The worst thing about ITIL and libraries is trying to find what anyone has written about the topic, because ITIL has the word ‘library’ as part of its title. Any search results in thousands of hits about ITIL, and it is very difficult trying to find something relevant to libraries. So if anyone has any great references, I’d be delighted to know about them. This isn’t intended to be a defence of ITIL (not that it needs one), but rather my reflections about the value of the ITIL processes for libraries. I’m not going to try to explain what ITIL is about here either, because others have done it so well. If you want to know more, have a look at the wikipedia entry, which I think covers the topic well (today anyway)
When I first heard about ITIL and how it was the foundation for service management standards, I couldn’t help wondering how it might be relevant in library service management. As I found out more, I realised that many of the processes are completely relevant because ITIL isn’t specifically about IT, it is about service management. If you read or hear about ITIL with a librarian’s language filter on and translate on the fly, you will soon see why many of our quaint little practices need a serious overhaul.
The main principle of ITIL requires that the IT organisation must be aligned with the purpose/mission of the parent organisation it serves. Let’s think about that in the library context. Suppose the library in question is an academic library, serving a university community. Now let’s take a simplistic view of the university’s mission and say that it is teaching and research. Following the ITIL principle, it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that the mission of the university’s IT section should simply be to enable and support teaching and research (sometimes oversimplifying can be enlightening). How is that different to the library’s mission? We might make it all fancy with big words and adding in other bits to keep politicians and administrators happy, but isn’t it fundamentally to enable and support teaching and research? I’m not trying to undervalue the librarians’ professional responsibilities in the area of preservation and cultural development, but if the library loses sight of its core role in relation to its parent organisation, they might lose sight of the funding to keep its doors open. So the core ITIL principle applies to libraries as well, in most cases.