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Month: March 2012

Libraries, IT departments, and complex relationships

We have what I consider to be a really good working relationship with our IT department. When I talk to other people on campus I come away thinking of it as shockingly good, but most of the time I forget what it could be like and just go about the daily business of being in a good working relationship with another department. Their head of public services sits on our Public Services committee. I sit on their Service Points Steering Committee. Their director and ours meet regularly. Their director participates in our leadership team meetings. The people who run their main help desk and I talk nearly daily as we coordinate the running of the public labs (of which the library has 3) and the supervision of the IT student workers who, as a pool, staff both their main help desk and our Research/IT desk.

What’s more, we’re also friends. Most of us, anyway. There are a few people I don’t really know or understand over there and I’m sure the same is true when they think of us. But really, I’m going to movie night at one of their houses tonight and another one and I have swapped books and another and I meet to knit together nearly every Saturday morning. We confide in each other. We’re friends.

So yes, things are good. But as with any relationship, things are also complex.

We had a joint retreat recently, and one of the questions several of us raised in our breakout groups — the question that’s kicked around in my head since then — is how to have a truly collaborative relationship when the library is about 90% customer of IT and 10% collaborator with IT. We have complex systems that they support. We have weird old fashioned printers (i.e. label printers) that we really need but that don’t work most of the time. Our web presence is complicated. Our need for public technology infrastructure (and bandwidth) just keeps increasing. Some of us want to tinker with all kinds of geeky stuff, and some of us need help copying and pasting. I don’t know if we’re their most complicated customers on campus, but we’re probably right up there.

So there’s a weird power dynamic there, and potential for either side to get resentful: us if we think they’re not helping us enough and them if they think we’re demanding too much time or resources. And we wondered how to even out that power differential a bit in hopes of keeping a good thing going and making it even better and more sustainable. What is it that we offer them?

Currently, we’re one of the best places on campus to test equipment and software. We’re a high traffic building and one of the few on campus that’s frequented by faculty, staff, and students. And we’re also pretty good at soliciting and communicating feedback. So when the college was deciding on a campus-wide printer/scanner/copier model, we were the main test site. When they institute new software or interfaces, we can usually tell them how it’s being received by our students.

We also offer a space where IT can have direct contact with students who are in the midst of doing their work. The main lab in the library is the reference room, with the joint Research/IT service desk and the two busiest printers on campus. One thing that our IT department doesn’t have much of right now is very direct connections to the curriculum and student engagement with their academic work on campus, and since that’s really the core of the campus’ mission and ethos, figuring out how to engage with that enterprise would be a great step. (There is a group of academic technologists that consults with faculty and students about curricular matters, but for the most part they are separate from the main help desk.)

Right now, they’ve come through several years of several iterations of major reorganizations, so I suppose we can offer a sense of stability if we’re in collaborations with them and other departments or individuals.

But what else? Surely there are ways to offer more tangible support for colleagues that we value and that make our work possible. What are some of the things that you offer your IT departments?


The evolving face of shelves and desks

Harvard Library Reading Room

Libraries have always been many things, but one thing they’ve generally focused on is providing materials and places to read and engage with those materials. Shelves and desks.

With more and more of our collections moving online, an internet connection is now the equivalent of a shelf for our electronic collections, browsers and computer desktops are now the places to read and engage with those materials.

This hit home for us in a big way when our wifi infrastructure crumbled under the ever-increasing demands on its resources (thank heavens for smart and dedicated IT folks!) and when “use one of the library computers” wasn’t an alternative any more because they were all in use. All three labs of them.

I used to think of wifi and computer access in libraries more as amenities. People come here to do their academic work, so isn’t it great that they can stay here and actually do their work. But over the last few years I’ve decided that our collections and the assignments that our faculty require have evolved such that it’s no longer useful to think of these and things like them as “extras.” These are our shelves. These are our desks. These are part of our core mission. We provide materials and ways of engaging with those materials, just as we have always done.

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The Reference Pager; or, Things That Will Probably Kill Me

Last summer, our workhorse of a pager finally fell to bits. Literally. So we had to buy a new one, and it’s actually  not a walk in the park to find one that will transmit all the way through our library, but we landed on this one. The good news is that it does indeed transmit throughout our library.


The bad news comes in two parts. First, it turns out that “Good Vibrations” is actually stamped onto the pager — a pager that vibrates exuberantly. This is… not what I really want to be wearing on my belt buckle as I go about my librarianly work. We covered the phrase over with a slip of paper that says “Reference Pager.” Imaginative, I know, but I’m all for utterly useful things at service points.

The second part of the bad news was the extreme exuberance with which this pager vibrates. You can hear it vibrating away from across the main floor of the library, followed immediately by the poor on-call librarian’s startled scream. And at the beginning of every shift, you can watch as the librarian on duty gingerly unplugs the pager from its charger, turns it on, and cringes as it gives 4 excessively happy “I’M FUNCTIONING AND I’VE MISSED YOU AND I’M SO READY TO WORK TODAY” vibrating pulses.

I’m on call this afternoon while all my other colleagues are either working off campus, at a conference, or on vacation. If this thing goes off and I have a coronary, nobody will know what happened until everyone returns tomorrow to find my cold, dead hand clutching the maniacally vibrating pager.


p.s. Here’s the thing’s “I’m awake” war cry. (Surgeon General’s Warning: turn down your volume if you value your ears.)


Last Week in OSes Connecting to our Campus Network

Here is a list of OSes that connected to the campus wireless network last week, and the number of each of those OSes that connected. Dorm rooms don’t have wireless, only wired, so they don’t show up here, and lab machines are all wired, so they don’t show up here. Also, we don’t currently have guest access to the wireless network, so this is Carleton folks connecting.

  • 944 Mac OS X
  • 915 Apple iPod, iPhone or iPad
  • 640 Microsoft Windows Vista/7 or Server 2008
  • 340 Mac OS X Lion
  • 133 Generic Android
  • 69 Microsoft Windows XP
  • 26 OEMed Wireless Router
  • 11 Slingbox
  • 11 DD-WRT Router
  • 9 Ubuntu 11.04
  • 9 HP Printer
  • 8 LaCie NAS
  • 7 Samsung Android
  • 7 Playstation 2
  • 5 Nokia Internet Tablet (udhcpc client)
  • 5 Android Tablet
  • 3 Ubuntu/Debian 5/Knoppix 6
  • 3 Motorola Android
  • 3 Debian-based Linux
  • 2 Xbox 360
  • 2 OS/2 Warp (actually BlackBerry, I think)
  • 2 Microsoft Windows 8
  • 2 Gentoo Linux
  • 2 Epson Projectors
  • 1 Symbian OS
  • 1 Fedora 15 or 16 based distro
  • 1 Chrome OS
  • 1 Brother Printer

Coming after the recent Chronicle of Higher Ed article on how Tablet Ownership Triples Among College Students (apologies for the pay wall), it’s very interesting to see iOS connections outnumber all Windows connections.

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