…and about those techie librarians

As I was writing my post about losing your techie librarians last week, I did some thinking. My list was a little longer and I removed a few items that could have gone either way — that I saw as important as a techie librarian, but that I thought non-techies might say “See, that’s what’s wrong with those techie librarians….” Examples like “Make them submit all of their work to a non-techie committee that meets infrequently” can highlight this nuance. In my world, getting all of my techie decisions second guessed by non-techies can be frustrating and seemingly fruitless. To other staff, I’m sure that seeing me working away on a project that springs fully formed from my laptop is equally frustrating, possibly. I learned, at my last library job, how to ask for feedback on projects as I worked, to try to get people to feel like they were part of the process while at the same time not just saying “So, what do you guys think of the new website?” Getting responses on the new website design that indicated that I should change the colors, add more photographs or rework the layout when we were a few days away from launching it made me gnash my teeth thinking “But I’ve been working with you on this all along, for months…!” and yet their responses indicated that clearly I hadn’t been, not in a way that was genuine to them.

Or, maybe not. One of the hardest things about technology is trying to assess people’s relative skill levels when the information they give you about their own skill levels is all over the map. While we have long worked with best practices in many aspects of the library profession, many best practices in the technology realm either exist totally outside of most people’s consciousness, or the “tyranny of the expert” problem pops up where a library director assumes that because they are in charge, they can overrule best practices without a better follow-up option. The websites of our professional organizations and those sold to us by our ILS/OPAC vendors don’t help.

There is a blind spot in working with technology where people making the decisions have a tendency to assume that other technology users are like them. The ideas of usability, web standards, and accessibility as abstract concepts don’t matter as much as what’s for sale, what your tech team can build, and what your library director’s favorite color is. The patrons become a distant third consideration when techie and non-techie librarians battle for turf. Trying to bring up the patrons in a usability debate becomes a complicated mess because everyone knows one or two patrons that, as exceptions to the rules, complicate the approach and strategies employed by the bulk of the rest of the patrons. Especially in rural or poorer areas, users with very little access to technology understand it differently than people who have grown up with it, used it at work for decades, or who have a familiar working knowledge of it. Do you design a website for your digitally disadvantaged community (who pays your salary) or do you design the site that will help them understand it, and do you know the difference?

I’ve been enjoying teaching adult education tech classes more than I enjoyed being a techie in a non-techie library, but let’s be fair, the library probably runs more smoothly without me there also. No doubt, hiring and retention of skilled technology-savvy librarians is an important point and a good management concern. On the other hand, there is an oil and water aspect to the techie/librarian mix and the techie in a library can be seen as the new kid in a classroom where everyone else knows the rules and the local customs. The techie librarian often doesn’t look, work, or sometimes even talk like longer term tenured librarians. This we know. The same can be said for catalogers often, but since their jobs are understood and understood to be essential for the functioning of a library (and have been since day one) I find that their eccentricities and quirky non-patron-facing job function seem to be less problematic than some of the same oddballness of the techies.

Again, it’s just me saying blah blah blah about the work that I do and the things that I see but I know that as a techie, the longer I work outside of libraries but with librarians, the more I wonder how to fix this problem and the less I think I know how.