Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Librarians vs IT Techies : why they just can't get along.

To my way of thinking you can't talk about libraries without talking about IT. So I was quite interested when Hazman Aziz pointed out this really interesting discussion thread which considers why Librarians and IT departments have so much trouble getting on. To view the Tech Therapy video which sparked the debate click here.

The discussion identifies the obvious differences between libraries and IT: predominantly female vs predonominatly male, long tradition vs relatively new and very mission-driven vs less so.

But there are similarities too, including the really funny one that only 3 major industries call their customers users: libraries, IT and illicit drugs! Going deeper, both IT staff members and librarians often feel like second-class citizens on university campuses, both groups inhabit a rapidly-changing work environment and thus both groups have insecurities about the future of their professions.

A few exerpts from the discussion:
"Our library and IT department have a very cordial and productive working relationship. I think the key to this is that we are lucky enough to have never had an administration that threatened to impose a merger on us. Rifts occur when there is talk of merging and you have to wonder ultimately who will call the shots."

"As far as I can tell, none of it is lack of cordiality; most IT departments and librarians get along just fine. It’s different worldview. Librarians have a tested model of service which needs to work reliably, and archivists have a definition of preservation which lasts decades or centuries. IT people think in the moment. Preservation means “until the next backup is made” or, at best, “until the next audit or company reorganization”. Service means “make sure the site is up and the backups get done”.

"..... The end result is that IT people don’t even realize that librarians have expertise in data description, storage, and reorganization, because librarians are too humble to volunteer and IT people are too arrogant to ask".

"Turf war. In an era when both parties feel uncertainty about the future of their jobs, both want to carve out as much of a space for themselves as possible."

"As many institutions are merging undergraduate libraries and computer center into learning commons, who should head such a hybrid? As the focus moves from providing information to enhancing learning, are those trained in library science best equipt for this mission or might a new bred of IT staffers serve student learning needs more effectively in this technological age?"

"IT see the world in terms of “us” and “them” which breeds hostility to “stupid” questions."

"Librarians would never host a group called the Daily WTF to discuss the stupid user questions we’ve hosted that day"

"Librarians constantly tell our patrons “there is no such thing as a stupid question.” Have you ever had an IT say that to you?"

"IT folks tend to prefer a chain of command. They like reporting to one person and getting their assignments from one person. Librarians, on the other hand, are very anti-authoritarian and independent when it comes to their daily tasks and much more collegial in terms of the sources of their job assignments."

"IT people are not taught to communicate; they are there to fix problems. Librarians, especially public service librarians, have a customer (or patron or user) service orientation and are taught carefully how to draw patrons out in terms of their information needs, and to explain carefully how to find and use the resources appropriate for their information needs."

".... a cultural clash – IT people often come from the for-profit sector, expecting special bonuses and the like that don’t exist in the non-profit world. You don’t get special compensation for doing your job well, you get your paycheck."

"I cringe to think how many times I’ve complained about a technology design (be it networked printers, web pages, whatever) being confusing to users and given the reply “they’ll figure it out”. That’s not acceptable to a librarian,"

"IT is regularly left out of planning and decision making processes until such time as the work is ready to be dumped on them during implementation. If you want a better working relationship, invite some IT staff to your planning meetings and listen"

1 comment:

Hazman Aziz said...

Hi Jo,

Great site and point. One of the models that I used to learn when I was in UOW, my lecturer shares with me about strategic IT alignment model. The Strategic Alignment model of Venkatraman, Henderson and Oldach helps to create alignment between the Business and IT Strategy of a company's technology portfolio. Google, Facebook and many others Web 2.0 are successful because they took concern in this initial project planning. Personally, I practice this model close in most of my projects as both a Technology System Librarian as well asa Business Librarian. So far, I covered implementation more than 5 IT projects deployed in the academic library. I try to post an entry which are the IT systems I have involved and lead in my library as a trainee librarian to share my experience. One of the reasons, management support is important too to achieve a balance scorecard results.

Hazman Aziz