Errors in the new library system plague one in ten users

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So says Kira Stine Hansen, deputy director of the Royal Danish Library, who describes the situation as “more critical than we think is acceptable”. The library has pinpointed the error. But can’t say when it will be fixed.

2020.02.21 | Miriam Brems

The Royal Danish Library underestimated the difficulty of integrating user registries from the different library systems. “This was a miscalculation on the part of management – I acknowledge that completely,” Deputy Director Kira Stine Hansen says. Photos: Niels Hougaard; Ida Marie Jensen.

Access to more materials for students and researchers. That was actually one of the main reasons the Royal Danish Library decided to implement the new lending system that was rolled out on 19 November last year, after three years of preparation.

But for a lot of AU’s students and researchers, what’s happened is the opposite: a system error means that they can’t borrow the materials they need to prepare for exams, teach or do research.

Kira Stine Hansen, one of the Royal Danish Library’s deputy directors, doesn’t have precise statistics on how many users have been affected. But her estimate is about one in ten.

“That’s critical, obviously, and it’s more critical than we think is acceptable. But it’s also been smooth sailing for a lot of users,” she says, and adds: 

“We had anticipated that the system would have some growing pains. But these are adult problems.”

When three systems become one

Since January 1st 2018, the Royal Danish Library has been providing library services to Aarhus University, the IT University of Copenhagen, the University of Copenhagen and Roskilde University. But the four universities and the Royal Danish Library had three different lending systems.

For students and employees at AU,this meant that they couldn’t borrow books from the Royal Danish Library with their AU user ID through AU Library, even though the State and University Library in Aarhus and the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen merged in 2017. And loans and reservations couldn’t be transferred from one system to another.

It’s not surprising that we’re seeing challenges with it, but it’s a really big surprise that we have a problem of this magnitude.

So a major impetus for introducing a new library system was the desire to give students and employees access to more materials across the universities. Particularly the physical materials – the literal books the libraries have on their shelves. Access to digital materials still depends on what licenses the individual universities pay for.

Introducing a single shared system also means that librarians at all of the participating libraries can catalogue all materials in one place, and that the libraries only need IT support for one system. 

What’s more, the old systems were developed to handle physical materials.But today, the university libraries primarily acquire electronic materials, such as online access to academic journals.

To make a long story short, since November 19th last year, a student sitting in the book tower in Aarhus has been able to borrow books shelved in the basement of the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen. At least in theory. 

Because the system hasn’t been working for all users.

A lot of them have had problems logging in to the new lending system. Well, they can log in, actually. But the system doesn’t seem to understand what user rights they’re supposed to have. This means they can’t get access to all of the materials they’re supposed to be able to access.

Users who search for materials on kb.dk see this banner at the top of their screens. Kira Stine Hansen explains that there’s a task force whose only job is to answer questions from users.

Miscalculation on the part of management

In light of the fact that about ten percent of users can’t log in to the system correctly, the obvious question is whether the implementation of the new system was handled correctly. 

Kira Stine Hansen explains that about three years of work went into preparing the new system for launch last November, and that it was developed in close collaboration with the Danish Council for ICT and the external supplier that developed the system.

Loads of tests were run. Staff was trained in the new system. So in that sense, all the boxes were checked off. But the Royal Danish Library simply underestimated the complexity of integrating user registries from the old systems, Kira Stine Hansen explains.

I can only apologize. It’s a real mess. And we’re really working hard to solve it – our staff are working their backsides off to help.

The Royal Danish Library elected to develop the solution used to perform user registry integration in-house instead of purchasing it from an external supplier. 

”I’ll be completely honest with you – We didn’t have that totally under control. “This was a miscalculation on the part of management – I acknowledge that completely,” Deputy Director Kira Stine Hansen says. 

“It’s not surprising that we’re seeing challenges with it, but it’s a really big surprise that we have a problem of this magnitude.”

20-member task force working 24-7

According to Kira Stine Hansen, the Royal Danish Library has now figured out the what’s causing the problems in the new systems, and they’re working around the clock to solve them.

“We’ve set up a 20-person task force that only has one job: working on a solution,” she says. 

When the task force finds a solution to a subproblem in the system, they implement it immediately so users don’t have to wait to see improvements until all of the problems are solved. According to Kira Stine Hansen, this means the system is improving day by day.

The Royal Danish Library has also set up another task force dedicated to answering questions from users; this team includes some of the members of the problem-solving task force to ensure that the solutions it comes up with are user-oriented.

But nonetheless, Kira Stine Hansen won’t hazard any predictions about when the problems in the system will be solved. 

“Right after I came back from Christmas vacation, I would have said in three-four months. Now I’m optimistic, but I won’t go so far as to put a date on it. I’d rather be honest and say that we don’t know yet,” she says.

We’ve spoken to a number of students who are frustrated about the problems with the system. How do you respond to their frustration? 

“I understand them because I feel the same way. Now, it’s not that I need to use the system myself, of course, but I’m just as frustrated, and I can only apologize. It’s a real mess. And we’re really working hard to solve it – our staff are working their backsides off to help,” Kira Stine Hansen says.

Steals time from helping users with the new system

Users’ problems with logging in and borrowing material are not the only thing Kira Stine Hansen regrets about the problems with the new system. The rocky start has also diverted energy and resources from other important priorities:

“We had hoped to spend our energy on helping users with the challenges of getting used to a new lending system. Instead, we’ve spent all our energy on solving the login problem,” Kira Stine Hansen says. 

Users need help, she explains, because the new lending system means that AU has a brand-new user interface for library services. And the Royal Danish Library had foreseen that it would take some time for both library employees and users to get used to.

At the same time, the system error complicates matters by making it difficult for users and the library employees who support them to determine whether a particular user’s problems are being caused by the error – or whether they’re just the kind of normal challenges people face when they’re getting used to a new system.

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