Poke Your Tech Staff With Sticks, And Other Ideas

What a difference a year makes? Jessamyn was among those sharing her stories of how technology and tech staff were often mistreated in libraries, but there’s a lot of technology in this year’s ALA program (including three competing programs on Saturday: The Ultimate Debate: Do Libraries Innovate, Social Software Showcase, and Transforming Your Library With Technology.

And still, not all is well. Ryan Deschamps seems to have hit the button with a post from April of this year. It’s one of the most thoughtful and reasoned posts I’ve seen on the matter, so I’m calling the whole thing a must read, but here are a few quotes:

technology problems are ultimately organizational culture problems. How can something that seems to some to be a “no brainer” seem so high-level risk to others?

Technology has reached a stage that any idea to implement a technology ought to begin with a “yes.”

I mean it. Begin with a “yes,” then work through the barriers or fit the idea into a list of priorities after. No, that does not mean “implement new technology NOW!” It means “give us techies the benefit of the doubt and then determine if something is not sustainable, too resource-intensive or whatnot after we have had the opportunity to show you it can be successful.”

Say “yes” and then say “let me see the model or plan” and then criticize it on its merits. Then do a 5-minute Google or Wikipedia search to find out what we are trying to do. Say “yes” first, then ask the hard questions and when the idea falls off the rails say “ok — let’s look at this for another time.”

We are dying to flex our muscles, because we have been working hard at building them. Starting with “no” is like telling us we are fat in our jeans. We know we are not. We know we are sexy, in-demand and turning heads everywhere we go. You will not teach us humility, it will be through action, mistake and consequences that we will gain that virtue. You might as well let it happen. Library staff will be retiring in the near future — more than mere working bodies, you will be losing experience in your organizations. You need to be building that stuff up in your staff lickety-split. This is what performance management is all about.

This is a dangerous suggestion, but a simple fact: the libraries that so many people have spent their careers building will soon be falling into the hands of these brash, indiscrete punks who think they look so good in their jeans. We have an opportunity to adopt technology while we still have a rich supply of institutional knowledge, or we can wait until that knowledge is gone and pray it works.

The later option is more exciting. If successful, the younger generation will be able to say they did it alone, and if it fails, the older generation can point out how flawed the young turks were from the start. But if libraries fail, if inexperience leads to disorganized libraries that get closed for lack of funding, then who really wins?

What’s your transition plan? How are you adopting technologies that serve your patrons while also building experience in the next generation of library leaders?

library, libraries, lib20, library 2.0, experience, transition, technology, attitudes toward technology, management, business continuity

5 thoughts on “Poke Your Tech Staff With Sticks, And Other Ideas

  1. At a conference pub discussion, someone proposed that the solution may be for the brash folks to get their own test server.

    I think that’s not a bad option. Maybe it’s the sort of thing that ought to come with a university tuition? Or maybe libraries could offer incentives for professionals to access their own webserver?

  2. Unfortunately, not all IT people are so open to new technologies. For every story of tech people stymied by lack of acceptance from librarians and other users, I can give you a story of users eager to try various hardware and software tools only to be shot down by IT in the interest of “security” (read “we don’t want to”).

  3. @Ryan Deschamps:

    I’ve been doing development on my own servers for a while (WPopac was born on the same machine that hosts this blog), but I took your point to be largely about organizational behavior and how we build not only the technologies we’ll need in the future but the experienced staff that will keep our libraries running and growing.

  4. Yes. I think you me right, Casey.

    I just think that access to a sandbox is a key component to gaining the experience that is so needed in orgs.

    Part of the pub discussion also highlighted that a systems/IT department can’t install every new-fangled open source software on a server for people to play with (and then re-install after someone adds some crazy module to it 🙂 ). The compromise was the personal server as a professional development device.

    I realize this is not enough, but it might be a simple no-brainer to help develop IT management skills in enthusiastic new staff.

  5. @Ryan Deschamps:

    Anything that increases our opportunity to play with and explore technology (and decreases the costs/risks) is a good thing by me.

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