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How To Talk To Your IT Department

The following guest post by David Tolmie, MLIS, Systems & Evaluation Specialist, University of Washington Health Sciences Library, makes recommendations about partnering successfully with your IT Department

As a librarian who works in IT — and worked in IT for many years before becoming a librarian — I’m often asked how librarians can better approach IT/Systems support staff. Most IT folks, in my opinion, find their way to the IT profession and stay there because they like solving problems. At the same time, most IT folks are measured first and foremost on keeping systems running securely; that is, maintaining the status quo. As such, it can be a challenge to get IT to change a system that they believe is working.

Taking these two factors into account, I recommend people approach their IT folks with a problem they need solved, rather than by asking them to change the status quo.

Rather than saying, “We need everyone working the hospital floor to have full internet access,” a more effective entrée might be to say, “Since people A, B, and C don’t have full internet access, we have problems X, Y, and Z.” Even better would be to simply approach IT saying, “We have problems X, Y, and Z, and I was hoping you could help us figure out a solution.”

However you word the problem statement, it’s best to focus as much as you can on the problem you would like IT to help fix and as little as you can on a preconceived notion of how that problem should be solved. Allowing for IT’s natural tendency toward problem solving helps to draw them into the problem space and vest them in finding a viable solution. Using inclusive language will also help draw them further into the problem space and vest them in finding a solution.

At this point, IT may still say they can’t help solve the problem.

If this happens, I recommend genuinely and sincerely asking for an explanation why it isn’t possible. Not only does it help the asker better understand the challenges IT has to deal with, but by having IT think about and voice the problem environment helps them define to themselves and others what the true obstacles are and hopefully leave behind any obstacles that only exist in their mind. It is during this discussion than you can propose potential solutions that might not have come up, though I would still tend to voice those proposals as questions.

At this point, once both parties are on the same pages as to what the obstacles are, I would ask the IT person, again genuinely and sincerely, something along the lines of, “How would you recommend we solve the problems X, Y, and Z?” I’d say seven times out of ten, they then relent and implement what would have been your original suggestion, realizing that the obstacles to doing so mostly existed in their head, not reality. Perhaps, they’ll suggest an alternate solution to solve problems X, Y, and Z. And on the rare occasion, there may truly be no immediately apparent solution.

I hesitate to even mention it, but the goal throughout is to set your own ego aside and give the other person’s ego room to breathe.

It may not be apparent to those outside IT, but folks in one IT group very often have to approach other IT groups with hat in hand, just like everyone else. And, we face the same challenges working with other IT groups as non-techies do. In such cases, the above technique has served me very well over the years.

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