Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

An Exploration of the Working Relationship between Systems/ IT and Reference/ Information Services Staff in an Academic Library Setting

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

An Exploration of the Working Relationship between Systems/ IT and Reference/ Information Services Staff in an Academic Library Setting

Article excerpt

The worlds of information technology (IT) professionals and academic librarians have been on a convergent path for the last twenty years, propelled by technological advances that unite them in their mission. These new relationships have not always worked smoothly as these professionals from very different workplace cultures try to respond to shared problems. There is clearly a need for collaboration and communication between the two groups, as well as a broader understanding of the differences and similarities that impact the work environment they share in academic libraries.


In June 2005 the Reference & User Services Association's Machine-Assisted Reference Section (RUSA-MARS) User Access to Services Committee presented a program at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Chicago addressing the relationship between IT staff and public services librarians. The program, titled "Do You Trust Your IT Staff?. Do They Trust You? A Dialogue," featured IT and public service representatives from academic and public libraries. Based on the attendance and reactions to the program, it became clear that this "culture clash" resonated with many members of the library community. The committee concluded that additional research was warranted.

Using the transcripts and audience feedback gathered at the program, the committee developed a survey, intended to gather data from academic libraries. The survey results, data analysis, a literature review, and suggestions for further research are presented in this article.


Key issues in the literature devoted to the relationship between IT professionals and librarians include organizational structure, workplace environment, collaboration and teamwork, administrative and staff work styles, communication, organizational culture, and personality types. Although some universities have dealt successfully with these working relationships, others clearly struggle with the group interactions.

A number of articles address the principles that foster effective collaborations. Most of the authors frame collaboration around projects, as opposed to ongoing working relationships. This review, organized topically and spanning the years 1990-2004, covers a select group of articles, some positive and optimistic and others admonitory.

Kiesler's 1994 paper at the Building Partnerships conference, called "Working Together Apart," examines the organizational structure most conducive to collaborations between libraries and IT divisions. (1) Her interest focuses on how these diverse professional units accomplish a collaborative working relationship while segregated in different departments. Kiesler favors the flat organization where interdisciplinary teams carry out their work. She identifies the barriers to collaboration as social distinctions, salary differences, and subcultural differences. Kiesler's collaborative environment also requires trust and a sense of purpose, themes later developed by Flowers and Martin, Gray, and Heyman. (2)

At the same Building Partnerships conference, Creth pronounced old hierarchical structures with their "functional silos" outmoded for the types of collaboration needed in the new "virtual information organization." (3) Creth takes her lead from Michael Hammer and James Champy, suggesting that it is ultimately the processes that need renewal. (4) Librarians and computer professionals need to learn from their customers which processes to improve in order to create a combined client-focused organization. In Creth's organizational model, jobs become more multidimensional, team work becomes central, and managers take on new mentoring roles.

Lippincott addresses the nature of successful collaborations and the difficulties in sustaining them. (5) Her administrator fosters successful collaborations by ensuring that the vision is understood by staff and by deflecting power struggles. …

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