MNCAT breakdown adds more stress for frazzled students

Wilson Library does not keep a physical card catalog.

Molly Moker

Graduate student Wade Haynes waited in line for 10 minutes Friday to speak with a librarian at Wilson Library.

Waiting for help was not how Haynes planned to use his research time, but he had no other choice.

MNCAT – the University’s online library search engine – was down Thursday and Friday because of problems with its server and database. Although it was back up again Friday night, the outage still disrupted students’ research.

“This is most definitely an inconvenience,” Haynes said, as other students waiting in line nodded in agreement. Haynes wanted to use MNCAT to find research material for a 20-page comparative literature term paper. But as Haynes discovered, locating the books he needed would not be as easy as jumping on the Internet.

The MNCAT system is part of MNLINK, the system that connects all four University campuses. None of the campuses could access library search engine systems while MNCAT was down.

Librarians at Wilson Library said technicians worked around the clock to get the system back up, and it was running again by 5:30 p.m. Friday. They said even though it is high-stress finals time, students were polite about the disruption.

Junior Josh Pearson said he needed to use MNCAT to research a political science paper due Monday.

Instead of MNCAT, Pearson said, he used the course reserve list – a printed list of books relevant to specific courses – located in the reference area.

But he said the list only partially helped because not all books he needed were included.

“Now I’ll probably have to go to a Hennepin County library,” Pearson said.

Pearson said he was thankful he started his research before the server went down.

While MNCAT was down, librarians and students could still access larger reference catalogs such as WORLDCAT. Through that system, people can look up titles or authors of books to see if the University has them. However, the reference numbers are not exact, so students had to search the shelves for books, and there was also no way to know if a book is checked out.

Librarians said WORLDCAT is not as efficient as MNCAT but students can generally find the information they need.

Sophomore Lauren Dailey said using WORLDCAT was inconvenient, but that the librarians helped.

“They told me what section I could find my books in,” Dailey said. “But I don’t know if I got the exact books that I needed. I just got ones like them.”

Haynes was also disturbed to discover that Wilson Library does not keep a physical card catalog.

“I know it’s a convenience to have everything in a digital format,” Haynes said. “But they don’t even have a catalog for students to use in situations like this.”

Haynes said although librarians helped him, researching on his own would have been easier.

“I have all of these ideas in my head that I can’t just explain to them,” Haynes said. “(WORLDCAT) is a helpful resource, but it is definitely going to be a lot more work.”

Pete Rosenthal, a Wilson Library assistant, said MNCAT was functioning Friday morning, but was shut down by 7:30 a.m. because of error messages that came up while accessing the site.

Eric Celeste, associate University librarian for information technology, said librarians noticed MNCAT was not working properly, and that it needed to be shut down to copy and restore the program from its backup.

Celeste said within his year and a half of working with MNCAT, this was the longest system shutdown. He added that while the shutdown cause is still under investigation, viruses and hackers have been ruled out. He also said the error was not related to high user traffic.

While Celeste said the problem was “pretty disastrous,” he did not expect further problems.

Most students at Wilson Library said the problem was only a slight inconvenience.

“The average person that just needs to check out a book shouldn’t have any problems,” student circulation supervisor Devon Radosevich said.

But graduate student Joren Erickson said it took him 15 minutes to find a book.

“It’s just kind of annoying, but I got what I needed,” Erickson said.

Radosevich said some students were concerned about not knowing if they had library fees, and worried the fees will affect their class standing or registration.

He also said the failure was more inconvenient for workers than students.

“We’ll have to check all the books back in,” Radosevich said. “The student workers who are working this weekend will probably be able to get it done during their shifts.”

Celeste said there are plans to enhance MNCAT’s disaster plans by implementing a disaster recovery machine.

Celeste said the library wants to add a second server that could exchange systems with the original server and back up the hardware every 15 minutes. This way, when one server goes down, it could instantly convert to the other server without having to restore information.

Celeste said the disaster plans will be implemented within a year and are a priority for the University library system.

Celeste said the library will run a system upgrade in December to ensure MNCAT is working properly.