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Update from IT in the Library Preconference, April 2017

May 16, 2017

On April 19th, the Co-op was part of a group of libraries that organized a day-long pre-conference meeting to discuss IT and the library. The event brought together about 60 people, including front-line technology service providers, back-of-house IT folks, and people involved with the planning and management of technology. Discussion topics included computer access for children, virtualization, digital strategies, cloud services, IT project planning, security, and much more (link to full agenda).

The day was focused on group discussions which were seeded by a pre-session survey to participants about their work environments, plans, and issues. Our MC was Deb Hutchinson Koep of North Vancouver City Public Library (formerly of West Vancouver Memorial Library), and to kick off the day, she led us through a “dot-ocracy” exercise to select the discussion topics. From that point, we broke into groups and rotated between discussions/tables every 20 minutes, allowing for wide-ranging discussion and connections with library staff from all over BC. 

After lunch we were renewed with two keynote presentations. Christina de Castell (Vancouver Public Library) and Scott Hargrove (Fraser Valley Regional Library) both provided insight into the complex landscape of IT in the library and some of the ways their libraries are responding to challenges and taking advantage of opportunities. 

Some of the lessons we learned from the day include: 

  • The need for non-IT staff to understand more about what IT staff do, and how technology and policy overlap, interact, and benefit from co-planning (e.g. include everyone in technology plans, and IT staff in overall strategic plans). 
  • Everyone in an organization brings a unique set of skills that may be tangential to those required by their official work. Therefore, IT staff see value in being available to colleagues to discuss various challenges faced by the library, not just those with technical solutions. 
  • People who don’t work in IT often see IT as opaque or mystical, and part of the job of IT staff is to shine light into the black box of the technology world. 
  • People working in IT across the province are welcome to contact people working in IT in other libraries to ask questions about IT projects.
  • Sessions like this one are valuable and we will aim to build on what we started. The original organizing committee, along with some new volunteers, will meet in July to discuss follow-up steps, which may include both virtual and face-to-face means of continuing the conversations and community.

It was great to see representation from a wide spread of library-types and communities across BC. With so much variety within the group, there was a lot we could learn from each other. A particularly satisfying aspect of the diversity was the mix of technologists and librarians in the room. It was a fairly even mix and really helped achieve one of the main goals of the day: conversation about how we can build shared understanding in our organizations. 

It became clear to me that for many, there is a lot of mystery about what IT does and how it does it. This clarity, in part, prompted me to start the recent series of blog posts about IT at the Co-op, both as a way to help member libraries understand better what we do, and as a way to share with other library IT practitioners the Co-op’s particular flavours and approaches to IT issues.

The day would not have happened without all of the attendees, to whom we are grateful for their time, energy, and insight. Big thanks to Jeff Narver and Devan Mitchell from FVRL, Dan Phillips from GVPL, and Deb Koep from NVCPL for their contributions on the organizing committee. Thank you to our keynote speakers, Christina and Scott, for their thought-provoking talks. And finally, thank you to BCLA for providing a forum for the pre-conference to take place. 

Please stay tuned soon for more information on the how this emerging conversation on library and IT will unfold.