Library snafu leads to thousands of erroneous overdue notices in Waukesha County

Oct. 10, 2012

Close to 15,000 library users in Waukesha County have erroneously received email notices about overdue materials due to a technical snafu, a library official said Wednesday.

The error happened late Tuesday night while staff was testing features of the county's new library catalog system, which is expected to go live on Nov. 28.

"It was just supposed to be internal," said Tom Hennen, director of the Waukesha County Federated Library System, who received a notice himself. "Somehow rather than just being a test drive, they actually got sent out. It comes down to, someone didn't turn off the switch that said, 'Let these really go out.' "

The overdue notices were sent to people who had materials checked out on Aug. 8 and have signed up for email notifications from the Brookfield Public Library, Delafield Public Library, Elm Grove Public Library, Mukwonago Community Library, Muskego Public Library, New Berlin Public Library, Oconomowoc Public Library, Pauline Haass Public Library in Sussex, Pewaukee Public Library, the Town Hall Library in North Lake and the Waukesha Public Library.

Library users in Big Bend, Butler, Eagle, Hartland and Menomonee Falls were not affected because those libraries don't send out email notifications, Hennen said.

He said staff was working to send out notifications by the end of Wednesday to people to let them know that the overdue notices were sent out in error.

He advised people who received a notice to log into their library account online to double-check that they don't have items due. Users who don't have Internet access can call their library, he said.

More than a speed bump

Hennen called the error a "major embarrassment." He said the library chain was prepared for some speed bumps in the transition to a new system, but added, "I just wasn't expecting it to be this public."

Snafu aside, the new catalog is expected to provide a number of helpful new features. One of them is a "Did you mean . . . " feature that helps correct misspellings when users search the catalog, Hennen said. A search in the system also will give users direct access to materials that can now be found only by searching separate databases, such as newspaper and magazine articles. The system also will reduce the number of times a user has to log into his or her account online.

Hennen noted that while the transition to the new system takes place, the "hold" feature online will be unavailable for a week from Nov. 20-27.

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