100 tips for a library technology manager

First posted in 2006 during the first incarnation of this blog. Thought it was time for a re-post. 

A librarian I once supervised is now heading the systems and digital services department at a mid-size academic library. I’ve recently been e-mailing him some suggestions and things to keep in mind for managing technology in an academic library.

Over a ten-year period of managing library technology, I learned some of these the hard way. Some are rudimentary, some are more subtle. I thought that I would share these items (not necessarily listed in any order) for others to take or leave, as they find useful:

1. Hire good people and stay out of their way.

2. Hire for aptitude, the ability to learn new skills and not just based on a person’s current capabilities.

3. Don’t expect every person to work the same way that you work.

4. Don’t make assumptions (remember the first three letters of that word).

5. Encourage systems staff to learn a new skill every 6 months.

6. Ensure that learning time is built into everyone’s work schedule.

7. Have a white board by the department door that staff can use to indicate if they’re out of the office, at a meeting,  working on the 2nd floor, or at lunch.

8. Everything a person needs to know about technology can be found through reading a book or on the Internet.

9. No one is born knowing everything about technology.

10. A Unix wizard (or any other kind of techno wizard) is not someone who knows everything there is to know but someone who knows how to find what he or she needs to know when needed.

11. Make sure there is a backup plan for servers and desktops.

12. Backups of servers should be stored off-site, preferably with a data storage service and not in someone’s bedroom. Test the backups to make sure that files actually can be recovered and loaded onto the system again.

13. Desktop support is a critical function that must receive higher priority than any digital project.

14. Have a multi-year plan for upgrading, replacing computers throughout the library. Not planning this in advance is a huge oversight.

15. Providing the best desktop support will help gain support from others in the library for more exciting digital projects.

16. Occasionally, you may have to remind people that the library is not a hospital; lives will not be lost if a system crashes. But, if the OPAC or Web site goes down, make it a priority over everything else.

17. Follow the lead of the campus IT division.

18. Become friends and supporters of campus IT and not their adversary,

19. Let campus IT handle the core functions, such as security and networking.

20. Encourage the systems staff to meet regularly with their counterparts in campus IT.

21. If campus IT has a standard configuration for desktops, then use it unless the library has extraordinary desktop support staff of its own.

22. But even if you use the campus IT desktop configuration, have your own dedicated desktop support staff who can respond immediately to problems within the library.

23. Use the campus e-mail system rather than an e-mail server managed entirely by the library. (Is any academic library still going it alone with their e-mail?)

24. If the campus has a centralized file storage service, then use it rather than having the library manage its own Windows/Novell file servers. (Is any academic library still using its own file servers? Novell NetWare: now that’s a technology from the past.)

25. Consolidating certain services with campus IT allows library systems staff to focus on technologies specific to the library.

26. Work hard to build collaborations with whatever academic technology center exists on campus.

27. Many academic departments will have a negative opinion of campus IT; the library can be a bridge between those two areas, liked and respected by both.

28. Remember that you are not in a competition. You are not competing with other computing groups on campus or with other libraries in the country. You’re just trying to provide the best library services to the faculty and students at your institution.

29. There are always new users.

30. The systems department exists to support the needs of the library, providing a support function to other library departments.

31. Develop a staff training plan for each person.

32. Find projects where staff can incrementally develop their skills.

33. Setup a developmental server, a sandbox.

34. At conferences spend more time in the exhibit hall speaking to vendors and other librarians than sitting in a dark room listening to a presentation that you can download from the Internet.

35. Invest in your own development, including using some of your own personal funds for travel so that you can attend more events. (Priceline is really useful for hotels).

36. Don’t always stay at the conference hotel; enjoy walking a few blocks from your hotel to the conference hotel so that you have a bit of time to appreciate the town you’re visiting.

37. Learn about project management but don’t obsess over project management tools.

38. Process is important but don’t let a process get in the way.

39. Old but faithful: Treat people the way you want to be treated.

40. Be prepared for your library director to have questions and new ideas whenever he or she returns from a conference.

41. Don’t ever let anyone tell you there is not money; there is always funding if you know how to ask for it. You must justify it within the context of competing needs within the library. Plus, remember, that the library director must justify it before the provost within the context of competing needs within the university.

42. Learn to say no.

43. The library director doesn’t want to see more than a 1 page report. Learn to summarize, write in bullet points, outlines that can be scanned quickly.

44. Don’t bring problems to the director, bring solutions.

45. Three of the most important people in the library: the director’s secretary, the business officer, and the person who orders equipment, software, supplies.

46. Learn the names of the senior university officials and what they look like.

47. Develop plans for strategic accomplishments, think in terms of 18 – 24 months.

48. Have an excellent understanding of the university’s budget cycle.

49. Know in which month the library director makes his or her case to the university administration for the following fiscal year’s budget. (Usually in January or February).

50. June and July is too late to be thinking up ideas for new initiatives for the upcoming academic year. (Prepare those proposals before the budget requests are due).

51. But, sometimes new ideas come along: it’s easier to get funding very early in the fiscal year, but don’t wait too long.

52. Around March always be prepared for the availability of end-of-yearing funding for one-time purchases.

53. In the 2nd half of the fiscal year recognize that the budget is tight, so don’t make many unexpected requests.

54. Understand the difference between one-time and recurring costs.

55. Understand personnel costs, including the fringe percentage that is added to salary (often between 24% – 30%).

56. Prepare for budget presentations to the library management.

57. Present realistic budget requests but include throw aways since administrators always want to cut something from the budget. (Just don’t be extravagant and overload the request with things that are clearly not needed.)

58. Be ready to explain the purpose of every item on a budget request.

59. Realize that your budget requests are not the only concerns of the library; you have to share the funding with other library departments.

60. The objectives and goals of the systems department follows those of the library, which follows those of the university.

61. Read the university’s strategic plan.

62. Try to get involved in the university’s strategic planning process.

63. Become a leader in the library’s planning process.

64. Meet regularly one-on-one (formally or informally) with every department head within the library.

65. Learn to bounce ideas off other department heads and managers before approaching the director (or assistant director).

66. Never make a proposal to the library management group before you already have acquired the support of at least two other department heads.

67. Old but useful: carefully choose which battles you want to fight.

68. Leadership comes from a person’s quality to inspire and motivate, not from one’ position.

69. Practice leadership from below.

70. Don’t lead by intimidation.

71. Don’t refer to people who work for you as my staff. (They have names).

72. Don’t ever refer to yourself as someone’s boss, especially in front of that person.

73. On the first day of work for a new employee in your department, take him or her for lunch to a nice place that is off-campus. You pay.

74. On an employee’s first day give him or her a tour of the library and introduce each person by name.

75. Listening is a very important skill.

76. Ensure that the people in the systems department have a good workspace, good chairs, furniture, and that there are always plenty of office supplies.

77. Reference is a key department within the library; work to keep the head of reference on your side, regardless of your personal opinion of him or her. (Apologies to heads of collection development, cataloging, acquisitions, circulation, and every other department head. You’re important, too.)

78. No library can do everything. Carefully decide which services and technologies that you want to pursue and make those decisions in collaboration with other stakeholders in the library.

79. It only takes a couple of good people for a library to do remarkable things with technology.

80. Encourage the library to develop professional positions that takes the technologists out of the systems office and into other parts of the library.

81. Your authority has nothing to do with the number of people you supervise.

82. Foster awareness of digital technologies through regular seminars, presentations, or discussions to everyone working in the library.

83. Plan for redundant responsibilities among staff (i.e., the in case someone gets hit by a bus scenario).

84. Learn to let go, especially if you delegated a task to someone.

85. Not everyone will do a task the same way you would have done it, but he or she will usually do a good job.

86. Some people just need more structured supervision than others and that’s okay.

87. Even talented employees occasionally need more structured supervision on some assignments than others, particularly if the tasks are in an area that is entirely new to the person. (Don’t fault him or her for that).

88. For some people, working in the library will simply be a job and not a career. Learn to accept that and value their contribution.

89. Help your colleagues understand the possibilities of technologies for developing new library services but also keep their expectations close to what can be accomplished.

90. Look for best practices at other institutions.

91. Work yourself out of a job. You know you’ve been successful when you’re no longer needed.

92. Don’t stress over organizational conflict.

93. Most organizational problems stem from miscommunications.

94. Staff sometimes will need to meet with you in order to vent and express their frustrations with a co-worker. That’s necessary but also encourage the person to think about the work at hand, the objectives and not personality issues.

95. Never make a  decision or take an action based on hearsay; second-hand information is the most dangerous element in an organization.

96.  All of us are always learning how to do our jobs, even library directors and assistant directors. Don’t agonize over every word spoken by a library director. Sometimes, he or she is just thinking aloud.

97. Likewise, the systems staff will pay attention to every utterance you make and may at times misconstrue an innocent remark.

98. When socializing with people in your department remember that they never forget that you are their supervisor. So socialize but don’t expect them to be your buddy.

99. Read the Path of Lease Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life. Read it twice.

100. As a librarian you’re making a wonderful contribution to the world, but remember to find time for enjoying your own life.

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