A software glitch Friday gave some Waco-McLennan County Library patrons a scare and library officials a headache.
Scores of patrons received an electronic notice stating that they had overdue fines of at least $50 and needed to call the library to avoid being sent to collections.
Call they did, tying up phone lines for much of the day. Top library staff worked the phones, explaining that the fines were in most cases much less than $50 and that there was no need to worry.
“I’ve been at the desk since 10,” said library director Essy Day on Friday afternoon. “I’ve been apologizing profusely. … People are very fair and honest. They realize there are glitches with computers.”
Day said the erroneous notifications resulted from a new library information system, and the vendor, Innovative Interfaces Inc., took responsibility for the error.
“They’re a wonderful company, and they’ve been nothing but helpful,” she said, adding that the notification system has been temporarily disabled. The system normally contacts patrons by email or text when an item is seven days overdue, with periodic reminders after that.
Among the alarmed patrons was Nicole Greb, a social work master’s student.
“I woke up this morning to an email about a book I rented in 2013, saying it was overdue and I owed $50 or more,” she said late Friday morning. “I’ve been trying to call them all morning. I’m assuming it’s a lot of money.”
Greb said she checked out the book about Harriet Tubman when she was a freshman in college history class, but she doesn’t remember failing to turn it in.
“It’s frustrating to me,” she said. “Obviously, they had my email address all the time. … At $50 or more I could buy them a couple of books about Harriet Tubman.”
Day said that as far as she knows all the patrons who got notices do owe at least $1 in fines, but the statement that the fine is over $50 was erroneous.
But Rebekah Hughes, a ministry coordinator at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, said she received her notice in error. She was also trying to call the library Friday morning.
“The book was ‘Abraham Lincoln Loves Animals,’ ” she said. “It’s a children’s book. We checked it out in July. I’m definitely not in possession of it. … I was a little perturbed because I remember returning all our books. We love the library and try to return their books and not leave them in small places around the house.”
Hughes said her children are regular patrons at Central Library, and her 6-year-old picked out the Lincoln book.
“I think it was a good book, but it’s not a cherished piece of literature I feel I need to own,” she said.
Day said the software glitch was especially unfortunate because the library was just rolling out a much-improved computer system for its staff and patrons.
“Searching is so much easier for patrons,” she said. “It’s a more robust site. It shows most of what patrons are used to showing on Amazon, for example. It’s so much easier to use.”