Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Five things I’ve learned working with IT in public libraries.

Last week I had a conversation with our council’s recently appointed Chief Information Officer. We shared information and ideas, and found common ground on issues big and small. It was a constructive and positive conversation. He asked about my background, possibly assuming I had a grounding in information technology (IT), and he seemed a little surprised when I said I have only ever worked and trained as a librarian. I did qualify that, by saying that I’ve worked with IT systems and products in a library context my entire career, and that I’ve developed some useful skills in the process.

Here are my top five “IT in Libraries” lessons learned from the past quarter century of my working life J

Engage early and engage often.
Don’t surprise your IT colleagues with last minute projects.  Realise that they probably do have more important organisation-wide projects and problems, and that you may need to join the queue. Starting the engagement and conversations with your IT colleagues early, can help you maintain your expectations and deadlines.

Describe your service needs, not the solution you think you need.
This is a classic move after seeing a particular product at a conference, or receiving a visit from a sales representative. It may spark an idea and you may find a use for that particular product, but that product needs to fit into your IT ecosystem. If you approach IT colleagues them with a request, “we need to buy and install Product A”, it can be very easy for them to reject that request at face value, if Product A doesn’t play nice in the sandpit with their other products and systems. Instead, try to think what Product A does for your library, then reframe the question. “We would like a solution that allows the library to do XYZ more efficiently. An example is Product A. We would like to explore a solution that may or may not be Product A, as long as it helps the library achieve XYZ.” You’re then calling on the experience and expertise of your IT colleagues, to help refine your needs, and find a suitable solution that meets your needs as well as fitting into the broader IT ecosystem of your organisation.

Be a good customer of IT.
Follow their procedures and policies. Fill out their forms and business cases. As tedious as this sometimes might be, it can really help if and when you need to escalate an unfilled or unsatisfactory request up the chain of command. If you can demonstrate that you’ve done everything that IT has requested of you, and your service needs have still not been met, there is less room to argue that you cut corners, or circumvented processes.

IT is the easy part, people and processes are hard
Don’t expect that buying and installing Product A will transform your library, as per the glossy marketing brochure and sales presentation. IT is the easiest part of any project. Changing library processes and policies can be much more difficult. Changing people’s habits and organisational culture is the most challenging task. When planning and scoping a new or improved IT product or service, estimate the staff time involved. Then double that time at least, and allocate that extra time to work on change management processes, staff culture, and communication with internal and external stakeholders. Without investing in the people, culture, processes and policies aspect, there’s a fair chance the full benefits of the IT project won’t be realised. 

We’re all in this together
Library staff and IT staff aren’t ‘customers’ or ‘service providers’, you’re simply colleagues. Although you may work in different teams, with different goals, ultimately you’re in the same organisation with the same community to serve. The more you think of each other as colleagues and not on opposing teams, the better the working relationship.

I’m keen to hear your top tips for working with your IT colleagues! Please share in the comments section. 

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