Thursday, January 17, 2019

Working with your CIO and IT, by Holly Heller-Ross

Note: This post is adapted from a talk that the author gave and the blog owner attended.

picture of sign that says "technology enhanced learning" with an arrow pointing in a direction.

My career in libraries has taken me from a public, to a hospital, and now to an academic library. Along the way, I’ve picked up some experience working with information technology (IT) and currently serve as both Library Director and Chief Information Officer (CIO) for a medium-sized public higher education institution - SUNY Plattsburgh.

The working relationship between library and IT at a higher ed institution can have a profound impact on the success of a library, so here are my thoughts on how to build and sustain one that is positive and productive.

First, recognize the CIO as a kindred soul with the same pressures library directors face. That will help break down any initial us vs. them thinking. Staffing, budget and time limitations, concerns about effective leadership strategies, the need to prove value and measure impact, insufficient space, inflationary expense increases well above any increases in higher education funding …all these things library directors face? Yeah, CIO’s face also and on a campus-wide scale!

Just take service hours as an example. For the library director students are always asking for 24/7 open hours, and most libraries are not staffed or budgeted to provide that. And then there’s the question of when to put your top performers or most skilled staff on the front lines? Should your librarians be teaching or developing online guides, or both, but in what proportion? Now imagine the CIO, who is asked to provide network, helpdesk, telecom, and information security coverage…also without the staff or budget to really provide that. Also wondering whether to task the software trainer with group workshops or one-on-one faculty conferences? Surely that’s something to bond over with a cup of coffee or tea! [Editor’s Note: Or a nice imperial stout?]

I’m not suggesting the only commonalities are ones of insufficiency though. The joys of problem solving, assisting faculty with teaching and scholarship, measuring impact on student learning and showing positive correlations, getting a great purchasing deal with a vendor, and mentoring staff through career pathways you’ve helped create are some commonalities you and the CIO can celebrate together.

Second, appreciate their goals and tell them about yours. One good way to keep up on IT goals is to read the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues annual article. This will provide both a listing and some good contextual material for general understanding of IT priorities. Once you have the basics, start to match your library top issues with the IT issues your CIO is likely to already be thinking about.

Like in any relationship, shared values and objectives make all the work and effort easier to align. Information Security for example, has been a Top 10 IT issue for quite a while, and will likely remain so. It might be time to engage in an Information Security Review of library resources, including database access, patron record storage and security, login protocols, off-campus and proxy access, and library web pages. Any improvements here will be gains for the library and for IT. Other possibilities for common goals include improvements to login-times and quick print, switching from custom quoted staff desktops to standardized purchases and images, assignment of off-campus proxy admin rights to a technology minded librarian, and collaborative training of student employees for efficiency. I’m sure you’ll think of specifics for your library, it just takes a bit of effort.

Then, share your library goals with the CIO or other IT staff. Feel free to share ALA and ACRL reports and white papers, your own assessment results, and your own strategic plans with the CIO and others.  Executive summaries will certainly be welcome, but some folks will want the whole thing, and as librarians, we can be ready to provide that at the drop of a hat!

Third, be clear about your priorities and their impact on students and faculty. Clarity enables boldness, as the inspirational posters read! Once you have established your priorities, make sure all your campus partners know what they are. 

picture of clouds with a person paragliding through them with the words "clarity enables boldness."

Whether your priorities are facilities upgrades, green initiatives, patron or staff technology upgrades, improved technology support, library service enhancements for the teaching and learning environments, mobile technology improvements, or anything else, make sure people know what you care the most about.

Remember that your priorities are more likely to get attention when they fit in with an overall campus goal, and that timing matters! Like all of higher education, library impact on faculty teaching and scholarship, student learning and success, and institutional efficiencies, are what matters now. During the span of my career, higher education has shifted from input measures, to output measures, to impact metrics.  If your institution is focused on improving the learning environment and fostering student engagement and retention for example, my advice would be to also focus on that for your library. Let the other initiatives wait. Get in sync with your institution and that will make it much easier to get support from your CIO and all your other campus partners.

Fourth, keep the communication channels open and flowing at all levels of your organization. You probably already know how the library and IT intersect in the formal communication channels such as reporting, leadership teams, and organizational committees. Is this enough? Map it out and you’ll be able to see where there are gaps in substance or in timeliness. If there is an important committee that meets only once a semester, look for ways to supplement that information exchange with email updates or some other activity.

Then, dig a bit deeper to look for both informal communication channels as well as sub population channels that could be enhanced.  Do you have vertical and diagonal communication channels? Can you arrange for other affinity groups to collaborate and communicate? For instance, could you and the CIO put a group of recent hires together for a specific task? If you could, not only would you get a specific task accomplished, but you’d start to build the next generation of collaborative colleagues. Do you have group and one-on-one communication channels open and functioning? A greater variety of channels will yield a greater variety of information flow, and that’s exactly what you want! 

And finally, if things go wrong, don’t get mad… get curious! That’s not just good personal relationship building advice; it’s good for the workplace too!

Holly Heller-Ross is the Dean of Library and Information Technology Services, and CIO, at SUNY Plattsburgh.

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