Collaborate? Why bother?

According to “Insights for a Changing Economy” (Volume 3 – Bulletin #4) published by Maguire Associates;  “Higher education institutions don’t leverage the contributions of their internal colleagues very well at all.  That’s why there is such a compelling need to encourage and reward greater collaboration within institutions, with less concern for protecting individual fiefdoms.”  This may often be true.  The question then is who should be collaborating on what – and more importantly why?  Participation in an open collaborative process can be time consuming and potentially disruptive in terms of interpersonal and group dynamics, as well as how groups and teams are organized to get things done.  Collaboration may also involve cultural change and require a willingness to explore new ways of doing things that might be outside the traditional boundaries of how a given profession may be defined.  Why bother?

For example, it seems self-evident that information technology services and the library should collaborate.  There are examples of such collaboration at many higher education institutions going all the way back to the 1990s.  But similar to other collaborations among internal colleagues the results have often been mixed.  However, there is more reason than ever before to move toward a collaborative model of providing library and technology services.  Even so, why bother?  It’s not easy.  Both groups strongly identify with their profession, traditionally defined as “librarian” or “technologist”, much the same way faculty might identify with their academic discipline.  Most of them need to be convinced there is a reason to collaborate more and that it is worthwhile to do so.  (And some may never be convinced).  But it’s still a worthwhile undertaking.  Here’s why:

The need for information technology and library services continues to change at an accelerating rate.  Librarians and technologists are playing an increasingly important role within the overall context of student development in terms of achieving information literacy and technology fluency.  The source of value from the services provided by both librarians and technologists are beginning to fundamentally shift from provisioning information and technology to helping make optimal use of information and technology.  At the same time, there are unmet needs and anticipated changes driven by enrollment increases at many institutions, continued expectations of personalized service and an accelerating rate of technological change.  Both support organizations also face increasing variation in terms of when services are in demand, the nature of the requests themselves, and the differing capability or even willingness to make use of self-service offerings.  Personal preferences are often the subjective basis for opinions of whether or not students and faculty feel well treated.  These are the central challenges of managing both service operations and the reasons why library and IT collaborations are worthwhile.

But what’s the best approach?  Possibilities include:    

  1. Matching the collective expertise of Library and Information Technology Services staff through the natural outcome of a well designed and ongoing professional development program that results in even more integrated services (over time) that will be highly valued by students and faculty. 
  2. Bringing the combined staff together organizationally as a way to collectively improve services that will better support academic programs and magnify the combined group’s joint contribution to the institution’s mission.
  3. Identify a specific set of collaborations that small cross-functional teams self-organize around and define an action plan for.
  4. Other?

The preceding approaches (and others) could be used in combination or independent of one another.  But they cannot assure buy-in and a sustained commitment to advancing the goals of an agreed upon collaboration.  Should formal rewards or consequences be used to incent certain behaviors?  Or should more difficult to craft normative means be relied on?  Is the answer to the question “Why bother?” enough?     

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One thought on “Collaborate? Why bother?

  1. Patrick,

    I follow your point and completely agree. But I am known for plain language as it helps set clarity.

    Collaboration is an approach in “how” decisions are made and ideas exchanged. But for me, ultimately the “what” of the libraries wants and needs is theirs to decide and as CIO I view my role to be an IT service provider to the library – my internal customer. Some purists of ITSM might use different terminology which I am comfortable with since the real customer is the student in almost very aspect.

    I try to negotiate some basic guidelines with my governance groups and peers. The customer decides the “what” and IT decides the “how”. When it comes to product of vendor selection it gets a bit confusing when the customer wants to pick product rather than just give requirements. But in recent years I don’t see the need to make very many decisions about what my customers use to do their job.

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