A Story About Technical Support Issues

This week at work, I received a call from one of our reference librarians asking about some trouble that a patron had experienced on the previous evening. The patron was a student in a satellite program that is offered by another institution, but is taught on our premises. This puts the students in the program in a rather difficult situation – they are not technically part of our college community, but they do use our physical resources. Our college provides the space for the actual classes, the students have network privileges on our campus and they have complete access to our on-campus library resources.

On this evening, this particular student came into our library in order to try and print out a syllabus and some documents on reserve. These items were in the course management system used by the college that runs the program – not run by my college. I’m not exactly sure what the exact nature of the problem was – except that the student could not print out the syllabus nor the documents. I’m not sure if the student couldn’t log into the course site, couldn’t open the documents or just couldn’t print them out. Our reference librarian called to ask if the issue could have been related to the fact that all of our library computers have IE7 installed. My response – yes, of course that could be an issue, but I really need specific information in order to troubleshoot. Without any information about the course management system, without access to the courses in question, without a username and password, without actually being there when someone was experiencing the problem, my hands were somewhat tied. Neither could I provide a definitive answer that would solve the problem. After a brief conversation about the problem and what we could do to try and resolve the issue, the reference librarian had a great idea. She thought we should ask the program coordinator for a test account so that we could try and troubleshoot on our end – which is where the students in the program are using their resources. Someone did in fact contact the coordinator and ask for this information – the response was rather curt. There was no need for us to have this information. The coordinator had heard about the problem, was meeting with the student and would work it out. A pdf of the instructions for accessing the course sites was emailed with the hope that our systems person would be able to work things out with that information. Oh and yes, the coordinator explained that the system only worked with IE6 or Safari for Macs. Sadly, this information did not help.

Our systems person (oh yeah, that would be ME) was left feeling frustrated and unhappy – and unable to help resolve a basic technical issue for one of our constituents. Even more frustrating is the fact that I actually use the same course management system in question for my coursework at SCSU – and I use it with IE7 even though it isn’t supported. It works fine with some tweaks to security settings and pop-up blocker settings. As such, it would be fairly easy for me to rework the instructions for IE7 if given the opportunity. Since these students use our resources and need to access their course management system, something needs to be done. At this point, I do plan to sit down at one of our public computers, log in to my course management system and show the reference librarians how it works. Hopefully, they will be able to tell me if this helps the students in question.

Ultimately, I really thought this story helped to illustrate some of the problems of technical support in libraries today. It is a messy, messy situation. With remote access, satellite campuses, distance education, browser issues, personal firewalls, antivirus, wireless, etc., technical support isn’t something that is solely the purview of systems people. All library personnel need to have a better understanding  of technical issues in order to provide the best service possible to our constituents. When they don’t, we end up with frustrated and disappointed patrons. I honestly hadn’t really thought much about our agreement to host this satellite program on our campus – and about its impact. This was clearly a mistake. As a result, students are required to use a system that (supposedly) only works with IE6 in a library which only uses IE7. There is clearly a communication issue here – and I’m left feeling as if it is my fault. While it really may not be entirely my fault, it is my problem – as the fact that overall our technical support to our patrons needs to be better. I’m trying to learn from stories like this and hoping to eventually eliminate them all together at some point.

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4 Responses to A Story About Technical Support Issues

  1. Meredith says:

    It’s definitely not your fault. You are doing the best you can with the information they are giving you, and I am dismayed (but not surprised) by the reaction of the coordinator. That is a situation in which communication is crucial. Gosh, I’d be thrilled if someone wanted to help troubleshoot my students’ problems!

    I know just how you feel. I deal with at least one access problem from distance learners ever day. We have a lot of students in the military and they usually have major security software that prevents our proxy server from authenticating them. In some cases, I can fix people’s access problems, but so often there is little or nothing I can do and it drives me crazy.

    When I’m not there, things are worse because the reference librarians don’t know how to troubleshoot common access problems. I have given them instruction on the topic, but since they don’t do it often, they forget (kind of like me when I have to cover the Circ desk three times a year or so). I put an FAQ with common access issues and their solutions for library staff on our wiki, but they never consult it. I can’t be at the library every minute of the day, and I just am not sure how to impart this information to colleagues who clearly do not want to have the responsibility of answering these questions (or at least don’t feel confident enough to do it).

    You’ve already done a lot more than many people would do in the same situation. Just keep your terrific user-oriented service approach. We can only do so much given how complicated so many of these tech situations are.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Meredith, thank you so much for your comments. Sometimes it is so nice to hear someone say “it’s definitely not your fault.” I can tell you on the day that this happened I was so disheartened. I hate having to say to people (which includes the reference librarians) “There is nothing I can do” – especially when I think if I had been there I would have been able to get the material to print. Security software and the like causesSO many problems – and reference librarians and circulation staff just haven’t been trained to deal with these things (not necessarily their fault). I have the same problem about not being in the library when most of the problems occur. I have to return to work on off hours enough times due to system failures – so, returning to work for more minor (although I do concede they aren’t minor to the patrons) problems is not something that I am willing to do. Sadly, I haven’t been able to give those who are at work enough knowledge to support such things. As a result, I’m thinking hard about trying to find a way to improve this situation.

    Your post made me smile!!! Thank you!

  3. Sarah Clark says:

    Deja vu. I’ve had several problems similar to this with a few of our online students as well as malfunctioning AV stuff this week–in the most notable event a coworker walked into my office as I was booting up my system the other day, said “the computer in the instruction room is being weird”, shrugged when i asked her to explain in more detail, and wandered off, leaving me to figure out what the #$&! was going on. Then there’s also the two instruction sessions for our classes that are simulcast to all three campuses that I had to cancel because the computers in the school’s video conference classrom now BLOCK ACCESS TO DATABASES FOR “SECURITY REASONS”. I’ve tried to learn tech support on my own, but when I’m not given basic tools to fix some of these problems (like admin-level access to the lab computers) it leaves me AND the student frustrated, powerless, and angry.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Sarah, I feel the pain. I hate these type of situations – and they seem to be all too common. Doesn’t it seem like it is getting worse?? Extremely frustrating!!!

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