Shifting IT directions – setting library free?

I had a very interesting discussion with a colleague today about where IT is heading. She indicated that following a period of centralisation and the move to shared services, we are seeing the beginnings of a shift to some decentralisation. She suggested that the motives of IT in this shift were not always honourable (libraries are too hard, too demanding, too informed, too expensive to support , a damned nuisance etc), but that nevertheless there are opportunities for libraries in this move.

All the good reasons for centralisation in a corporate environment (development of standard environments, reduction in costs, sharing of scarce and expensive expertise, economies of scale, single point of contact etc) can actively work against the ability of the library to provide the services it has a mandate to provide to its customers. It can certainly limit the ability of the library to experiment and ‘play’ with the emerging technologies to determine if and how they can be of benefit.

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Death of a vision

When I wrote my last post I was hopeful and optimistic about the outcome of the review. My silence since then reflects my sadness and frustration at the result. I put so much into the process and was so burnt out that I am no longer working for that worthy library, and have moved on to greener pastures (literally, no red dirt around here!). Those feelings weren’t the only reasons for my moving on, but they did play some part.

Now that some time has gone by, I am again positive, optimistic and creative – and now feel strong enough and distant enough to reflect on the review process and the outcome, at least to the point at which I left.

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IT services review

Our proposed plan for the review has now been submitted. In general it consists of the following plan.

 Stage 1. Vision

This stage involves getting all key stakeholders together with an external facilitator to brainstorm what we want from our ICT environment. This is much wider than a list of services, and at a much higher level than a Service Catalogue. When I think of this stage, I think of words like 

  • flexible
  • responsive
  • agile
  • standards-based
  • customer focused
  • consultative
  • transparent
  • accountable
  • efficient
  • well resourced

I’m sure I’ll think of many more. If possible, the group would also attempt to develop a vision and mission statement, or at least some alternatives. These will then be made available online for a defined short period of time for discussion by any member of staff. Once time’s up, the Project Team will incorporate that feedback and develop a final vision and mission statement for submission to the Steering Committee.

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IT services to support libraries

Today at the VALA 2008 conference, I have had conversations with vendors and librarians from every sector representing every state in Australia. The common thread I have heard is frustration with shared services models for ICT support, which block or restrict services that libraries need to function and provide services to their clients.

Twelve months ago I came to my current position with the belief that this frustration wasn’t necessary, that with enough good will and communication (and some plain old common sense), ICT and Library could co-exist in such a way as to enhance the ability to provide ICT based services to the clients. Ever the optimist, I still believe this should be possible. I’m just running out of ideas and energy to try and make it happen that way. And the conversations I have had today lead me to believe that I am not alone.

I am in the government sector, but I hear that many public libraries find the same problems in dealing with local council ICT departments. I also heard from a vendor who said that one corporate library couldn’t

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VALA – day 1

Today I attended day 1 of the VALA conference in Melbourne. There were some very interesting papers, and in particular Andy Powellgave me a lot to think about, as we move to significantly upgrade our digital repository and the volume of material we preserve in a digital format. His arguments that we need to move to thinking about moving material to the web and optimising it for search engines, instead of focusing on how to lock it up in our repositories, really struck a cord. We now have at least 7 terrabytes of data in our repository that can’t be easily located via a search engine. Sure, we are in the preservation business, but what is the point of preserving something that can’t be located and accessed? This must now be our focus, as we move onto the next stage.

Also of interest to me was the presentation from Joann Ransom on Kete Horwhenua , which is described as “a knowledge basket of images, audio, video and documents which are collected and catalogued by the community”. I am so interested in this open source software which enables a truly community engagement with their own information, that I will be downloading and attempting to set up a sampler to show to the staff in my library when I get back – so I hope it is as easy as Joann says it is!

As usual it has been great to catch up with old friends, and make new ones, during the breaks and refreshment periods (and the food has been great I might add). Many of the conversations have revolved around the problems caused by IT services which simply don’t understand or recognise what libraries need from their IT environment. As a consequence I have decided that it is time to write up some of the work we have done to try and redress this situation in our own library. Some research is needed, and I will work out how to start when I get home.I wonder if this is only an Australian problem.  I will begin discussing what may be required in a new post.