System librarians 2.0


It strikes me that training for and documentation about our new Aleph ILS are aimed at three types of staff: system administrators, system librarians and staff (expert) users. Basically system administrators are supposed to take care of “technical stuff” like installing, upgrading, monitoring, backups, general system configuration etc., while staff users are dealing with the “real stuff”, like cataloging, acquisition, circulation, etc. System librarians appear to be a kind of hybrid species, both technicians and librarians: information specialists with UNIX and vi experience.

At the Library of the University of Amsterdam we do not have these three staff types, we only have what we call system administrators and staff users. We as system administrators do both system administrator and system librarian tasks as defined in the Aleph documentation. Only hardware, operating system, network, server monitoring and system backups are taken care of by the University’s central ICT department.
There is no such job title as “system librarian”, in fact I would not even know how to translate this term into Dutch. However, we do have terms for three different types of tasks: technical system administration, application administration and functional administration, which may be equivalent to the above mentioned staff types, although the terms are used in different ways and boundaries between them are unclear. In The Netherlands we even have system administrators, application administrators and functional administrators, but these are all general terms, not limited to the library world.

Anyway, the need for three types of library system administration tasks and staff is typically related to the legacy systems of Library 1.0.

Library 0.0 (the catalog card era) had only one type: the expert staff user, also known as “librarian“.

Library 2.0 (also known as “next generation” library systems) will probably also have only one type of staff user that is needed in the libraries themselves: and I guess we will call these library staff users “system librarians“. These future system librarians will have knowledge of and experience in library and information issues, and will take care of configuration of the integrated library information systems at their disposal through sophisticated, intuitive and user friendly web admin interfaces.

The systems themselves will be hosted and monitored on remote servers, according to the SaaS model (Software as a Service), either by system vendors or by user consortia or in cooperation between both. Technical system administration will no longer be necessary at the local libraries.
Cataloging, tagging, indexing etc. will not be necessary at the local library level either, because metadata will be provided by publishers, or dynamically generated by harvesting and indexing systems, and enriched by our end users/clients via tagging. These metadata stores will also be hosted and administered on remote servers, either by publishers or again by cooperative user organisations.

Of course this will have a lot of consequences for the current organisation and staffing of our libraries, but there will be plenty of time to adapt.

System librarians of the world: unite!

2 thoughts on “System librarians 2.0

  1. I would say that what Ex Libris (and we in the UK) term ‘System Librarians’ are essentially ‘Application Administrators’ – as you say, the boundaries are fuzzy, and in the end it has to be a local decision how tasks are divided up between the various teams. In my experience, security often seems to be a major deciding factor – what level of permission do you need to carry out a task.

    I think that getting the right teams with the right responsibilities and the right skills is one of the hardest things to get right with IT system implementations. In the UK HE sector there tends to be a tension between IT department based teams, and Library department based teams – and of course links with staffing and other budgets can make these tensions political as well as practical. Unfortunately I think these issues also lead to problems in the development of the use of IT in Libraries – this question of whether you have library-based expertise, or outsource to IT departments.

    Although I’m in favour of outsourcing some of the system admin tasks to IT – e.g. OS installation and patching, H/W setup and maintenance, I also believe that we need strong technical teams in libraries who can do development as well as application configuration – but it seems to be a fine line to walk, and working with limited budgets having dedicated technical staff for the library system looks like (and possibly is) a luxury.

  2. I have worked in computing most of my adult life. For 6 of those years I was a systems administrator for an College and then for a University. I also have a degree in computing and numerous work related qualifications. However, when I moved to the library systems team 6 years ago I had zero knowledge of library systems. I say all this because I seem to be the odd one out (well in the UK anyway). Most Library Systems people I have met seem to be Librarians that have moved into library systems work. I find this amazing that these people seem to have just as much (if not more) computing knowledge as me when they haven’t the qualifications or experience. I, on the other hand, even after 6 years still feel that my Library knowledge is lacking, which is why I’m think of doing this degree next year:

    So this is why I think there needs to be more emphasis placed upon converging the roles of Librarian and Systems administrator. A degree or qualification in Library and Information Computing Systems might just fill this gap.

    Having said all that you seem to have a different way of looking at it at your institution.

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