amen to open IT policies.

A recent post on Library Web Chic hits the restrictive-tech-policies-in-libraries-must-go nail on the head. Here is Karen’s list of arguments against library systems that don’t allow their employees to download and install software freely:

  1. To work effectively in a Library 2.0 world, library staff need the ability to experiment and try things. In fact they need to be encouraged to do so. Restrictive IT policies prevent this from happening. Not only because staff can download and test new software but because they create an environment of mistrust and fear.
  2. In a Library 2.0 world, technology is an integral part of every library staff member’s and librarian’s job. Restrictive IT policies often perpetuate the idea that technology is exclusively the domain of Systems.
  3. Additionally, if you want to create an EXPECTATION that library staff will experiment and try new things. You need to give them the ability to do this in advance not wait until they show interest.
  4. I also feel sometimes that restrictive IT policies create an environment where there is no need for users to take personal responsibility for their use of technology nor feel any sense of personal investment.
  5. Library users also are affected by restrictive IT policies. Many libraries limit the tasks that users can perform, the software available, and the sites user can visit on public computers. Often this keeps library users from utilizing new technologies and tools that will meet their needs.

At a previous job I had to jump through a number of hoops to simply receive permission to have someone download Second Life for me, while in my current position I have administrative rights over my computer which allows me to download and play around with software and programs as I see fit. Like Karen says, there is a proliferation of new programs, plugins, extensions, and hacks that surface on an hourly basis, many of them open source and of potential cost-saving value to a library system. How is a technology-minded librarian supposed to go about the business of trying things out without the ability to download and test to a reasonable degree? Having to rely on Systems staff to update and install limits the ability of librarians to use serendipity when trying out new technologies.

Security and technical support concerns are certainly at play, but a few good staff development hours from the Systems or IT department could do much to educate librarians on how to spot malicious or potentially problematic programs, as well as the proper procedures for installing, uninstalling, and basic triage. I’m of the opinion that the diffusion of technical skills throughout our profession can only do good, while revising paternalistic IT policies would certainly encourage a great deal more technical creativity and empowerment in librarians of all stripes.

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