Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe
Professor/Coordinator for Information Literacy, University Library & Affiliated Faculty, Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Associate University Librarian, Library and Learning Technologies & Administrative Director, Lewis & Ruth Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship
Given the number and variety of significant information technology (IT) projects supported and led by research libraries, one could incorrectly assume that IT has been successfully integrated into our organizations. Unlike other recent library service program developments (information literacy and scholarly communication), which also started on the margins, IT has not found its way to the “middle” in most of our organizations. IT workers, not solely but in particular, experience the lingering divide between IT and the library culture as an unproductive chasm.
Currently, we are experiencing multiple acute phenomena that indicate just how much work remains to make real the notion that libraries are essentially technology organizations. Three examples will illustrate this. The lack of qualified applicants for leadership roles such as “associate university librarian for IT” (however phrased) is the first indication that something is amiss. Second, the degree to which IT units are treated as “other” in library strategy development – as an implementation utility rather than a strategic participant – indicates the “foreign body” aspect of IT. Third, the resonance of well-publicized sexist and racist issues in the commercial IT sector, e.g., GamerGate, repeated circling of the “techbro” wagons, etc., within our organizations reveal discontent with IT culture writ large. While some claim with obvious relief that “we” are not “they,” on closer examination our own IT departments often look little different than those where the issues have manifested themselves as undeniably founded in gender, racial, and sexual biases.
In this issue-oriented session, the discussion will cover three aspects (while also, of course, being shaped by participant interest). First, we will offer a number of assertions about the state of IT culture and leadership in libraries. Some of these include the privileging of “hard” IT experience over library experience when considering candidates for leadership positions and the corollary exclusion of IT staff from “library” management as well as a tendency to silo IT into a unit more aligned with administrative than user services. From there, we will explore the missed opportunities our persistence with existing practices and norms has created, specifically our inability to come to terms with the lack of diversity in our IT staff. Finally, we will offer suggestions for rethinking how we approach IT leadership, structure, and culture in libraries in order to stimulate a reflective and probing conversation with those in attendance with the goal of creating a call to re-attend to the importance of bringing IT in from the margins if libraries are to truly serve the needs of their communities in this digital age.