This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 22 Number 3 1999. It is the intellectual property of the author.
The Impact on User Services of Merging Academic Libraries and Computing Services
by Steven Herro
Some colleges and universities are considering merging departments on their campuses that are related to information technology, including libraries and computing organizations. This study, conducted at Minnesota State University, Mankato in 1998, addressed the differences in the cultures of academic libraries and computing services staffs and their impact on service provided to students, faculty, and staff after libraries and computing services merged. For a more complete description of the survey and its results, see http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/CSD1193.pdf.
In addition to an extensive review of literature on the con- vergence of library and information technology organiza- tions in U.S. colleges and universities, this study included a survey of nearly 50 chief information officers at institutions which had merged these operations to determine why they had done so and if they could cite concrete user enhancements following the merger. Could these chief information officers point to improved instructional support for using technology, better patron computing labs and libraries, an enhanced campus computer network, or other such services? About one-third of the administrators responded.
Some respondents indicated their institutions were able to offer improved user services following convergence. Carthage College (Wisconsin) introduced an improved joint newsletter, began Information Technology Days and Computer Awareness Weeks, and offered joint instruction sessions by library and computing staffs related to the campus computer network and electronic library resources. University of Wisconsin-Parkside was able to modernize computer laboratories and increase use of computers in classrooms following convergence and improve user instruction of campus technology resources. Rice University (Texas) patrons began to experience a virtual seamless support system from user service professionals, who were formerly divided between the library and computing services. After convergence, Kalamazoo College (Michigan) has been able to establish computer support staffs in college residence halls, launch a Web-based online library catalog, and more effectively assist faculty with the use of technology in curriculum development. Respondents from Lehigh University (Pennsylvania) and the University of Montana also reported success stories in which daily services to users were significantly improved following convergence of library and computing services.
However, the study suggests that convergence had more impact on the efficient administration of the departments involved in the merger than on the daily lives of users. Indeed, this was the primary reason why many institutions decided to reorganize technology administration and to establish a single chief information officer. By having one office on campus procure computer hardware and software; select, train, and evaluate university employees related to technology and information; train students, faculty, and staff on all computing needs (whether searching library computer databases, learning to use the Internet effectively, using personal computing office suites, or developing courses to be delivered over the Web); and perform other technology activities, presidents and boards in higher education believe that they are establishing more efficient administration of technology dollars, hardware, software, and personnel.
The study also suggests that the differences between library and computing cultures has made convergence, and therefore improving user services following convergence, difficult. Libraries have been associated with the academic side of the campus while computing has been associated with the administrative side of the campus. Librarians are used to much patron contact while computing staffs have traditionally not had as much personal contact with campus patrons. Libraries are used to providing services at no charge to users while computing centers are used to charging patrons and departments back for their services. Despite these cultural and historical differences (or perception of differences), the units have much in common. Both deal daily with information, and there is no doubt that libraries are the second biggest users of computing technology on campuses, second only to computing centers. Both units are concerned with helping patrons use technology more efficiently.
In the end, it may well be that increasingly sharing the goal of helping their user communities learn about and benefit from the use of technology and electronic information resources may help to ensure successful collaboration between library and computing organizations.
Steven Herro ([email protected]) is manager of prospect research at St. Norbert College (Wisconsin), where he also serves on the Computer Services Advisory Committee. He served as academic librarian from 1990-1996 and 1997-1999.
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