Oct 31 2006

What Do Librarians and IT Administrators Have in Common?

The University of Nevada, Reno has blended the IT and library staffs to improve services and support throughout the campus.

At the University of Nevada, Reno, the administration has combined the library and IT staffs to improve services and increase support.

On the surface, librarians and IT staffers appear to have little in common. One helps students find research materials; the other builds and manages instructional technologies, computers, networks and telecommunication services. Yet, if you look under their hoods, you'll find that library and IT work are symbiotic. And, if combined, they can take both services to a new level.

That's what the University of Nevada, Reno has accomplished. In the early 1990s, I began reporting to the university's president for anything digital, including the university's libraries and even the campus National Public Radio station. It's an unusual mix of IT services, but the staffs are, in reality, information professionals in a rapidly changing environment.

Libraries have undergone tremendous changes. Fifteen years ago, information was synonymous with libraries. To many, information now means Google. Students who grew up with the Internet expect full-text, online materials. To meet those expectations, libraries require robust network connectivity–one of many library bridges to IT services.

IT and library staff complement each other. Stereotypes depict computer scientists as having great technical skills, but lacking in communications. In contrast, librarians are perceived to be weak in technology, but well-trained in communications and query negotiation. Blending IT with library services draws on the strengths of both. The library service ethic bolsters technological expertise.

Stereotypes evaporate when librarians and technologists work together. For example, Nevada's librarians have headed up instructional technology, as well as networking and telecommunications. Our librarian in charge of instructional technologies has developed outstanding working relationships with faculty who are served by a staff of technologists acclaimed on campus for their service excellence.

Technologically oriented librarians, working closely with IT professionals, produce value-added resources. One outstanding example is the university's Lake Tahoe Web site, which features photos, historic information, scientific data and university research. For the 2002 election, public radio, computing and the libraries built an acclaimed interactive, multimedia Web site for the state's voters. And our university home page features interactive chat staffed by librarians.

The success of these information professionals, working in new and notable ways, is responsible for mobilizing a vision that recently culminated in the groundbreaking of our $105 million Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. The center reflects technology expertise and public service excellence and is much more than just a 21st century high-tech library. It represents the confluence of diverse expertise working together to provide the university community with seamless information and technology services.

The library reference desk and computer help desk will be one. Instructional development lounge areas will enable faculty and grad students across disciplines to advance the use of technology in their classes and their research.

Successful blending of library and IT takes planning, sensitivity and flexibility. Most importantly, it requires that staff members work toward a common vision that embraces the broadest possible context of a 21st century information world. Content and delivery are increasingly inextricable, much like the variety of skills of today's information professionals.

Steven D. Zink, Ph.D., is vice president, information technology, at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Title: Vice President, Information Technology
Years at University of Nevada, Reno: 25
Degrees: B.A./M.A, History; M.L.S. and Ph.D., Information Systems
Residence: Foothills, Sierra Nevada Mountains
Author: 120 articles and several books
Editor in Chief: 1983-2003, Journal of Government Information