Technical Support Should Be A Core Competency

February 6, 2007

Steve from Blog about Libraries shares a story of a former coworker who “. . . didn’t get an MLS to do that.” Essentially, the person did not believe that she should be expected to help patron with computer-related problems. I can certainly understand the thought – and I am willing to bet that plenty of librarians may well feel that way. As Laura Cohen has suggested, technical support has become sort of an accidental library service, and I suspect that many librarians don’t feel comfortable enough with their own technical skills to provide support to others. I believe that this needs to change – immediately. I agree with Cohen’s assessment that “tech support is a key to our future.” We have no choice about providing technical support to our patrons. How can we possibly justify offering services within our spaces and not support them to the fullest extent possible?

Steve did not agree with his coworkers sentiments and offered three reasons why not: “professions do not stand still, we don’t have a choice, and the jobs that we signed up for may not exist anymore.” These are three great points. Ultimately, there is no choice in the matter. Hardware issues, software problems, and even networking troubleshooting are things that everyone who works in a library needs to know how to deal with. My question is how many of us are at this point where everyone can deal with these issues? I know that where I work we are not where we ought to be – and that this is not necessarily the fault of the library staff.

The ability to troubleshoot computer problems is not something that can necessarily be taught in library school. Sure, everyone who graduates from library school today should understand that technical support will be part of their job. However, what one might learn about troubleshooting technology today will not necessarily be valid in the near future. As operating systems change, new hardware breakthroughs are made, software updates happen, changes in network protocols happen, etc., library staff need to keep pace. It has to be the responsibility of individual libraries (or consortium or support agencies) to keep their staff up to date with  technological change – a sort of continuous professional development program.

Steve writes that “a reasonable response to this post is to ask where the line is. How far should we go to help patrons (because sometimes their expectations for assistance really are more than we can or should provide)?” We do need to make some types of decisions about what we can possibly support. There may be some tough decisions because if we can’t support something we probably shouldn’t offer it. Ultimately, the decisions may be different from library to library. But in some ways, I think we need to come back to Laura Cohen’s idea about how key tech support is to our future. We need to make every effort to provide as much support as we can. Technical support needs to be a key library service – and a core competency for every level of library staff.