IT is Not the Boss of Me

More than once (ok, actually quite often), I’ve heard librarians say “IT won’t let me do that,” or “IT said no, so I figured out how to go around them,” or simply “IT won’t support that product.”

And I always respond by asking why they’re allowing IT to control decisions?

IT guys and gals, please remember – we are in the library to:

  • support whatever the library wants to do, to the best of our ability
  • find better ways of doing things when possible
  • make sure the technology is easy to use, helps meet the library’s needs, and stays as out-of-the-way and transparent as possible, so staff don’t have to think about the tech (unless they want to)
  • And make sure nothing crashes and burns, backups are in place, the website works, etc.

We are NOT there to dictate what library staff can and cannot do.

Sure, there will be staff computer use policies in place. Sure, there are budgets to consider.

But we don’t have to say “no.” Instead, work on saying “yes.” Here are some examples:

  • Yes.
  • Yes, but give me a month. We need to work on other priorities first.
  • Yes. It needs to come from your supervisor, so talk to them first and have them email me.
  • Great idea! We didn’t budget for that this year. Let’s get a discussion started and see if we want to do it next year.

These are all positive, and a version of “yes.” The last two sound a bit like “no” – but (and I know this sounds sorta passive, but it’s really not) it puts the decision-making back where it belongs, with the employee’s supervisor, or with a larger group looking at options. It’s not just IT saying “no.”

Does your IT department say no? What do you do about that? Please share!

image by Berkeley Lab

  • Emily Clasper

    Thank you so much for saying this. I see this stuff all the time. I’ve always figured that the director their professional team were there to make decisions about how the library was going to meet its strategic goals, and the IT folks, as support staff, were there to lend their expertise and find ways to make that stuff happen. Unfortunately, there are too many times when I’ve seen librarians and administrators get their ideas squashed by IT folks who just say “no”, sometimes without a real reason. Seems backwards to me.

  • Justin Keiser

    It complicated matters when IT is not a part of the library and controlled by a city or county.

  • Nina McHale

    As someone who’s been on the library IT side of things for a long time, I’d just like to add that it’s important for IT to be on the table from the get go for big projects. Sometimes IT’s “No” stems from not being involved from the beginning of the project, and the way the project has been planned withOUT IT, it’s just not possible to build/implement/support. (And, honestly, sometimes there’s annoyance/hurt feelings that IT has been left out of the loop and just instructed to do something. That doesn’t feel nice for anyone.) That said, there should always be a path to “Yes,” like the ones David has suggested here. I would never dream of just giving a flat “No” without an explanation or a suggestion of how we could achieve what the person wanted to achieve, maybe with a different product, through a different channel, etc. So while IT should definitely not be the boss of anyone, please make sure you’re inviting them into the discussion early on. Thanks, David!

  • Christina K. Pikas

    It’s important, too, for the discussion not to be “do this” “buy me this” “install this” “all your shit is broken”… but to be more like “we have this problem as shown by these observables, here’s one way we can think of that may fix it, can we do that here? what’s involved? is there another approach that works better with our infrastructure? help me evaluate the claims of this service…..”

  • Nina McHale

    Justin, too true–or an external (to the library) IT department on a college campus. If the library’s needs aren’t being met, however, the relationship needs to improved, re-evaluated, and perhaps changed. Not always easy or possible, but if the library isn’t able to meet its strategic goals, the admin team needs to seriously investigate other options. All too often, IT doesn’t realize the extent of modern library tech needs. Spell it out in an MOU, re-negotiate the nature of the support, and if it doesn’t work, find a different solution. If someone working in IT sees people working around their system, they’ve failed.

  • davidleeking

    You are welcome, and agreed. Backwards!

  • davidleeking

    You’re right – that adds a level of complexity. But the library director and the IT director should be on a level playing field, and should be the ones who make decisions. It can be done – just harder sometimes.

  • davidleeking

    Agreed. I’ve said “hold up!” on more than one project, because IT wasn’t included until all the plans have been made … and they simply didn’t work. No cabling, no power, etc. I think you’ll like my post on Thursday :-)

  • joebires

    Great Post, this applies to IT in schools as much as it does IT in libraries. Effective IT people focus on solving problems with technology and less than effective IT people focus on ‘maintaining the system’. Effective IT people embrace innovation. Everyone however must realize that if you embrace innovation that sometimes the technology solutions that come from that innovation may be less than successful at times and therefore you have to iterate your innovations over time.

  • Gillian Byrne

    I agree with the overarching point that IT (or any other department for that matter) should not be creating artificial or opaque barriers to user-focussed service. However, when it comes to Library IT, I hope to heck that any department I’m involved with is empowered with the ability to say “NO” without being accused of not meeting user needs. I’ve seen some truly horrible “solutions” pitched by public services to IT that never should have made it past the ideas stage, only to be implemented when pressure was put on IT to play nice. Quite often the answer is one of the the ‘yes’ options you’ve outlined, but on rare occasions it’s quite properly a flat ‘no and here’s why’. As others have pointed out, when expertise within IT departments is engaged early and often, it ideally won’t get to the NO stage, but I would not take that away as a final option from any department. Saying no doesn’t have to equal barriers or empire building or lack of cooperation; sometimes ideas, they aren’t so good. Say no, explain why, move on.

  • davidleeking

    Yep – great point! I agree, too. In a healthy organization, that works great. In a poorly run org? Not so much.


  • CatherineBuckMorgan

    It is backward when IT is not at the table to begin with. IT is not merely “support staff” (an unfortunate way of looking at a team), as the business world is learning. When IT is brought in at the beginning, they become part of making a vision a reality. I worked for many years with a gentleman who did say “no”, often because of the sheer frustration of trying to work through several barriers, including extravagant purchases made without IT’s input. It was an uphill battle for a systems librarian, with a foot in both the library and the IT world, to become the bridge that eventually brings the two sides together. As the business world is learning how important it is for operations to have IT on an equal footing at the big table, so too should the library world provide an equal voice to the people who make the magic happen.

  • Theresa

    I have been on both sides of this. As a librarian, I have
    been frustrated by being forced to jump through hoops to get browser upgrades
    on computers, viruses removed from computers, etc. People working directly with
    computers should have input on decisions that are made. As a librarian that has
    had tech responsibilities built into my job responsibilities before, please
    remember that IT staff are real people. Please be nice to them. It can become
    tiresome to be met with demands from staff members before you walk in the door,
    during your lunch break, and when you are trying to get other work done. If IT
    staff help you with something, thank them. Recognize that they may be
    implementing a program that they did not select so don’t treat them like they
    are the enemy. My feeling is that some IT staff may be reluctant to be too
    helpful, because when they do that, demands become too great to satisfy. Theresa