New technologies are constantly becoming more integrated into how libraries perform their core functions. As this evolves, staff (and patrons) of all experience levels need to be able to communicate, but this is often difficult and problematic.
Enter Roy Tennant's recent The Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology post (via LISnews). It's a good start to getting people unfamiliar with technology to start thinking about technology in realistic terms - it's not something to be afraid of, it's a tool (and even tech people don't know everything). All of his 10 tips are helpful, but #5 is key:
- Iterate, don't perfect. Librarians seem to love perfection. We don't want to put any technology out for the public to use until we think it is perfect. Well, we need to get over ourselves. Savvy tech companies know the path to success is to release early and iterate often. One of the major benefits of this is that your users can provide early feedback on what they like and don't like, thereby providing essential input into further development. Do not be afraid of a "beta" or "prototype" label -- people are now accustomed to such, and it can provide the necessary "cover" to being less than perfect.
But this is not new. Roy's post reminded me of two other articles I had seen last year Computers in Libraries:
- Talking the Talk: Communicating with IT, by Lisa A. Ennis (CIL 9/08) - free online
- Thirteen Basic Things to Put Everyone on the Same (Computer) Page, by Rachel Singer Gordon and Jessamyn West (CIL 10/08) - abstract free online; html or pdf from Expanded Academic ASAP
These two are more focused on how front-line staff can become more comfortable doing their own tech troubleshooting. But best of all, by raising their comfort level and tech competencies, conveying problems to the dedicated tech support (whether internal or external) should also improve.
Naturally, these two articles overlap a bit on the tips that are most important:
- Make sure the power is on to all components (if not, turn it on and see if that fixes the problem)
- Make sure all the cables are plugged in and connected firmly (feel free to unplug and plug back in the cables
- Try rebooting - that works more often than you'd imagine
But also important are the areas in which they don't overlap. The Singer Gordon/West article provide excellent tips on basic tasks anyone using a computer should (but might not!) know. And the Ennis article focuses more on how to avoid more serious problems, identify them when they happen, and then communicate important information to tech support.
My favorite sentence of all three articles comes from Lisa A. Ennis's article, in which she reminds tech support staff that the entire burden doesn't rest with the front-line staff. Her personal philosophy as a systems librarian is:
I'm not here for the technology. I'm here for the people.
That is key. Example: an email system that delivers no spam but sometimes blocks legitimate messages is not a good email system.
Technology is not a one-person game. Everyone uses it, so everyone has a role to play in making sure it works correctly - and that it is serving the mission of the library.