Magazine article Information Today

Outside In

Magazine article Information Today

Outside In

Article excerpt

One of the trends that has come up in the "future of libraries" discussion over the past few years is, "We need fewer librarians and more people from other professions in libraries." There are pros and cons to this idea. We could endlessly debate the cons, but that's not why we're here today. Instead, I'd like to focus on one of the big pros of this conversation: James McNutt, the systems administrator of the Darien Library in Darien, Conn. I had the pleasure of working with James while we were both at the Chattanooga Public Library, and his "But I'm not a librarian!" views were critical to some of the great things that happened at that library between 2013 and 2015. Sometimes you've got to look outside of your own box to get to where you need to be, and having someone like James around at your library may just be what you need to take that next step.

You don't come from a library background, and yet you've ended up in libraries. Tell me a little bit about how you came to work in libraries, and now that you're in the profession, what you think about them.

I sort of fell into libraries unintentionally. I, while still filled with the idealistic fervor of an undergraduate, left a mind-numbingly bureaucratic internship at the national labs to get a degree in secondary math education with which I planned to single-handedly close every achievement gap. In reality, teaching just felt like having my heart ripped out and stomped on each day. Aimless and forlorn, I got involved in a startup that I helped redirect into a non-formal technology education platform. As it turns out, libraries can be a great place to get work done, and when you inadvertently start teaching patrons about how they can use a library's makerspace, you might just find yourself getting offered a job.

You came to the Darien Library as its systems administrator a few years ago. Now you're also the head of user experience. These are two relatively newer jobs in libraries, but these days they're a must-have. Tell me a bit about what your position is all about and why it is important.

Soon after starting at Darien Library, I walked into a computer lab before we opened, and every computer in the room was displaying the same error message, and somewhere in the message was the phrase, "Please contact your systems administrator," to which I thought, "Oh, I feel sorry for that poor soul ... oh, wait, that's me!" You might be surprised how many different computers and devices can cry out for a sys admin. In libraries with a relatively small technology infrastructure, relying on municipal IT might make sense. However, when you adopt an occasionally over-ambitious hospitality model, the acceptable time frame for responding to technology tickets shrinks, and if it gets really bad, you start questioning whether vendor products actually provide the user experience that you really want, and God help you if you begin to consider attempting to do it better. In-house IT should learn enough about the running of a library to be able to offer ideas for new services, to pull more meaningful statistics about patrons and circulation, and if nothing else, dissipate technophobia among staffers and patrons alike.

As my boss (John Blyberg, assistant director at Darien Library) recently put it, while my title is now head of user experience, I have just taken on more roles in addition to that of systems administrator. …

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