A Large County Library System Ignores Original Authors



Writers are deprived of tools by incompetent county technicians and managers


5 October 2015

By David Arthur Walters MIAMI MIRROR

Popular websites where writers post their works, such as Bloggers, Authorsden, and UKauthors, cannot be used by writers or are dysfunctional at Miami-Dade County libraries because the system’s badly maintained browser does not recognize crucial posting functions despite multiple reports to library staff and county commissioners.

For example, now the library’s browser cannot “see” icons or “buttons” inside Blogger.com that allow authors to post works laid out in HTML and CSS and to upload related images. Suddenly, on one computer at the South Shore branch on Miami Beach, the buttons on the inside “dashboard” turned white, an event quite familiar to experienced information technology troubleshooters. The same phenomenon then occurred in all the computers at the branch, and then a week later in all computers at the Miami Beach Regional branch.

Authors could not post into the rich editor at Authorsden.com after the library “upgraded” its system a year ago, but they could still use the HTML input page to layout articles; that is, until that too was just rendered ineffective along with the similar function at Blogger.com.

Authors cannot log in to work at UKAuthors.com there since the “new” browser was installed many months ago.

Library personnel at front desks are besieged by patrons with complaints about dysfunctional computers. The majority of issues are due to operator error, yet many patrons still have valid complaints that would be quickly resolved by competent information technology departments in the private sector.

Library staff are either dismissive, stating that “there are only three IT people for forty branches, and they will never get to this little thing.” Or, they say, “Just fill out a form.”

Unlike other computer hosts, there is no online form for the patron to fill out with screen shots of the issue. The chronically neglected patron must report the issue to a library employee at the desk, someone who is sick and tired of hearing complaints about the computers and dealing with the challenged people who populate the libraries.

A Miami Beach library manager advised me to email technical issues to her so she could relay the email to another manager who might relay it to another manager who might send it along to the county IT department. Several layers have indeed been established to prevent anyone from getting to whoever is responsible for negligence, especially the well guarded director.

A technician named Victor advised me, when I saw him working on computers, that he could not communicate with patrons. Another technician, Javier, did speak with me briefly, and told me the mouse-highlighting function did not work on computers he had “fixed” because management instructed him to disable the mouse-highlighting function to prevent massive hacking attacks on the network. If true, that leaves the system vulnerable since that function still works on most of the computers.

As for the issue with Google’s Blogger.com, I did find a librarian who understood it because he had worked for a publisher and knows very well what HTML is and how important it is to publishing. He also understood the issue with Authorsden.com. He actually cares, and diligently fills out the forms on the spot; unlike the lady who believes patrons are always wrong, and who said last week, when a computer a technician had just fixed crashed, “A form must be filled out,” and then left the desk to do something else.

Why fill out forms, anyway? Nothing happens if the problem is deemed “little” no matter how important it is in terms of the library system’s core function. Still, we had our hopes up when the computers were shut down last week for “maintenance.” We were disappointed as usual except for a minor issue with posting at Facebook, a site that could not be accessed at all for many months after the “new” browser was installed, not to mention the county ethics commission site.

Information technology is a core function of libraries. Yes, books are still important. Nevertheless, there is no excuse for not taking full advantage of Gates Foundation grants, for underfunding IT, and for hiring incompetent people and for mismanaging staff. Bill Gates would replace them all.

I got into the habit of visiting libraries as a kid when libraries were fundamental to education, when Carnegie devoted resources to that end to give people a hand up, so I resent being told that “library computers are for losers, for the homeless, so legitimate writers should not be seen there.”

Library bureaucrats who are sick and tired of dealing with patrons should know that the disease works both ways. We remember well how nice staff members were when their jobs were at stake during the downturn, and how taciturn they became again after their jobs were no longer totally at risk because we supported keeping the branches open.

The excuses about understaffing and underfunding, and “What do you expect, this is the Third World,” are unacceptable and insulting. This IT issue is a sign of what is wrong with county government at large, and an indication of what must be painfully done for its improvement. Finally, librarians should know that the word is not only more powerful than the swords used by ancient Chinese calligraphers as a medium for communication; it is more powerful than money as well.

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