Library media specialists and IT teams can work toward a common mission
Information technology (IT) departments in the K-12 environment have historically operated as their own separate entities, making decisions about, providing support for, and overseeing the successful implementation of hardware and software on campus. With more and more technology infiltrating classrooms, the IT team’s role has shifted to include more interaction and collaboration with other departments, administrators, and individual instructors.
As purveyors of digital learning materials and research, library media specialists are aligning with their IT departments to help create dynamic, engaging hubs for students and instructors. At Henrico County Public Schools in Henrico, Va., Suzanna Panter said the 50,000-student, 70-school district was an early one-to-one laptop adopter and, as such, relies on strong ties between its media and IT departments.
Panter, who is the district’s educational specialist, library services, actually has an employee who serves as a go-between for the library and the IT department. “At the library, we’re completely instructional in nature,” Panter explains, “so we don’t see eye-to-eye with IT on every issue.” During a 2015 migration to Microsoft Office 365, for example, Panter says her department had concerns about the proposed single sign-on (SSO) process, which automatically signs a user into his or her email account once signed onto Office 365.
Panter said this is just one example of how school libraries have different technology needs than other campus departments. “It’s wonderful for most users, but our library assistants don’t have their own computers,” Panter explained. “They need to log into email to check for inter-library loans, for example, but with single sign-on they wouldn’t be able to do that (i.e., the computers are logged in as ‘library user,’ for access to the circulation system).” Working with the IT department, the library came up with a work-around that includes the use of Office 365 but not SSO.
Due to Henrico County Public Schools’ sheer size, Panter said all hardware, software, and application purchases are made by its IT department. “It’s a huge operation that includes technology and hardware specialists in all of our secondary schools,” she explains, “and one for every few elementary schools.” Often called upon to provide tech support during the school day, district librarians and support personnel are all “very tech savvy when it comes to hardware,” says Panter. One year ago, the district launched a new “technology advisory committee” that’s comprised of school principals, teachers, the IT department, the instructional technology department, library personnel, and various specialists. The committee meets once a quarter to discuss new innovations that are “coming down the pike,” Panter said.
Right now, the committee is focused on a new learning management system that the district is currently implementing (currently at the contract award stage). “We’re working very closely with our IT and instructional technology departments to ensure a smooth transition,” said Panter, noting that district librarians will be the first adopters of the new LMS. “They’ll be trained alongside the instructional technologists to get everything up and running.” The system will be piloted at several schools during the upcoming semester and then rolled out to all secondary schools for the fall of 2016.
Move forward or pull back?
Having worked closely with her district’s IT team over the last few years, Panter said she always keeps in mind the time involved with reviewing and approving prospective hardware and software for her district. Where a teacher or librarian may want to roll out a new initiative quickly in order to “keep up,” an IT expert may be more inclined to pull back on the reins a bit and make sure it’s a good solution for a specific application.
“From the IT perspective, it’s often about making sure that new piece of software or app isn’t going to hurt the school’s image and/or create safety issues for its students,” Panter explains. “IT also wants to make sure that everyone has the same software on their machines. That process takes a long time and it can get frustrating for teachers and librarians that are tech-savvy themselves.”
To work through these issues, Henrico County Public Schools uses a software review form that teachers fill out for the IT department to review. Even then, Panter said the actual implementation process can take months to finish. She sees open communication between her department and IT as the first step to solving these frustrations, but said constantly calling the department to expedite approvals should definitely be avoided. “Prioritize your needs,” she advised, “and always be sure to provide positive feedback (‘Our wi-fi is working much better now, thanks!’) versus just frustrations and complaints.”
Mark Ray concurs, and says the best approach is to “start small” and stick with consistent, attainable goals when working with your district’s IT team to get projects completed. As a former teacher-librarian who is now chief digital officer at Vancouver Public Schools in Vancouver, Wash., Ray has witnessed firsthand how overly-ambitious requests and initiatives can quickly get sidelined.
“When your project is based on consistent, achievable goals, your librarians can work together with the IT department to reach those goals,” says Ray. “This also gives everyone the chance to get to know one another and build collaborative relationships.” In turn, these early wins can help build the foundation for larger project successes in the future.
“Even though we get frustrated with the library specialists and vice versa, the trust we’ve been able to build over time really comes into play when it’s time to get new initiatives approved and rolled out,” says Ray. “Even though we come from two different places, the fact that we’re true partners rather than adversaries really helps us work together more effectively.”
Bridget McCrea is a contributing writer for eSchool News.