Libraries have undergone significant changes in the last five years, shifting from repositories to learning spaces, from places to experiences. Much of this is due to our growing relationships with our IT, instructional technology, and research colleagues as the lines between technology and library-related work become continually more blurred.
But it’s not always easy to establish these types of partnerships, especially if there haven’t been any connections to build on. So how can you approach outreach to your IT campus departments and individuals?
There are typically two types of partnerships that you can initiate:
1. There is a program already established, and you would like the library to be involved where it wasn’t involved before
2. You are proposing something completely new
All you have to do is convince the coordinator or director of the project or department that having the library become a part of that initiative is a good thing especially if they don’t think you have anything to offer. Easier said than done, right? But what happens if that person is not responding to your painstakingly crafted email? If the person is a director or chair, chances are they have an assistant who is much more willing to communicate with you and can often make headway where you can’t.
Ask if you can attend a departmental meeting or if they can help you set up a meeting with the person who can help things move forward. Picking up the phone doesn’t hurt either-if someone is in their office, they might, just might, be inclined to talk with you as opposed to ignoring the email you sent them days ago which is by now buried under an avalanche of other emails and will be duly ignored.
Always try to send an agenda ahead of time so they know what you’re thinking-that additional time might just be the thing they need to be able to consider your ideas instead of having to come up with something on the spot. Plus, if you’re nervous, that will serve as your discussion blueprint and can prevent you from rambling or going off into tangents-remember, the person in front of you has many other things to think about, and like it or not, you have to make good use of their time!
After the meeting, along with your thank you, be sure to remind them of the action items that were discussed-that way when you contact others within the department to move forward with your initiative they are not wondering what’s going on and why you’re bugging them. Also asking who might be the best person to help with whatever action items you identify will help you avoid pestering the director later-there’s nothing worse than getting the green light then having to backtrack or delay because you forgot to ask them who to work with! From there on out, creating a system for communicating regularly with all those involved in moving forward is your priority. Make sure everyone who needs to be at the table receives an invitation and understands why they are there. Clarify who is in charge and what the expectations of the work are. Assume that they know nothing and the only thing their supervisor or colleague has said is that they will be working with the library on a project.
You might also have to think outside the proverbial IT box when it comes to building partnerships. For example, creating a new Makerspace might not start with IT, but rather with a department who is interested in incorporating it into their curriculum. Of course IT will become part of the equation at some point, but that unit might not be the best way to approach creating this type of space and an academic department would be willing to help split the cost because their students are getting the benefits.
Finally, IT nowadays comes in many forms and where you once thought the campus supercomputing center has nothing to do with your work, finding out exactly what their mission is and what they do, could come in handy. For example, you might discover that they can provide storage for large data sets and they could use some help to spread the word to faculty about this. Bingo! You’ve just identified an opportunity for those in the library who are involved in this type of work to collaborate on a shared communication plan where you can introduce what the library is doing to help faculty with their data management plans and the center can help store that same data.
Bottom line, technology partnerships are vital if libraries are going to expand their reach and become even more integrated into the academic fabric of their institutions. But making those connections isn’t always easy, especially because some units might not see the immediate benefits of such collaborations. Getting to the table is often the hardest step in the process, but keeping these simple things in mind will (hopefully) smooth the way:
1. Look at all possible partners, not just the obvious IT connections
2. Be willing to try different modes of outreach if your preferred method isn’t having success
3. Be prepared to demonstrate what the library can bring to the table and follow through