My Take on Overcoming Institutional IT Roadblocks

When I was attending the 2014 Alaska Library Association conference, I attended the “Conversation Starter” session Overcoming Institutional Roadblocks to Technological Innovation.”It started late and I had to leave early, so I did not have a chance to contribute to the conversation. So this is my contribution.

In my career I have faced a number of situations where my Information Technology (IT) department was initially skeptical or outright opposed to something I wanted to do in the library. In my two most recent positions, I have supervised library IT staff while remaining responsible to our parent organization IT. I did not win all of my battles with IT. Looking over some of the losses, I have a few regrets but in other cases, I’m happy that the IT department won the day.

In my experience I have found three things that have helped me have a constructive relationship with my IT infrastructure:

  • Know the basic resources of your IT department. If you have an IT staff of two and your organization has only ever used PC/Microsoft products, don’t expect them to be able to support Linux machines. There are only so many hours in a day and so many types of hardware and software an organization can support. The flip side of this is that they will generally be helpful if you want to acquire hardware and software within your organization’s standard.
  • Clearly communicate your business requirements. You might want software X to be able do do better flyers. But maybe IT knows that your organization already owns software Y that can meet your purposes. So rather then sending up a request for software X, try saying. “We need something that can create flyers based on a spreadsheet of event information.” OR “I’m starting a club that will work through the Harvard’s CS50x class. Can you recommend equipment that will run the CS50 appliance described at https://manual.cs50.net/appliance/19/” rather than “Get me 30 Lennovo Yogas.”
  • Do your homework. Educate yourself as much as you can about anything that you propose, including possible security issues. If you acquire software or hardware on your own without consulting IT, understand you can’t simply throw it at them and expect them to make it work. Especially if it is outside your organization’s standards. Some departments will allow you to acquire non-standard equipment if you are willing to be responsible for its care and feeding.

Doing your homework is especially important if IT tells you something can’t be done. Sometimes it really can’t be. But check the documentation to be sure. It gives you much more leverage if you can say something like “Thanks for looking at this. I know you said that ______ can’t be done with this software. According to the documentation at ______________________, this function appears to be possible if you’ll edit ____ file that I don’t have access to. If I’ve read this wrong, please let me know.”

You might be thinking, “I’m not a techie, I can’t do this research or
learn this language.” My reply would be that if you aren’t willing to
take the time to acquaint yourself with basic technology in general
and any of your project hardware/software in particularly, you should stop fighting with your IT department and accept what they give you. If you want more, learn more.

Here are a few tutorials and books to get your started if you’d like
to learn how to talk better to IT staff:

Tutorials

Books

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One Response to My Take on Overcoming Institutional IT Roadblocks

  1. Speaking as someone who lives somewhere between “library” and “IT” (meaning sometimes I’m the librarian working with IT, but more often I am IT, myself), I can’t emphasize the second bullet point enough. Please don’t try to give IT the solution–a lot of times they’ll have tools and approaches at hand that you don’t know about (why would you?), and if you can describe the problem that you need solved, rather than prescribing a solution, IT will have the ability to make you a lot happier, possibly with a lot less trouble on their end, too.

    (This also goes for buying equipment. Please please please don’t go out and buy equipment and expect IT to maintain it for you. They are pros at specifying and acquiring systems to fill needs. Let them do their job, in part so that you aren’t making their job unnecessarily difficult.)

    The other thing I would add is “Assume goodwill.” We have this lie, that I hear a lot, in libraryland: “IT isn’t customer-service oriented.” This is simply untrue. IT is every bit as much a customer service field as librarianship is. We might communicate differently, but we are all professionals, and we’re all doing our best. Assume IT is doing the best they can with (almost certainly) insufficient staffing and resources, just the same as librarians are.

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