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Magic is more in your staff than in technologies

Roy Tennant recently posted “The Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology” in TechEssence blog. Among the ten things, what I like most is No. 4: “Maximize the effectiveness of your most costly technology investment — your people.”  In the other post, “Your ideas for “Top Ten Things“” a similar suggestion appears: “Allow your staff time and resources to experiment – even if nothing comes of it. Innovation comes with risks.”

I wholeheartedly agree with these as a solo web services librarian. One of the challenges for solo web-services librarians is the scarcity of R&D time. It may be true that technologies are getting easier and cheaper all the time. But that doesn’t mean that there will be less things that the staff should learn and experiment with every day. Actually, more technologies usually require more human efforts for maintenance.

As a librarian who work in e-resources management (ERM), I am often surprised by the fact that most people are simply unaware of how much maintenance is required to make those electronic resources to be accessible by one-click as many library users expect. There is no magic in online resources that would make accessing them more easy and efforless than in print resources. There are systems to be configured, maintained, and updated on a daily basis, and there are people who are configuring, maintaining, updaing those systems every day. If a library user is clicking one link and is taken to the full-text page of an article immediately, that means that a lot of people spent a lot of time on making that happen wihtout an error. Technologies do not necessarily cut down on the work that the library staff have to do in order make those technologies work as expected. Many users take it for granted that links in OPAC records work. But they rarely think about how many times catalogers have been updating those links over and over again in order to keep them up-to-date.

In a similar way, technology librarians have the burden of learning new technologies, deciding on whether they would be a good fit for a given organization, implementing them the way they would get widely adopted, tweaking them in the way that they would fit better with either users or staff’s workflows, and supporting and maintaining them so that they would continue to be tools that boost productivity. Even if it were true that technologies get cheaper and easier all the time, it isn’t true that technologies simply work and work better and better all the time.

Most solo web services librarians know too well that they have to continuously train themselves and learn new things. But not often are they given sufficient time to do so. And that is because there are many more urgent day-to-day tasks to be taken care of.  It is important to complete those tasks in a timely manner. However, without sufficient time for R&D, learn, and experiment, technology librarians are likely to be either burned out or become less effective. On the other hand, they are likely to blossom when encouraged to experiment and take initiatives in new technologies. After all, they are the ones who love to work with technologies and want to show how those technologies can improve everyday work.

Imagine a library that can afford best technologies all the time regardless of costs. Still, that library won’t be the best unless it has techie librarian staff who would work on how to make those technologies fit and work in the way that would best benefit library users and staff. One can buy technologies any time, but dedicated and knowledgeable staff cannot be established in a day. The magic is in staff, more than in technologies.

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