The Myth and Magic of Library Systems not only defines what library systems are, but also provides guidance on how to run a library systems department. It is aimed at librarians or library administrations tasked with managing, or using, a library systems department.
This book focuses on different scenarios regarding career changes for librarians and the ways they may have to interact with library systems, including examples that speak to IT decision-making responsibilities, work as a library administrator, or managerial duties in systems departments.
- Provides guidance on how to run a library systems department
- Focuses on different scenarios regarding career changes for librarians and the ways they may have to interact with library systems
- Includes sample scenarios that speak to IT decision-making responsibilities, work as a library administrator, or managerial duties in systems departments
Keith J. Kelley has recently concluded his IT career as the Director of Systems at Western Michigan University Libraries where he was also Project Manager of the libraries' ILS replacement project. He managed the library automation group as well as the desktop computing group. He was also an IT expert-at-large for issues in the libraries' Digitization Center, the Web Office and other areas of the libraries with complex information technology needs.
Information technology moves at a fast pace. Libraries have lagged in adopting many IT advancements which are seen as standard in private industry and private life. This sluggishness to adopt new ways of doing things is causing libraries to decay and shrink instead of grow to lead the way into the new view of information literacy appropriate for the information age. This should have been the age of libraries' resurgence in relevancy, but they are having trouble joining the pack, and they certainly are not leading it. One reason for this delayed revolution is that libraries horribly misunderstand "systems" (information systems/technology) and how to manage them to achieve success. In order for libraries to claim their spot as leaders in the information age, they must allow IT professionals to do IT jobs or require more librarians to have IT educations. The complexity of systems requires a better understanding of information technology than what is achieved through today's standard library science curriculum. IT can do amazing and magical things if you let the right people do it, and together with library professionals can help make the transition into the new age.
Temper the things you read herein. It is neither 100% correct nor 100% complete, and if it has had time to be printed several things in it are out of date. Read more books and articles to supplement this information. Don't take them all in equally. Be skeptical. The large majority of what you read will be garbage, but try to take away a few useful points from the things you read (not always possible, but usually you can learn one thing). Also, consensus is no measure of quality, especially since most systems librarians are accidental and lack the professional background and education to be IT professionals, so just because you read it in three library journals (even the peer-reviewed ones) or saw it at two library conferences and Educause doesn't make it true. Also, people who really know the job well don't often have time to publish much, so most of what is published is bunk, and even those who do publish, don't publish 90% of their best stuff.
None of the things in this book are meant to be original or ground-breaking but come from a perspective that isn't too common in library publications because libraries and academia tend to grow their own leaders. This book is contrasting with viewpoints put out there by library professionals because it is more productive than IT professionals shaking our heads and walking away. It is somewhat rare that someone leaves a career leading IT outside of libraries and comes to libraries (it would be a terrible career move, especially financially, but also with fewer career advancement options). When originally conceived, the idea for this book was to include everything about Information Technology in libraries. This idea was quickly quashed with the realization that including everything would amount to many books, certainly not just one. So, the point of this book is not to comprehensively cover all the topics in library IT. The point is to inspire those who are involved or getting involved in library IT to challenge their beliefs and introduce them to the contrasting view of IT, its role in relation to libraries, and how to manage it. This book is largely from an IT point of view but also a management point of view; specifics for other audiences are denoted in the following missives.
Fun fact: if you are certain about knowing something you are almost certainly wrong. Because science. Keeping in the spirit of modern communication, the grammar in this book also occasionally makes use of modern grammar. Because Internet. Also, some of the analogies may only be helpful if you are familiar with genre fiction or gaming. The analogies are for everyone; one cannot teach systems librarianship and pop culture in one book.
Occasionally, throughout this book, words will be used like terminal, which is wrong, or station, which is imprecise, or will make use of other end-user vernacular. One of the confusing issues surrounding IT in libraries is conflicting or ambiguous vocabulary. Terminology plays an important part of communicating problems as well as solutions, especially between two specialized fields. Finding a common vernacular between library and IT professionals would bring about quicker consensus and more satisfying interactions between departments. In this book, you will find ways to bridge this communication gap by using terms which are consistent throughout IT and understood across industries, by vendors, and with users of library services (in other words, everyone else). At the end of the book, some commonly confusing vocabulary is tackled directly, but terminology is a common theme throughout, as well as its ability to clarify the myths or demystify the magic.
IT professionals will get less out of this book than administrators and librarians, who will get less out of it than people just starting to run an IT department in a library. What a library school student will get out of it probably depends on where they've been academically and where they are going professionally. Ideally, everyone will see something in a new light, with the curtains drawn back, so to speak. Following this preface are a few missives from the author to specific audiences that will help them get the most out of the book.
That being said, Chapters 1 and 2 focus around library "systems," "systems" librarians, and their relationship to the library and to IT. Readers will get a good understanding of what it means to run systems within a library, how the position relies on a firm foundation of basic IT concepts, and requires a very strong base in information systems, which is not taught within the curriculum of MLS degrees. In today's libraries, the term "systems librarian" has lost its definition out of necessity. Library systems became too large for an unspecialized professional to manage. IT professionals must take the lead in specific technologies, with skilled and properly educated librarians bridging the gap between the disciplines in a business analyst role where appropriate. IT professionals and librarians can and should work together as a team to bring libraries back to claim their spot as the destination for information experts.
In IT, customer service is a central concept. This book refers to users, customers, and patrons as is appropriate for the context (not quite interchangeably). The goal of information technology is to automate and simplify tasks for the users. Without the customers, there would be no goal to reach. Throughout Chapters 3-6, you will find many helpful tips and techniques on how to deal with different customer service needs. While IT must keep the needs of all of the customers at the forefront, often times customers are unaware of the big picture, do not share the same vocabulary to report problems correctly, or are in need of training. Within these chapters you will find practical, cost-efficient ideas to communicate with customers in order to resolve issues and identify training needs, creating a self-sufficient customer base and therefore lessening the burden on staff and budgets.
Chapters 7-9 discuss problems, the people who solve them, and how they go about it. Resources can be tight and must be managed with care. Chapter 7 gives suggestions on how to work through difficult problems with limited resources and creative solutions. Chapter 8 explains in depth the skills of specialized IT roles and how it takes all of these specialists to solve a library's problems. Explanations on how each discipline within IT overlaps with other roles within the IT department and how to evaluate job postings and descriptions to get the best candidates possible are given. Once your team is in place, you will learn in Chapter 9 how to analyze problems and the importance of creating and using a project plan to successfully complete complex solutions with explicit buy-in from the customer(s).
IT is about the big picture. Systems intertwine with every aspect of your organization, which causes changes and failures to have the ability to cause widespread consequences. If IT is magic, then how you run IT is your magic rule system. In Chapter 10, the book discusses having an efficient, consistently run system of systems to reduce redundancies and remove single points of failure. Still, failures will happen. You will learn about contingency plans and some tips on how to lessen the impact on your organization. With the ever-changing landscape of information technology, it is wise to follow trends and forecasts to see if any upcoming changes might impact you. Chapter 11 shows how you can use past trends to predict your own future, and will guide you to read some library IT forecasters, surveys and trend-spotting conferences you can attend. One such instance is covered in more depth in Chapter 12. Private industry led the way in cloud computing and libraries are starting to catch up. Replacing your ILS with a cloud-based library platform service requires careful analysis of costs versus benefits. You will also find in this chapter a helpful listing of library-specific software. Understanding the big picture requires understanding all the things. In Chapter 13, tips are shared about how to gather information and use resources available to you in order to come close to knowing everything. The book gives practical advice on how to document your past solutions and utilize modern sources to help you know everyone's job better.
Achieving a life-work balance...