Diary Of A Librarian Addendum: When Hardware Strikes and Apology to SupportAssist

If you’re a reader of mine, then you may remember this post about how much I hate SupportAssist. Or this one, about how SupportAssist failed me for the last time.

I would like to apologize to SupportAssist. I slandered its reputation for a problem that it did not cause.

That’s not to say that SA isn’t a ridiculous piece of badly programmed junk. It totally is! This past Wednesday, it merrily failed to update any applicable drivers on our public computers, which is fine because the infinitely superior Dell Command Update does the same thing. But in the particular case of Computer 43, SA’s problematic nature had been compounded by a bad motherboard. I hope. Because 43 hasn’t frozen since receiving a new one yesterday, so maybe, if I don’t tell any lies before Christmas, the real problem won’t end up being the hard drive or the processor.

I’m currently taking a hardware class, so I’m enjoying the intellectual challenge of identifying what exactly went wrong. Was it the BIOS chip? The CMOS? Oh the acronyms that could have gone wrong with the motherboard! It now makes perfect sense that freezing could indicate a motherboard issue – I already knew that BIOS or UEFI can cause that problem if they don’t update correctly. It makes me wonder if I ought to have tried flashing before calling in the warranty, but c’est la vie. The computer works and that’s sufficient.

It’s a little annoying that I can’t House my way to a magic diagnosis based on the evidence, but I’m still a nascent techie in many ways and I’m not going to go too hard on myself. The main thing I’m learning from my experience as a tech librarian is that if something’s only going wrong on just one computer, I should at least consider the possibility that it’s hardware-based. This kind of thing has happened a couple times before, not necessarily with SupportAssist, but in a similar pattern. (Problem on one single computer, fix software, problem persists, switch hardware, problem solved.)

I did think it was funny at the time that none of the other computers were freezing, but I chalked it up to SA being so wonky that it was actually inconsistent across units. Apparently, SA is the red flag to my bullish IT style. A diagnostic startup scan didn’t catch any problems, either, so now I know that can happen. And I need to be aware of my software prejudices, apparently.

I’m not sure I would have done anything differently if I’d guessed that the problem was hardware-based, but I still would have felt better knowing. If nothing else, I could have prepared the staff for the possibility that the computer would continue to freeze even after the apparent software problem had been managed.

If I wanted a secondary lesson, it would be that a library technology professional’s job is mainly to communicate. That means understanding enough about the computers to explain ongoing issues in a way that both makes sense and is not scary as well as developing the ability to interface with customer service in a way that works for everybody. I do think that I’m improving. I’ll say that 50% of the reason for this is that I’m in school and actively learning about computers. Knowing a bit, while remaining humble about the vast sea of knowledge to which you do not yet have access, seems to be key to a good working relationship with tech support. I’m also continuing to grow and mature as a person and a professional, which is causing my communication skills to improve anyway, and librarians as an industry are steadily becoming more tech-savvy, although we’re still way behind where we need to be.

For now,  we have a new motherboard for good old 43 and everything seems ducky. No freezes yet. I’m almost ready to sally forth next week to a long Thanksgiving vacation with full peace of mind that this computer’s got a working motherboard.

Let’s hope it was just the motherboard.

Diary of a Librarian: The Charging Cord Blues

I’ve had a lot of burners on the stove lately. In addition to the biggies, which I won’t discuss because they will bore you, I must keep my Libby-based digital audiobook stash fresh. This means zooming through The Cuckoo’s Calling at 2.5x normal speed so I can read whatever’s just downloaded from my holds list.

The things that stress out librarians.

Also stressing me out is the cost of replacing our charging cords. At my library, we hand out charging cords in exchange for a collateral ID card. Usually, the people who need charging cords are kids, and usually, they don’t have any ID on them.

What am I going to say? No, foolish child! Go file for a state ID and then come see me about this $30 cord after a seven-to-ten day wait for shipping! Ugh. Obviously I let the kids take the cord, and they’re generally pretty honest. I have them write down their name and phone number just in case they forget to bring the cord back, but that would be tough these days. I’ve figured out a way to wire a laminated tag to the plug housing in such a way that it can’t be gotten off without breaking one of the wires.

From now on, any disappearances are definitely theft. Conceptually, disappearances might have been happening before now, but one cord looks very much like another and we’d incorporate enough found cords into our little collection that our supply remained fairly stable. Not that it’s not theft to swap out your busted cord for our nice one. I wouldn’t be 100% surprised if this is why our cords have been aging so fast, because they have been aging fast. One day, the cord is brand-new; the next, it will not charge for god or country.

On the other hand, we also get cord donations occasionally. I’m fairly sure that these are well-meaning, but it results in a couple negative eventualities:

  • The used cords become busted cords more quickly anyway, and since we don’t know the cord’s age we can’t really guess when that will happen
  • We end up with irregular and off-brand cords that don’t work as well as quality ones
  • As bad as lookism is, it’s nice to have a consistent brand, and a random hot green cord disrupts our branding game
  • We always have a ton of Android cords and never have enough iPhone cords.

We’ve flirted with the idea of getting dedicated charging stations for the library before, and although they are fairly expensive, I think they’d solve some of the squirrelly minor issues with lending charging cords. Now that we’ve got to revamp our entire reference floor anyway, it seems like it might finally happen. That said, I sincerely hope that we get one for each floor so that people don’t have to glom onto just one unit.

We’re going to have to be conscious of replaceability if we go with a standalone charging unit a la conference or mall charging kiosk. The other reason that our cords might be aging out so fast might have to do with how patrons are using them. As usual, the root problem is data collection. We don’t really know what the patrons are doing to our equipment, though the imagination paints some interesting pictures, and if we don’t know that, we don’t know nothin’.

On the other hand, we could just gin up some shoeboxes with power strips inside. Added bonus: we could decorate those any way we wanted. Housing options are essentially unlimited. We could use a bread box, a basket – god, one trip to A.C. Moore multiplies the possibilities. There are myriad ways to hide a bus. Maybe we could borrow a few extra dollars from the replace-iPhone-cords discretionary fund for security measures. I figure a few wall anchors, some tastefully disguised chicken wire, and a padlock ought to do the trick.