Information Technology Vs. The Information Professional

Blind stenographer using dictaphone (LOC)

From LOC on Flickr

Coming to the end of my MLIS program, I’ve been trying to feel out the “profession” for the issues, topics and needs existing that I may be able to contribute to. I truly believe that the digitization of archival materials, the smoothing of the ebook transition and library as community space are all current and future trends that cannot be ignored. However, a less prevalent and perhaps more pressing topic has been on my mind lately. The line between Librarians and IT is a significant one, as I have seen this far, and one that must be dealt with if technology continues to become integral to the library’s relevance.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed’s Tech Therapy podcast took on this very topic last week, and inspired a lot of my thoughts for this post. The segment featured an interview with Sue Stroyan, an information-services librarian for Illinois Wesleyan University. Basically, the topic boils down to the fact that behind the scenes IT and Librarianship are and have been at odds, which has put all of us in an awkward place especially as “Information Technologies” are evolving to include many of the so-called web 2.0 tools that librarians love, engage and use. The Tech Therapy podcast focuses on this issue in Higher Ed institutions but I think many of us could agree that it exists across the spectrum of information institutions. IT departments own the architecture and systems and Info Pros provide the content.

This has spurred some interesting thoughts in my mind: Why the division? What IT competencies should Information Professionals have? Are these areas more closely related as Librarianship becomes a tech-focused profession? Should we all be required to take a basic computer science course? I was further challenged, and really just plain frustrated this week, when in my Intro to Information Technology course we spent the day on Wikis, and it appears next week we’ll be discussing social media. I know there are still many Info Pros and librarians who aren’t as tech savvy as I am, but what I expected when signing up for an IT course was much more than wikis and Twitter.

Closing argument: I’d like to stake a claim right now – Librarianship is a Technology Profession. Information Technology (IT) is what we do now. Maybe a reference librarian will not ever have to set up a virtual machine for a patron, but having a basic understanding of different operating systems, web apps, and some software troubleshooting shouldn’t be too much to ask. I lump myself in here also; we must pursue continued knowledge and skills in new and emerging technologies on our own.

My post-graduation plans now include: learn Ruby, spend time with a variety of mobile platforms, experiment with more open source software, understand cloud hosting solutions, develop a working knowledge of LAMP, get more hands-on with Drupal, Omeka and WordPress, get better acquainted with data-wrangling tools and apps, work toward transliteracy, get involved in the Semantic Web – RDA/RDF conversation and ask more questions of the IT teams I have the opportunity to work with.

Oh, and write a book on IT competencies they don’t teach in library school that you should know in order to actually get a good and interesting job. Any publishers interested? (I’m only interested in publishing in ebook or web-reader format, as all the details, skills and concepts will change by this time next year.)

PS. I’m totally inspired and jealous of my friend Natalie Binder in her getting ahead of me here by Learning Ruby in 13 Days.

5 thoughts on “Information Technology Vs. The Information Professional

  1. Pingback: Information Technology Vs. The Information Professional « The … | IT Service Management Software

  2. I think you bring up a great point and I think it is definitely something most librarians are discussing, as it is a topic no one can ignore anymore. There are actually a few librarians in the university library system where I work who have their MLIS, as well as some sort of degree in computer science. I think this is becoming a common factor at many academic libraries nowadays. (But don’t quote me on that!) Their specific jobs are programming and such.

    As for librarians who are not required in their job description to know all things technical, it is important for us to stay in the know as much as we can. However, in my opinion, you cannot expect a librarian, reference or not, to know all the latest technologies. There are just TOO many kinds of technologies that change too frequently to be expected to know all the basics and keep up with changes, new additions and evolutions, as well as keep up with all the other assigned duties that come with the job. I say this from experience working on a reference desk and being asked by students many times about things that go above my basic knowledge: if I can teach them specific web programs or if I can troubleshoot their dysfunctional lap top, etc. Sometimes I know exactly what they need. Other times I have no idea and that’s okay; it is not my job to know about everything and teach them. I can usually find information for them about these issues, or find someone or somewhere I can refer them.

    In theory, it may seem doable to keep up with all these changing technologies all the time. But in practice, when you are stretched pretty thin as it is fulfilling all the aspects of your duties, whilst serving on committees and such, there are some areas where you have to draw the line and realize when things are going over and above your duty. (This can go into other issues concerning budgets and library support by the university, etc.) With that being said, I want to make it clear that I am not against learning new technologies at all! I regularly take continuing education courses and try to keep up with current technology needs. I totally agree that these days librarians should be at least a bit tech savvy, as most reference questions now involve something tech. related and most everything information related is now also technology related. I just think you may find once you are working in the field longer that it is asking a lot of a reference librarian to be required to learn all the basics about all new technologies, software, etc. and to keep up with them. BUT I think you will find that we are, as much as we can anyhow. It’s in our nature to keep up with current trends in order to better serve our patrons.

    I think that librarians and IT departments need to join forces and/or improve those forces; have regular round-table discussions, trainings, etc. Much of this goes on now, but there is always room for improvement.

    It also sounds like you, Micah, have a strong interest in the IT side. Maybe you should pursue a computer science degree in addition to your MLIS? Don’t scream! Most academic libraries will pay your tuition if you are working for them. 🙂
    Sorry for my long comment.

  3. Hi Allison, long comments are appreciated here too! Thank you for your insight and devils advocacy. I am coming at this with little working experience, and I thank you for pointing out how complicated it can be to fit tech training into a real work day. I suppose what I was thinking of was that an introduction to IT course should become a requirement in the LIS curriculum, or that new librarians need to at least realize that tech is going to be a part of our daily work to a different degree than it has been for other librarians.

    I think I would consider taking a CompSci course someday, but I already have too many degrees! I’m ready to get to work!

    Thank you again for the comments.

  4. Pingback: [Series] Experiencing LIS – The Internship Edition « Hack Library School

  5. This was very much the theme running throughout my MLIS equivalent in England – just finished this past two weeks.

    Although my dissertation project started as a simply survey of multimedia services in high school libraries, again the issue of IT vs library became the main one. It touches on strategic management issues, organisational ‘realignment’, things that weren’t really in my scope at first and which I’m not privy to at my level in the organisation.

    What I am privy to is the impact on front-line staff facing the tidal changes to library services; attitudes to technology, the way students are wishing to work and research; the impact of digitised services to the library as space, and how hard this is for staff members who have worked a lifetime in quiet, book- and silent-study based libraries.

    As has been touched on, talking to IT staff, building relationships, having a willingness not just to learn (or at least be aware of) new technologies but to reflect on their impact are all important for people facing the tide from a library background.

    It’s this last idea that I’m really interested in – what is it that those with a library ‘mentality’ (for want of a better word here) can bring to the table? What sometimes stops us contributing? I’ve always had the sense of a tech / arts divide playing a role here.

    My journey in coming to the profession was one of identification – my experience has been that librarians have backgrounds in the arts more than sciences, are very culturally aware, and have abilities and potential beyond their job roles; sometimes, what the creativity guru Julia Cameron calls ‘Shadow artists’, I think – more likely to be aiding others pursuits (creative or otherwise) than following their own urges.

    I’m especially interested in why nothing of interest artistically has come out of the internet. That’s a broad statement and probably not valid, but it seems to me that those who are genuinely pursuing artistic careers come at the web all wrong, in a very basic, clunky way (the twitter tag I came across just today, #twitterarty looks a prime example) – possibly due to a lack of willingness to understand or contribute to the creation of technology, because this requires too much hard work, or is culturally anathema (‘geeky’ in non-acceptable way). The popularity of tools which lock out developers – apps, Apple devices – with those in artistic domains seems a real shame, since the creation of technology is now arguably more important to our culture than the creation of ‘culture’.

    While I may well be, as they say in England, ‘talking out of my arse’ here, I see this and future generations of librarians as having a real role in bridging this arts / tech divide, given our backgrounds and the vested interest in negotiating between the two, and on behalf of others. That’s why I’m quite excited – and not as pessimistic as others assume I might be – about my upcoming career.

    There’s a post on this topic (the whole blog is on this topic in truth) at, responding to a talk by a visual artist from Holland, Eric Schrijver, who is both very much an artist and very much into programming and hacking; the stance he takes when crossing the two ‘worlds’ is kind of political (may be of relevance to the management / strategy stuff again) – the need to confront fears of technical complexity, to begin to articulate it in terms most people understand.

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