Librarians and IT Professionals

Via Tame the Web, a funny video about librarians and IT professionals in the model of the recent Apple Mac television advertisements:

I think the tensions between IT and libraries are much more pronounced in a hospital setting than in, for instance, a public library- don’t you? Systems security is a much more serious business when systems data includes PHI. Our CIO keeps our hospital’s systems locked down pretty tightly, and that makes browsing the web for information outside of the library very inconvenient for users…but I can’t generally find fault with his policies in this area. If our network goes down, that could threaten patient safety- so the stakes involved in network security are much higher than in a non-hospital setting.

6 thoughts on “Librarians and IT Professionals

  1. Librarian: I like to say “yes.”
    IT professional: I like to say “no.”

    Wow. What an arrogant, condescending distortion–but then, that’s what many IT professionals encounter in their dealings with librarians.

    I attended a library technology conference a few years ago at which a librarian spoke to a plenary session about the “care and feeding” of the IT professionals who reported to him: he mentioned keeping them happy in their work by regularly changing the litter in their cages. He got a good laugh from his fellow “professionals.”

    Whoever made this video hasn’t quite managed to disguise the same attitude.

  2. Hi Nick-

    I think the point you’re making is absolutely valid. The characters are stereotypes, but only the IT professional character exhibits a negative and unfair one: “I like to say ‘no’.” I’ve never met a competent IT professional who enjoyed saying ‘no’. As noted in the post, I do know IT professionals who say ‘no’ for good reasons that sometimes aren’t explained well to users or staff who may not have the background to immediately understand the ‘no’. One of my responsibilities is to help make that explanation.

    That being said, be sure to check out the rest of the videos in the series. They end with a character called an “IT Librarian.”

  3. I did see one or two others, including the one that ends with the IT librarian in the middle, and the joining of hands. Notice, however: the IT guy is now outnumbered. And let there be no mistake; for librarians, this is the only acceptable outcome.

    What happens if you imagine that intermediate role held by an IT professional, say a business systems analyst who is (unlike librarians) properly educated to the role? Why not ‘an IT professional who knows libraries’ instead of ‘a librarian who knows IT’?

    Well, perhaps because one can scarcely imagine anything more terrifying to librarians. I mean, it’s no accident that it’s a new librarian position that gets added to the mix in the concluding video, as a sort of deus ex machina. The IT professional, no matter her competence or experience, will not be considered for it. In this way, librarians keep the competition — and competence! — out of libraries.

    Librarians have been made soft by their monopoly! Their fear of losing their grip on it now drives much of what they do as a collective — and in particular, explains the execrable condescension toward people in IT, as conveyed in these videos. While there are some very sharp librarians in the world, they are far too few to make up the workforce of technologists now needed in the library world. As a consequence, libraries and the technologies they use are hopelessly outpaced by emerging alternative technologies of information discovery. All the talk of ‘Library 2.0’ isn’t much more than magical thinking; after all, who will make it happen?

    The ‘profession’ now desperately hopes that library schools can turn out a crop of techno-savvy young (IT) librarians who will have the skills and inventiveness to move them forward. This will fail, because librarians do not have the habit of honestly regarding change. Look, for example, at the rather grandly-named ‘Info*nation’ website, hosted by the Canadian Library Association. It offers anxious blandishments to a more inventive and adventurous calibre of recruits to library school. On one page (, the putative competencies of librarians are represented in fake tag clouds.

    Fake tag clouds! Why, it fairly shouts ‘wanna-be’! Why would anyone do something so excruciatingly lame? Having worked with librarians, I’ll bet I know: it’s because a) the librarians who created this site quite probably don’t fully understand what tag clouds are, b) they most assuredly don’t know how to make ’em, c) they think using tag clouds will makes them seem kinda kewl, and d) by the usual standard of their work, the deception is flawless.

  4. “This will fail, because librarians do not have the habit of honestly regarding change.”

    Well… who’s playing with negative stereotypes now? I think your attitude is the perfect counterpart to the librarian you described in your first comment; you seem to look down on librarians just as much as he looked down on IT people. Just as in any field, there are people who are change averse and there are people who are change agents. I have seen plenty of change-averse IT people, but I’m not arrogant enough to generalize my experiences to damn an entire profession.

    I think librarians and IT people will only work successfully together when there is a mutual respect for the other’s skills and abilities and an understanding of each other’s priorities and concerns. Sadly, it is a rare institution where this is the case and it doesn’t take much to figure out that it’s far from the case at your institution. Do you think your bitterness is helping that relationship? But no, it’s all the librarians’ fault, right?

  5. Meredith, I am indeed playing with negative stereotypes — that’s partly the point. However, I haven’t compared librarians to animals in cages — and so no, I can’t agree that my attitude is ‘the perfect counterpart’ to what I’ve heard librarians say about people like me. As to arrogance, and generalization: tit for tat.