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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?

Published inTools and Technology


  1. One thing I’ve been pondering (though not yet doing anything about) is the way in which college libraries serve information needs for college departments, not just the (obviously most important) information needs of students and faculty engaged directly with the curriculum. Do your IT folks use “library resources”? Is there collection development that could be done to better support their research needs?

  2. (Er, either I or wordpress kind of messed up things and left out things in my comment, and maybe shifted the tone in so doing… but, does that line of inquiry maybe make some sense despite my hamhanding of it?)

  3. Yes, that makes sense. And it’s a good question. I have a feeling that the answer is “no.” And I’m not surprised, since our collection development policy states rather emphatically that we collect for the curriculum. Still, it’s a good thing to ponder. We subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Ed, for example, which doesn’t directly feed the curriculum. Though it serves all the academic departments and is kind of a standard resource in higher ed libraries.

    Anyway, the long and short of my musings is that this might be one place to keep thinking about for us. Thanks!

  4. Another way in which you might already be supporting them is through knowing what they’re up to and thus being accurately able to direct people to them in need. This doesn’t even seem like a thing! Because it comes naturally through friendship and cooperation… but it is also a form of support, and something that should be valued lest it be lost… I have seen folks get too busy to have time to learn these things, or too busy to share these things with campus if they are not *their own* things…

  5. Rebecca Johnson Rebecca Johnson

    Our library department is having a discussion with members of the IT department at our quarterly meeting tomorrow…so this topic has been on my mind in preparation for that meeting. We were asked 3 simple questions that the IT dept wants to know of us:
    1) What about the IT dept do you need/want to know more about?
    2) What issues do our students face with technology?
    3) How can we better leverage our technology infrastructure to support you and our students?

    The main points that have stuck in my mind is that of access. Our college has a large population of students that have no internet access at home…so they must rely on library or University computers to do their work. This is fine – but time and time again, software restrictions for student profiles prohibit them from utilizing software that they need for class. To couple that issue, the librarian profiles are not standardized…some have upped permissions…some don’t… and it creates more work in the long run for everyone (librarians and IT) involved.

    I really liked your point, Iris, in regards to the library being the center for usability testing. I don’t think IT departments leverage that enough…so I’ll definitely be bringing that up as well. Oftentimes, the library is sort of an after-thought in regards to IT software/program roll-outs.

    I feel a new blog post coming on…

  6. […] Librarian, Libraries, IT departments, and complex relationships We had a joint retreat recently, and one of the questions several of us raised in our breakout […]

  7. As I read this, the thought that occurred to me was about IT’s desires. What are their collective goals, passions, needs? It is such a structurally central part of Library goals and passions, but I don;t think I know what IT needs and wants on a regular basis. So, for me, answering your question would need to first answer that. And I’m guessing the *asking* of such a question might just go a long way in any Library/IT relationship!

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