After the recent launch of U of T’s new ‘LibrarySearch’ tool on February 16, people have been expressing their frustrations and criticizing the system online, taking to Reddit and Twitter to criticize the difficulty of using the new search tool and the quality of the search results.

The new system, introduced in January, was intended to integrate print and electronic resources into the same search platform.

In an email to The Varsity, a university spokesperson wrote that significant updates in  technology typically have “growing pains.” There will be another round of tests and information technology (IT) consultations, as well as training sessions on how to use the new system. 

Reactions to the new search tool

The biggest point of criticism was usability and a new interface that users found confusing. 

Christian Siroyt, a U of T alum and applicant for the university’s art history PhD program, said in an interview with The Varsity that the update “made the searching process considerably slower for me. It wasn’t intuitive at all.”

Others were frustrated that the change came at a time when students are likely studying and might be using the library search system more. 

In an email to The Varsity, Anvesh Jain, a fourth-year international relations student, explained that he felt there was not enough warning that the system was changing. As a student in the humanities and social sciences, Jain relies on the search system for his schoolwork. He felt that given the stress of school and the pandemic, this could have been communicated better. 

However, Jain added that, after working with the new system for a few days, he sees it as an improvement. Specifically, he mentioned the citation function, which creates citations of different styles based on the items.

“I think the updated system is going to be much better for students in the long-term, and is well-suited to our new online all-the-time reality,” he wrote.  

According to University Chief Librarian Larry Alford, initial user testing of the system had provided positive feedback.

A U of T spokesperson wrote, “While there have been some growing pains, they have been typical of a significant technological upgrade such as this, which involved the migration of millions of library catalogue records.”

The spokesperson also noted that IT specialists are working to resolve technical issues as they come up, and another round of user experience tests will take place in the spring to help in addressing feedback and suggestions.

The library is also holding three training sessions from March 1–5 to help users adjust to the new tool.

Lack of alumni access 

Beyond the search system, Siroyt feels that the university has not done a good enough job of communicating information about the library system to alumni during the pandemic. 

Siroyt said that he has been struggling with the university’s library system for a while as an alumni reader. His alumni library membership fee does not include remote access to materials in the HathiTrust digital library catalogue, which makes accessing books difficult during the pandemic.

Currently, the library is not offering any in-person alumni services, including access to library stacks or facilities. While the latest update was intended to be more accessible for physical and digital items, the fact that an item is digital makes it inaccessible to Siroyt and all other alumni. “So I can only access obscure hardcopy books that are available for curbside pickup and not digitized,” he said.

Siroyt said that a library help desk employee told him alumni didn’t have access to curbside pickup services. However, in a series of email exchanges with the library’s user services, Siroyt was told that the reason he couldn’t access curbside pickup was because of a bug in the code that controlled curbside pickup orders, which prevented him from placing an order. 

One of the emails reads, “We just have a typo error in our curbside script which should be fixed by tomorrow, to resume requests by the alumni research reader category. We discovered this ‘typo’ today.”

“For a number of weeks, and perhaps months, I was blocked out from accessing the curbside pickup, so I had no library privileges at all, yet I was paying the fee,” Siroyt said. 

“I do rely on the library system a great deal, and when I don’t have access, it [has] a huge impact.” 

— With files from Lauren Alexander