As technology becomes an increasingly important part of library systems, librarians are tasked with learning new skillsets. Often working with new technology can be more than we are capable of and requires specialized assistance from IT. Unfortunately, many librarians report having some difficulties in communicating with their IT departments. In a previous article, Angela Spencer gave great tips for talking with IT from a librarian viewpoint. For a different perspective, I recently sat down with Liz McQueeny, Library Applications and Systems Specialist at the A. R. Dykes Library in The University of Kansas Medical Center. Liz has been successfully embedded in her library since 2011 and offered to give some insight on communications between librarians and IT.
When she started at KUMC, Liz had a degree in computer science, but knew very little about how libraries function. She credits a lot of her success to working closely with a systems librarian, who had an MLS, but no formal technical education. Together, they worked one-on-one to leverage each other’s knowledge and experience. In a way, they had to translate for each other between information technology and library terminology.
When I asked Liz about challenges that she faced, she described her experience implementing the VuFind, an open source library search portal. While she was able to understand the technical requirements of this portal, she said it required a lot of library-specific knowledge to fully grasp how the system would work. She was able to join a workgroup that included not just the systems librarian, but also electronic resources librarians and front-desk staff. Together, they collaboratively decided which modules to use and how to best go about implementing this portal. She plans to continue utilizing the contacts made during this workgroup when planning for upgrades, as she still needs librarian input to determine what is actually relevant and will benefit the library.
Of course, most of our network libraries aren’t able to support an embedded IT specialist, but instead have to work with an external team. Liz offers some suggestions for improving communications, no matter what your circumstances. When discussing a problem with IT, you will often need to give the full backstory to help them understand the issue. It helps if you can give a concise explanation, so they will stick with you long enough to grasp where the problem lies. She cautions that it often takes patience to work with more technical individuals, who tend to be abrupt. It is important to make sure they hear what you are saying. It’s also good to have a basic understanding of how your electronic resources and computer systems work –that way you can give a technical description. Participating in a work group is something that she really benefited from, so it may be a good idea to invite a friendly IT person to work group with you when discussing new products or updates.
Collaborating with IT doesn’t have to be painful. Cultivating a good relationship with your technical support team can make working with library systems a much more smooth process. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find an IT superstar like Liz McQueeny in your organization. If you need additional help or suggestions related to technology, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 913-588-7355.
— Alicia Lillich, Kansas/Technology Coordinator