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Discussing Technology with Library Shareholders

Imagine a library where the director makes all the decisions and controls every last detail of the organization. The director is, of course, benevolent, well informed and creative, with unimpeachable judgment. Have you ever encountered this library in real life? Probably not because, in reality, we only have full control of very small projects. With anything else, we have to turn to stakeholders, both inside and outside the library. We need their support, funding, advice and approval. The following resources can help you talk about technology with some of the biggest “library stakeholders.”

Funders, Politicians and Other Key Decision Makers

The governor has just walked through the door, along with Bill Gates and the Pope. Quick, say something! This is your chance to get some money for your new building! In management jargon, you’re face to face with some “key decision makers.” Of course, every decision maker has different values and interests, so there’s no script that works in every situation. But a few pieces of advice will serve you well:

  • For a good introduction to this delicate topic, see this article on Talking to Power at the WebJunction site.
  • Also, take a look at Key Decision Makers which tells you how to locate major players and uncover their interests.
  • Keep in mind that talking to key decision makers is just one part of the larger process of advocating for your library, demonstrating your library’s value and building partnerships. There are a slew of great articles on this topic in WebJunction’s Funding Strategies section.

IT Department and Other Technology Employees

See Talking with Techies for details.

Colleagues and Supervisors

Mary Niederlander at http://librarysupportstaff.com has compiled an excellent collection of quotes and links about Co­worker Relationships and Communication. Also, check out Michael Stephens’ Ten Steps to Ensure Staff Buy-­in for Technology Projects.

Vendors

The subject of communicating with vendors is covered in Vendor Selection and Management, which discusses the purchasing equation.

Consultants

The right technology consultant can make or break a new initiative. Sometimes, you can “fake it until you make it.” In other words, you can struggle with a new technology project or a new subject and figure it out as you go along. But sometimes, you just don’t have the time, and even if you feel equal to the task, it’s sometimes useful to get an outsider’s perspective. However, if you hire the wrong consultant and give him or her too much control, you’ve just thrown away a lot of time and money.

TechSoup has several excellent articles to help you get started. Read the following articles, roughly in the order listed:

  1. Do You Really Need a Consultant?
  2. Defining the Consultant Project
  3. Choosing the Right Consultant
  4. Writing a Contract
  5. Managing a Consultant

Patrons

A lot of the conversations we have with patrons happen informally and spontaneously while answering reference questions. The same rules apply to these situations as during any reference interview. However, if you run into tricky situations, you can also look at our advice on Talking with Non-Techies, or you can look at WebJunction’s resources on Patron Technology Training.

One specific situation…and challenging conversation…that often arises in libraries is the unsolicited computer donation. Accepting an outdated PC can actually end up costing you money as you struggle to upgrade it and replace parts. Also, a library full of mismatched, nonstandardized computers can be frustrating and time-consuming to support and maintain. Consider creating a written donation policy that outlines what you’ll accept and what you won’t accept. For more advice, see TechSoup’s Donated Computers for Non-Profits and Six Tips for Accepting and Rejecting Donated Equipment.

Stories from the Field

Communicating with library boards

So I usually go to the board meetings, and a lot of them are not really technically minded and they kind of trust me; it’s like, well, we know that Matt knows what’s good for the library. And so I don’t make outrageous requests, and they’re pretty good about it. But just having an open dialogue so that everyone along the way knows what it is we’re doing. Last year, I was asking for a lot of money for a program called VSpaces, which was a federated search portal application. And it’s like, if you went to a board and said, ‘I want this amount of money for a VSpace; it’s a federated search platform.’ They’re going to say, ‘I don’t know what that is.’ So as long as my accounting department knows what it is, the director knows what it is and the board knows what it is, those communications are there. I think that makes a big difference. And sometimes, you have board members who are resistant to things, and we’ve had board members in the past who questioned everything and wanted details about why did you buy this many computers and why was it over this amount? And it’s just a matter of working with them on communication.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, MT

Communicating with consultants

I sort of played dumb when I called the companies and asked what they would charge per hour and how they would support us. I had one man, I can't remember, it was a couple of years ago. And I told him what we were running on our servers and how many servers we had. He kept saying, ‘Well, you have to upgrade to Server 2003’ or something like that, and he said, ‘I can do that for you.’ So I said, ‘Well, we can’t upgrade to Server 2003 because our library automation system has said they’re not supporting that yet. They will eventually, but at the moment, they can’t.’ But it was like he didn’t listen. He just kept saying, ‘But you need to upgrade to that.’ So I wrote him off right off the bat. I just said flat out, ‘We're not interested in using you as a company because you’re not listening to me. And you’re trying to sell me things that I can’t use right now.’ So I think that was sort of a combination of not listening and not really understanding the library part of it.

Becky Heils
Dubuque County Library, IA
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