Update on Tech Malfunction in RH306

| May 6, 2011

As a library staff member who oversees services, I’d like to provide an update and a reflection on a recent technology malfunction in one of our classroom-sized rooms, Russell Hall 306.

What’s Wrong and When it Will Be Fixed

Our Crestron unit which is the brain of all the classroom technology in 306 failed about three weeks ago. As an expensive and embedded system (think: a ~$50,000 closet-sized system), we have a top-of-the-line maintenance contract but no full-featured back-up system. TC technicians and external consultants began troubleshooting the system the day we learned of the failure. Unfortunately, only yesterday were they able to determine that it was likely a motherboard failure that would require service. It is currently estimated to be back in operation at the beginning of Summer A.

As a back-up, we were only able to offer a 65″ display screen (directly connected to a laptop), which we understand is disappointing to everyone who is accustomed to (and dependent upon) the double 100″ screens that the Crestron system controls. We were not able to offer projectors, as it’s the Crestron unit that also controls the screens, and temporary screens and wiring would have made the installation of projectors unfeasible. On behalf of the library’s management team, I apologize for this inconvenience to students and other library patrons, and hope everyone appreciates the complexity of these kind of technical malfunctions. They are difficult to predict, diagnose, and prevent, as well as prohibitively expensive to have full back-up systems ready to deploy.

Library services staff also made an effort, when requested, to relocate groups to RH305 (which has an identical system), but this was not always possible due to scheduling conflicts.

Our Support Model

Always striving to communicate effectively with library patrons, we apprised patrons of this technical problem in advance of using the room. Library services staff (including the first floor desk staff) regularly manage patron communications via our Support Request system and in-person communications. In cases such as this one, where unexpected technical issues could impact formal and informal educational activities (i.e., TC classes and community meetings), a services manager also directly emails the patron who reserved the room to ensure a timely and thorough communication.

This communications model is the same one we use to manage Special Events at the library, and has grown out of an ongoing conversation with students, faculty, administrators, and trustees of how best to support the TC community. We are always eager to improve our model, and this message is one example of that, leveraging a more social technology to keep community members more broadly informed about the goings-on at the College. Our goal is to make this kind of information available without squandering the limited time the TC community has to keep apprised of the ongoing operations and offerings of the College.

I thank you for your patience as we correct this technical issue and return 306 to its optimal condition. Please feel free to comment below, or privately contact the library about this or any other service issue. For your reference, here is the Support Request link: http://library.tc.columbia.edu/support.php?dq=generalq