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How To Lose Your Tech People

Third update: Jessamyn weighs in.
Second update: Caveat Lector weighs in and brings up both the Gender Thang and those absurd job ads that cram twenty people into one description. Right on, girlfriend! I too add that MPOW has none of these problems–oh, it’s lovely to be in charge. (Or maybe it does have problems, and I’m too much of a DilbertHead to see them! Ignorance truly is bliss.)

Update: see Librarian in Black’s list, as well.

Michael Stephens has a great “top ten” list about things libraries do to alienate/lose their good technical staff. Let me “meme” this a little to add several more:

1. Underfund technology as much as possible. Pay particular attention to keeping a lid on technology salaries, but don’t be afraid to shave the hardware budget first and foremost when cuts must be made.

2. When faced between eliminating an old service no one uses and improving technology funding, go for the old service every time.

3. Be sure to throw around the phrase “professional staff” in the presence of library tech workers who do not have library degrees. So what if they have degrees in computer science or decades of skill, if they aren’t librarians?

4. Require library technical staff to work in areas they are unfamiliar with, such as reference (and be sure to single-staff them on the ref desk at peak times). Just because you would never ask a children’s librarian to reboot a server doesn’t mean you can’t ask that a techy be ‘well-rounded.”

5. Expect technology staff to routinely work weird hours without special compensation. They’re the ones who chose to go into technology; they should be willing to come in to the library Saturday at midnight to do server work.

6. Make frequent comments–or simply tolerate them from staff–about how “having” to provide technology takes away from “real” library work.

7. Do not expect non-technical staff to learn any technology skills whatsoever. It is perfectly reasonable for someone upgrading a server to run across the library to help someone put a bullet in Powerpoint.

Posted on this day, other years:

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  1. Christina Pikas wrote:

    hallelujah — how about making a techie drive *across the county* to plug in a computer that a kid had unplugged… repeatedly.

    Friday, March 10, 2006 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  2. kgs wrote:

    The scary part is that I’m completely believing you!

    Friday, March 10, 2006 at 10:13 pm | Permalink
  3. Rikhei wrote:

    We mustn’t forget to call our non-librarian “professionals” feral

    Saturday, March 11, 2006 at 10:59 am | Permalink
  4. Fahren wrote:

    Put a technophobe in charge of technology–

    No, the library cannot have wi-fi until a wi-fi solution is found for the whole campus. Nevermind the fact that the largest number of public use terminals is in the library.

    Say every request is technologically impossible until the librarians present evidence that it has been done everywhere except here. Then take six months to do it so when it’s finally implemented, it’s out of date.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  5. Ruth Ellen wrote:

    “how about making a techie drive *across the county* to plug in a computer that a kid had unplugged… repeatedly.”

    Of course, you do this by forbidding the staff in the branches to touch the computers if something goes wrong.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006 at 11:59 am | Permalink
  6. kgs wrote:

    Ruth, is there really a library system that forbids librarians from plugging computers back in? Does the “no electricity” rule apply to all electrical equipment (lights, receipt printers, etc.)?

    I have worked places where library staff would not bother checking to see if computer equipment was plugged in, because if it was related to computers, it was the tech person’s job, period.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  7. kgs wrote:

    Fahren, what gets me about that is how common it is, and how UNcommon for other library departments.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  8. Ruth wrote:

    “is there really a library system that forbids librarians from
    plugging computers back in?”

    Well, maybe not that extreme. But close. And it’s understandable – networks can be vulnerable. Control over them is important. But sometimes I think the caution turns to paranoia.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006 at 5:08 pm | Permalink
  9. kgs wrote:

    I think most of us baring our feelings about attitudes toward tech workers “get” the vulnerability of networks (and most of us, including me, have had direct responsibility for maintaining networks), but what makes networks seriously vulnerable is not asking someone to plug a computer back into the wall, but underfunding and understaffing networks and then on top of the mountain of work any network requires, expecting the tech staff to do things like drive across a county to plug a computer back in.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  10. Ruth wrote:

    Karen, I’m by no means dumping this on the tech workers. I think the point I was trying to make is that the decision-makers (not the tech people) are burdening the tech people by not trusting or training the non-tech staff to handle basic trouble-shooting.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006 at 11:27 pm | Permalink
  11. kgs wrote:

    Ruth, I fully understand what you’re saying, but from a technology professional’s point of view, I’m trying to leave open the area of discussion that the expectation has to go beyond training and trust. Library professionals have to be accountable, as well, so it’s understood that some tasks are not reasonable for library tech staff to perform. What some of us working in technology have seen repeatedly is not simply the obtuseness of management in failing to empower, but a commensurate unwillingness to require library workers to perform new tasks and to hold them accountable if they refuse to perform them. Incidentally, I wrote about that for Library Journal in 1993, I think it was.

    Sunday, March 12, 2006 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  12. jessamyn wrote:

    “be sure to single-staff them on the ref desk at peak times”

    Hey, I didn’t know you came to visit me at my old job! Here is my addition and then I’ll link them all sometime later.

    8. make sure their workstation is in a busy area where they willl be regularly interrupted and make sure they see you staring at their screen. Ask frequently “is that work?”

    Sunday, March 12, 2006 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  13. kgs wrote:

    Jessamyn, #8 hits home too. Make sure it’s a cubicle near a frequently-used door–really great when you’re scripting.

    On the single-staffing, I remember a moment Elsewhere when I was single-staffing the reference desk and the proxy server went down. No proxy server, no web access. I had to dash back to the server area and get it restarted, which I was attempting to do at top speed, as I couldn’t find anyone for the desk. The head of reference followed me back to the server area and began berating me. That was the tipping point at that job.

    Sunday, March 12, 2006 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
  14. Prairie Storm wrote:

    9. Take a bright idea from a techie. Give it to a non-techie to implement. Or conversely, take an idea for operations improvement (statistics gathering for example) from non-tech line staff. Give it to a techie to implement. In neither case, give the implementer a requirements specification. In neither case, allow the person who had the idea to be involved in its implementation.

    And, the academic version of Karen’s #3: Make sure there are no faculty positions in the library IT department.

    Monday, March 13, 2006 at 12:13 pm | Permalink
  15. Gina Emory wrote:

    Thankfully, most of these tips don’t apply at my library. The only thing that comes close is the underfunding part. My director gives me free rein to run my department, for the most part. I have equal say in what happens in our organization as do the professional librarians. Sure, many members of the staff could make an effort to learn more troubleshooting techniques, which I encourage and teach frequently, but overall, we have a pretty good thing going here. Sounds like I am really, really lucky!

    Thursday, March 23, 2006 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

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  1. Laurie the Librarian's Blog on Monday, March 13, 2006 at 9:15 am

    Ways to Lose your Techie Librarian

    You know how sometimes certain topics touch a nerve and gets everyone talking?

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