It has to just work

Today at a meeting I explained to the rep from HigherOne that the intermittent and unpredictable failures of their ATM are a big problem for us. When my message didn’t seem to be getting through, I reiterated. “I’m a critically-thinking adult who understands the challenges of this business relationship, and I’ve stopped using the ATM. I can’t rely on it to work, so I don’t bother to try. Imagine how our students, who need their refunds, feel.”

Because our technology has to just work.  We expect our phones to just work. We expect our computers to just work.  We expect our cars, our ATMs, our cameras, our Kindles, our printers, and the internet to just work. One side effect that hits libraries is that in the world of It Has To Just Work, our users have expectations of service.  And they expect our library wireless, printers, computers, and databases to just work.  It’s the world we live in, and the environment in which we provide services.

In addition to bitching about ATMs, I sent three emails to my Proquest rep today. The upgrade from January is still borked.  We have a pile of problems in the Technical Support hopper, and we’ve gotten no dates, fixes, or deliverables that are mitigating the frustrations of our faculty and students.  There are a few work-arounds, but most require that the user do something like use an alternate browser or learn a complex chain of steps to try.

Sadly, that’s not good enough. It has to just work.

I can imagine that software developers and help desk technicians everywhere are crying into their terminals right now, because they want to know why we can’t expect the user to take some responsibility for their own experience. Why we can’t understand that these problems and services are complex, and complexity takes time to manipulate into perfection. Why we can’t just cope, or be patient, and let them work…

Because the user expects it to just work, that’s why.  Yeah, I want our users to be willing to learn, to think critically about problem solving, to apply a holistic perspective to their understanding of the environment in which they operate.  But you know what else I want? I want to make it through the last week of classes, finals week, and commencement.  Which is what we’re in right now: the last week of classes.  During the last week of classes, it has to just work, no matter what other student learning outcomes we might wish for.  When it doesn’t just work, users are unhappy.  And what all of our vendors need to remember is that the unhappy user doesn’t stop using the vendor’s services and blame the corporate development team for their frustration.  They don’t just get pissed off at the ATM or stop using Proquest databases. They get mad at the library for failing to meet their needs. They stop using our services out of frustration. Relationships are damaged, years-long outreach attempts are thwarted, and most importantly, the educational mission of the college is impacted. “Databases don’t work” translates directly to “student learning is damaged”.

Which means that the Libraries’ reputation is on the line when our vendors mess up.  Which means that the vendors need to step up their response to these problems.  Not with cooing apologies and vague assurances about “soon” and “hope”, but with firm dates, specific promises, and deliverables.


  1. This, in all caps, as a response to every vendor phone call and email. if you could record this and toss it up as an mp3 that i can use as an auto-responder, that would be great, too 😉


  2. I fought pretty hard against HigherOne even being used as a “vendor”. Everything about them was overpriced and sucked. One of many battles I lost towards the end.


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