Treat IT projects as library projects, and vice versa

Roy Tennant

2017-06-27-TreatITProjectsAsLibrary Projects

Last month, 40 library software developers from the United States, Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands came to Dublin, Ohio, to participate in a two-day conference focused on OCLC’s machine services. Designed to be used by computers, machine services are also called “application program interfaces” or APIs. They enable library developers to write software that can use these services while retaining control over the user interface.

Over the two days of this inaugural DEVCONNECT meeting, developers heard from both OCLC staff and staff from member libraries about our APIs and how to use them to create effective services. Karen Coombs also taught a half-day workshop on tips for developers using APIs.

Jennifer Vinopal, Associate Director for Information Technology for University Libraries at Ohio State University, was the keynote speaker, and you can view her presentation in the video below.

Let’s rethink the mental modes that prevent change

In her wide-ranging talk, she began by looking back at the early 1990s when the web was new and how librarians were “freaking out” about the impact that web technology would have on the library profession. She compared and contrasted the feminized library profession, where the work has been denigrated in popular culture by using words like “musty,” “dusty” and “shushing,” with the masculinized IT profession, which is a highly valued profession and activity. She concluded with thoughts about how IT is often considered separate from the rest of the library and organization, and offered some specific strategies for IT staff to help change that dynamic.

Her point was that we need to explore the possibilities of rethinking IT and library initiatives to advance a more holistic, systemic way of understanding, envisioning and accomplishing our work together.

This theme resonates as well with a recently released Ithaka S+R Issue Brief: Finding a Way from the Margins to the Middle: Library Information Technology, Leadership, and Culture, by Dale Askey and Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, which also asserts that IT has been separated within the institution. They frame their suggested solutions within the three areas of leadership, structure and culture.

An ACRL TechConnect blog post by Lauren Magnuson, “Decentralizing Library IT,” also discusses issues pertinent to this discussion.

If these issues resonate with you, I highly recommend that you review these resources and discuss the themes and potential solutions they raise within your own institution.