Bridging the Gap Between Librarians and Developers

Creel, James
Guzman, Allyssa
Slater, Dustin
Washington, Anne
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Texas Digital Library

In libraries, we’ve traditionally worked to navigate the divide between public and technical services. However, with the advent of digital libraries and collections, the role of the IT department has expanded within the library, bringing with it a new divide. As libraries hire more domain experts and technical staff, we must bridge the divide between library scientists and professionals with an information technology (IT) background. Confusion arising from discipline-specific vocabulary is one problem. As a trite example, we were witnesses to a particularly heated debate between librarians and developers over the meaning of the word “database.” Additional problems can stem from a lack of understanding of complex discipline-specific workflows. Developers can struggle with the nuances of curation tasks they try to support, while librarians may be unfamiliar with the development and deployment processes required to provide applications. In severe cases, simple disagreements and misunderstandings can become frustrating enough to engender adversarial working relationships.
A strong area of common ground between the library and IT communities is the pursuit of sustainable solutions. Developers often feel pressure to provide quick turnaround for application delivery – this is exacerbated in the context of grant-funded projects with hard requirements and deadlines. At the same time, librarians have a duty to preserve as much as possible of the scholarly record, including its usage and impact, for posterity. This is a unique set of pressures for practitioners in the field of IT. The result can be deployed applications that are poorly tested and hard to customize and maintain. Smart project management, specifications, and accurate estimates are necessary to avoid this outcome. This can only be achieved through close collaboration between IT and library stakeholders. This panel presentation will bring together librarians and IT professionals from multiple universities to discuss the challenges that they face in collaborating across departments. Presenters on this panel will reflect on their experiences collaborating within libraries on IT projects, barriers they encountered, and strategies they employed to bridge gaps. Questions we will discuss include: •How can librarians and developers develop a common language, understanding, and trust around collaborative projects? •How do we work together to balance the often conflicting desires of departments? For example, how do we balance the desire on the part of IT to build secure systems with campus authentication with the desire on the part of the digital scholarship department to make a tool available to users around the world? •How do we develop sustainable projects and applications while remaining realistic about time, costs, and trade-offs?

Presented by Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Houston, 4C | Bridging the Gap Panel, at TCDL 2019.