On Working as a Technology Services Librarian

Back in December (yes, I know, I took my sweet time turning this into a blog post) I had the opportunity to act as a guest speaker for a class of MLS students on my experiences working as a Technology Services Librarian.  For me this was a pretty exciting opportunity.  I never expected to work in IT.  I know so many people who are utterly brilliant with computers that I just don't measure up.  However along the line I must have picked something up, or maybe some of their brilliance rubbed off on me, and I ended up rather competent with technology.  Additionally, the scope of my job is not one that most people tend to think of when they think of librarians.

A quick caveat, this is written from the point of view of someone in a very public-service oriented position, I realize there are similar positions where the Librarian is back end only.

So, without further ado, here's my (shortish) presentation:

On Working as a Technology Services Librarian


Adventures in turning it off and back on again

Defining Technology Services

When it comes down to it, "Technology Services" is still a nebulous concept.  What do we consider "technology," and what role does it have in library services?


Areas of Expertise

•THE REFERENCE INTERVIEW (but for computer skills)
•Research (focus: computer problems)
•eBooks (and related sundry)
•Creation of Web Content
•Emerging Technology

The "Reference Interview" is one of those skills that serves you well in many situations, as being able to tease out what exactly someone is asking of you, without making them feel like an idiot, is invaluable.  Everyone starts somewhere, and especially those who are looking for digital literacy help, it can be very intimidating to even ask these questions.  This becomes part of both everyday troubleshooting and part of teaching.

Teaching is a part of your purpose, be it introducing new technology to staff or teaching a patron how to use a computer.  Literacy is a huge area of library service, and digital literacy in many ways is just an extension of that.

You're not going to know the answer to everything.  That's where research comes in.  Knowing how to find the right answer is incredibly useful.  Additionally, Library IT positions often end up as part of the Reference department, so good research skills come in handy.

eBooks.  If your library has an ebook collection you are now the go-to person for any questions regarding the platform or devices.  Learn to use it, if you don't have a type of device see if someone will let you borrow theirs, learn about the limitations, and find innovative ways to aid discovery of the platform.  Library ebooks are pretty cool, but they are also largely invisible unless you know to go looking.  They also may have limitations that will not make sense to your patrons, so it is in your best interest to learn about them and the reasons they exist.

You might not be in charge of the website, but chances are you'll end up involved somehow.  Familiarity with popular CMS options, basic graphic design, and good web design practices are useful.

Emerging technology is important to track, not only to stay on top of what patrons may be coming in for help with, but for future planning and growth of the library.


Humor aside, this is a big part of what we do when working on computers.  It really isn't about knowing the answer, it's about knowing how to find the answer (and being brave enough to possibly mess up).


What to expect

  • If something involves "technology" expect to be responsible for it.
  • You are now "the expert" on that new thing.
  • Confusing error reports.
  • Displays of extreme creativity or audacity by patrons.
  • Awkward requests.
Something you'll expect to be asked about, like e-readers, wi-fi, and unjamming the copier.  Other times you will be pulled into a conversation out of the blue on something that has not ever been under your purview, like the security cameras or phone system, but now you are included.

Never used the newest gadget?  You'll get questions about it.  Probably even a few requests for purchasing recommendations from patrons.  Try to stay informed about new innovation, and try to keep personal bias out when helping a patron learn about the differences between options.

Technology is full of jargon, and when you know the words and are the one trying to fix a problem, this is fantastic.  When someone doesn't know how to describe the problem, things get muddled.  Work with your staff, encourage the capturing of error messages, and the creation of detailed error reports.  I've found teaching how to create screen captures very useful in documenting errors.  Use those reference interview skills to tease out what they were doing - did they shut down and restart the program or the whole computer?

Patrons can be incredibly creative.  This can have entertaining and concerning results.  Do you have easily accessible Ethernet ports that are not currently in use?  Someone will use it, so think about your network security.  Do you employ a time-management system on your public computers?  Don't be surprised at the ways people find to by-pass it.

Awkward requests can range from things you will feel terrible about your inability to help to things that you may feel very uncomfortable dealing with.  Sometimes it is simply that someone needs more help than you are able to give them, and it may feel horrible to turn them down.  Other times it may involve the sharing of information that you don't want to know (for legal or personal reasons).  The best advice I can give is to treat every request as politely as possible, and to fall back on library policy as required.

Settling In

  • Learn about what you have inherited.
  • How are patrons using technology?
  • How is the library using technology?
  • How can needs be better met?
  • What are your resources?
Some libraries do have an IT department, some have a distribution of responsibility across a few key staff, some may have previous had a Technology Services Librarian, and others you may be their first.  Get to know the set up, including administrator accounts, and start from there.  Create documentation if it doesn't exist, and build on the existing if it does.

What are your patrons coming in to use the library's technology offerings for?  Maybe patrons just want to play games on Facebook, or taking an online class, or maybe graphic design and photo editing.  Are those demands being met?  Are there areas that patrons regularly need help that could be met by classes?  This is important for the now and for future planning.  The library may put the resources out there, but from there we need to see how they are utilized.

In addition to getting to know the hardware, get to know the staff and their skill levels.  How do the individuals use technology in their day-to-day work?  Can more be done with what they have?  Are there things that are needed or would greatly benefit the library and the staff?

Both as part of settling in and as part of forward thinking, you should always be thinking about how can needs be better met.  Think small and think big.  Learn what your resources are.  What could the library offer?  Maybe patrons what to edit images but Photoshop is too expensive for your library, but there are open source alternatives like GIMP.  How can you upgrade or replace aging and malfunctioning computers within your budget?  Would a low-cost option like a Raspberry Pi work for replacing sluggish Public Access Catalog stations?  Learn about the historical funding sources for technology in the library (Friends of the Library, Kiwanis, grants?), meet the people involved, and search for new possibilities.


Going Forwards

  • Reach out to community groups.
  • Keep everything up-to-date and in working order.
  • Computer skills classes & workshops.
  • Keep an eye on technological trends and innovations.
  • Take things one step at a time.
  • Be a resource for everyone.
  • Plan for the future.

Reach out to the community and to groups within the community.  Having technology in the library is of little use if no one knows it is there (or if they don't know how to use it).

Maintenance of technology is very important, for functionality and security.  Make a schedule for installing updates, remember to physically clean out the computers now and then, and keep an eye on the systems you are responsible for.

Patrons may ask for help, or they might not.  Whenever I've done classes I see a mix of both new and familiar faces, there are almost always attendees who I have never met before.  Attendees may range from  unemployed seeking job skills to members of the library's governing board.

Even if you're not the final authority on the direction the library is taking technology, chance are you will be included in the planning.  Staying informed about trends and innovations helps you support the library striving to meet patron demand and will serve you well in knowing what patrons will come looking for help with.

Take things one step at a time.  Some days you will come into work with plans, you have things to get done, and immediately you are greeted with a panicked "_____ isn't working" and things cascade from there.  Don't Panic.  Take a deep breath and work through it one piece at a time, do triage if necessary to determine what needs to be fixed RIGHT NOW, and what can actually wait, and reassure people that you're on the job.

By your skills set, you are a resource.  Your purpose in the library is to support staff and public.

Technology is changing, make sure to think ahead, and work with your library to meet future demands.


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