Every afternoon after 3 P.M., it takes 40 seconds to pull up Google or CNN. Your staff has to wait until the next morning to send cataloging records to a remote branch. Video or audio downloads are out of the question. Your first response might be, “Buy more bandwidth!” and that’s not a bad idea at all, but you might not have enough money to buy more bandwidth. Moreover, some libraries are finding that patrons will fill up everything they’re given. Double your bandwidth, and a month later it’s slow again after 3 P.M.
When you’re lacking time and money, it’s tempting to wait until a computer breaks or a piece of software becomes obsolete and then think about how you’ll replace it. Even in smaller libraries, this approach leads to unscheduled downtime, inconsistent service and funding problems. In large libraries, it’s completely impractical. When you replace a batch of computers or upgrade a major piece of software, your budget takes a hit, you may want to do testing, your staff may need training and you’ll spend a significant amount of time installing and deploying.
Hiring, at its worst, inspires both boredom and anxiety. Wading through resumes bores us, and the thought of hiring the wrong person scares us. And the fear factor is worse when you’re a non-techie who’s been tasked with hiring IT staff. As with any complicated, difficult decision, success starts with good planning.
Consider the following when considering hiring staff:
Anyone who’s tried to support the computers in a multibranch library system will sing the praises of remote desktop software (aka remote control software). Ten years ago, librarians often had to drive 60 miles or more to reset a password or download a software patch at a branch library. Remote control applications allow you to establish a connection with a computer anywhere in your library system, see what’s happening on that computer and control it using your own mouse and keyboard.
IT standardization is a strategy for minimizing IT costs within an organization by keeping hardware and software as consistent as possible and reducing the number of tools you have that address the same basic need. It may take the form of ensuring that every computer has the same operating system, or of purchasing hardware in bulk so that every PC in your office is the same make and model.
Partnership and collaboration are themes we’ve hit on repeatedly in the Cookbooks. When you’re buying technology, higher volume usually leads to better prices and better service. You can collaborate with state purchasing agencies, state libraries, regional library cooperatives, municipal IT departments, local colleges, K-12 schools, K-12 libraries and on and on. For more on partnering with other organizations, see Effectively Collaborating with Other Libraries and Partners.
There are really only two types of technology conversations: the ones you have with techies and the ones you have with non-techies. For the purposes of this discussion, a techie is really just anyone who knows more than you do about technology and a non-techie is someone who knows less.
It never pays to over-generalize about a group of people, so take the following advice with a giant grain of salt. However, a few themes come up over and over when folks discuss their successful, and their not-so-successful, interactions with tech wizards and IT folks.