ages from all walks of life. In addition to its children’s program and visitors to South Beach from all over the world, it serves a large number of retirees who reside in senior citizen housing nearby, serves the high end of society that occupy fabulous quarters in condominiums all around, and provides respite and edification to the not so wealthy as well, including impoverished readers, scribblers, game players, and occasional escapees on foot. One patron of late is an internationally renowned motion picture producer who likes to retire from his hectic household in his $5 million condo to the library and conduct online research in peace. An aged gentleman sometimes uses the network to manage his $20 million portfolio. They both look dirt-poor. Authors frequent the library. Some writers and investigators prefer to keep their work computers offline, secure from hacking and uncontaminated by viral plagues.
So much for the South Shore Branch. A visit to the Main Branch downtown last Saturday found it dead as a doornail in comparison to the bustle on weekends a few years ago. A librarian who survived the downsizing threw up his arms in despair and said, “You see what has happened.”
The Foreign Languages section was closed. Only a few readers were around. A security guard said he had made it to retirement after 20 years of service, and had never seen the library so dead. Fortunately, restroom issues still kept him busy from time to time. When asked where the homeless patrons had gone, he said the shelter had been moved a few blocks away and they did not want to walk over.
There was no waiting list to get onto a computer. Lo and Behold, Windows 7 was up and running on the computers. That seemed to confirm that our South Beach network had been deliberately left forlorn.
We were assured that was not the case in a later interview with Suzet Alvarez-Cleary, Miami Dade Public Library System’s director of fiscal operations and capital development, and Julio Campa, the library system’s network administrator. They reached out to us in response to a direct query put to Raymond Santiago, the library’s director, about the browser issue.
Ms. Alvarez admitted that upgrading the imaging system had been a low priority issue until April 1, 2012, in part due to budgeting issues. She explained that about $20 million had been cut from the fiscal 2012 budget, therefore 300 employees had to be laid off, and services and hours were reduced.
“Reimaging development is now a number one priority due to an avalanche of complaints from patrons and employees,” she said. “Just last week the Main, Kendall, and Lakes of the Meadow branches were upgraded, and we intend to satisfy all our patrons in the near future.”
She said the South Shore Branch was not being discriminated against: “It is in the north cluster of branches now being upgraded, and should have its new browser by August 6, 2012. All branches will have the new imaging system in place by May 2013.”
Mr. Campa, when asked why it took so long to upgrade the network, said that the system with its 2,300 computers was very complex due to privacy concerns, and the fact that the old Microsoft system required stand-alone management. That is, upgrades had to be performed on a branch-to-branch basis.
“But the new system, utilizing Windows 7, will be centrally managed,” he said.
He promised to look into anomalous behavior of the South Shore system in respect to the clearing of cookies and access to a particular bank’s accounts.
Patrons and library assistants logging into computers recently discovered that email and other accounts previously logged into by them or someone else were still open, therefore the library assistants had to warn everyone to be sure to log out of accounts before logging out of the system or before the system automatically logged them out.
Chase Bank had stopped sending confirmation codes to South Shore patrons in order for them to gain access to their bank accounts. The bank’s Help Desk related that the safeguard was no longer necessary because an extremely effective encryption system recognized the particular library computer previously logged into. However, any computer in the branch could be used to log into the bank account without an identification code. Mr. Campa was puzzled by this phenomenon, he said, because he had a Chase account himself, and was always required to get an identification code before logging into it from the library.
“Could a flaw in South Shore security enable library IT staff to hack into people’s bank accounts?” he was asked.
“We don’t do that,” he said insistently
Mr. Campa referenced the Bill and Melinda Foundation in his explanation of the reimaging issues, which both he and Ms. Alvarez expect to take a great deal of their time until the reimaging is fully rolled out.
According to the Gates Foundation, Miami-Dade Public Library System was granted $234,000 in 2006 “to provide to provide sustainable public access computer hardware and software upgrades to previous grantees.”
“The Gates Foundation awarded us a grant for the old system, but the reimaging is being paid for entirely in-house,” she said. “If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to call me.”
After learning that Windows upgrades are normally free, we called her back to ask exactly how much the upgrade would cost in terms of labor if not materials, and whether or not applying for a grant from Gates Foundation’s Library Initiative would be appropriate to cover the labor for installation. If so, we would offer to write out the grant proposal for her if she was shorthanded due to budgeting constraints.
She did not return the call. Victoria Galan, Public Affairs Officer called instead. She promised to research the issue and get back to us, at which time we shall upgrade our coverage of the reimaging issue.
South Shore Branch patrons will certainly be glad to see the new image by the August 6 deadline. They hopefully will not be deprived of usage for several days in the process, as they have been for maintenance in the past.
Librarians throughout the system are skeptical about the IT department’s deadlines. Meeting this one will certainly be good for the Miami-Dade Public Library System’s image.