Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Academic Library and Campus IT: A Strategic Approach to Library IT Management

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Academic Library and Campus IT: A Strategic Approach to Library IT Management

Article excerpt

The 21st-century academic library depends on reliably functioning, responsive, innovative, and robust IT services. Although Campus IT supports departments across the entire institution (such as accounting, human resources, purchasing, and staff and faculty computing), the unique configuration of a university library often reveals it to be more like an "institution within an institution," with many of the same needs. Furthermore, the academic library has unique needs (including managing acquisitions, managing and securing the use of its inventory, creating end-user discovery interfaces, and negotiating and managing numerous vendor contracts). The amalgamation of all these services places distinct IT needs on the university library.

The Growth of Academic 'Library IT'

University libraries have been leaders in employing IT to improve services. The current environment for academic libraries requires staff members to possess IT skills, but also requires Library IT experts who understand the intricacies of library systems and how they work with the Campus IT framework. To maintain the university library's high standards of customer service, these Library IT experts also must understand the mission, values, purpose, and evolving nature of the modern academic library.

Most Library IT services are closely tied to the effective delivery of print and proprietary digital collections. Many of these library-specific tools (see Figure 1) are not well-understood outside of libraries.

In addition to the unique systems used to provide library services, academic libraries' IT staff must support the learning and computing needs of students and faculty members on a daily basis. Although many professional librarians are adept at IT, the integration of skilled Library IT staff members speeds innovation, prototyping, and execution of new services.

Managing Library IT

Effectively managing the IT infrastructure required by the modern academic library is challenging. Most library managers do not have an IT background, and even those who do may have trouble keeping up-to-date with rapidly changing technology after they assume administrative responsibilities. Investments in IT equipment and staff are expensive, and it is difficult to determine if the money has been well-spent. How does a manager know if the highly paid systems admin in the data center is fully and effectively occupied? Or if the "significant improvements" that the ILS vendor has made to the back end of its database justify an expensive software upgrade? Or if a big initial investment in a virtual desktop system will save money in the long run?

Because of the challenges, it is tempting for managers to ask how much of the burden of managing IT functions, on a day-to-day basis, can be outsourced to others. That way, administrators can focus on the academic mission of the library rather than on the mechanical infrastructure of machines, networks, and cables. In the academic environment, university IT departments--which have grown in sophistication and complexity during the last 30 years--seem to be a natural partner for administrators looking to outsource their IT management burdens. But how much control and autonomy can administrators give to their Campus IT colleagues before they also give away the library's ability to innovate and adapt quickly to a changing environment? When does outsourcing responsibility for the machinery hinder the administrator's ability to advance the academic mission of the library?

This article tries to help administrators answer these difficult questions by developing a strategic approach to Library IT management based on business literature for IT governance. In the library literature, much has been written about IT trends and emerging technologies, but little has been written about effectively managing the relationship between the library and Campus IT.

Is Library IT a 'Utility' or a 'Core' Service? …

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