December 18, 2014

“Peace Child”: How an Academic Library Helped Foster Better IT Relations

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Rice Majors, assistant professor and director of libraries information technology at the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB), gave a rapid-fire “lightning talk” at the LITA National Forum earlier this month. In it, he spoke about a project that has, in a small way, improved relations between the university’s centralized information technology department, the Office of Information Technology (OIT), and the libraries’ separate IT unit.

During the talk, Majors said he was inspired by the notion of the “peace child,” in which the leaders of warring tribes would send their children to live with their enemies—thus stopping aggression on both sides. And, indeed, the UCB plan could serve as a model of bridge-building for university and library IT departments nationwide.

Majors told LJ that when he first came to the campus a year-and-a-half ago, the libraries’ and university’s IT departments had a long history not cooperating well with each other. It was something that Majors and university administration wanted to change.

The first step of that change came late last year. At the time, the OIT had a backlog of projects it wanted to tackle, and not enough project managers to get the jobs done. Ordinarily, the OIT would “deputize” members of its own department to use 25 percent of their time to manage projects.

At his monthly meeting with OIT’s director of academic technology Deborah Keyek-Franssen, Majors said, they discussed a particular stalled project involving a campus-wide media streaming technology, which Majors hoped to get further up the OIT’s priority list. The two formulated a plan to have a library IT staffer manage the OIT project—something that hadn’t been done before, and which initially seemed like a “wild idea,” says Majors, but also seemed like it could make for a useful “test case.”

So, Majors said, the libraries’ IT department’s network infrastructure and security manager Mark Sondergard began spending 25 percent of his time as a project manager for the OIT project. But the libraries’ IT department didn’t lend him to the OIT, exactly—Majors prefers the term “lease,” as the OIT “bought out” one-quarter of the cost of Sondergard’s position during the “lease” period, which lasted six months until April 2011. The libraries’ IT department used the money (plus a little more) to hire a part-time staffer to fill in for Sondergard while he was away.

Sondergard told LJ that he “learned a lot” from the experience, and that he was open to the idea of working as a project manager at OIT again in the future, if the opportunity arose.

Though the streaming-media project is still ongoing and has not yet launched, it was moved considerably forward in those six months, Majors said. But there was another, less tangible benefit—better departmental relations. “I think it actually has helped, because now we have someone on our team who understands how hard it is to be a project manager for the campus IT [department],” he said. It also helped build an informal rapport, he says, because now people know each other on both sides. Better communication helps get things done, after all—and that’s the goal of any library IT department.

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David Rapp About David Rapp

Associate editor David Rapp previously covered technology for Library Journal.

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