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Triaging Technologies

Ambulance photo
Flickr/Etienne Valois, CC BY NC ND

I manage digital services and resources at a small academic library with minimal financial and human resources available. For almost a year, I served as solo librarian for fixing and optimizing the library website, library services platform, electronic resources, workflows, documentation, and other elements of technology management vital to back-end operations and front-end services. Coping with practical limitations and a vast array of responsibilities, I resorted to triage. In triage management, the primary consideration is return on investment (ROI) – how stakeholder benefits measure against time and resources expended to realize those benefits.

Condition Black: The technology must be replaced or phased out because it is dysfunctional and impossible to fix. Into this category fell our website, built with the clunky and unusable Microsoft SharePoint; our laptops running Windows XP and too old to upgrade to a more current operating system; and our technology lending service, for which we had no funds to upgrade the dated technologies on offer. Down the road we might write this last item into the budget or solicit donations from the community, but at the time, the patient was DOA.

Condition Blue: The technology is current, optimal for user needs, and can be left essentially to run itself while library technology managers focus on more urgent priorities. Into this category fell the recently upgraded hardware at one of our campus libraries, as well as LibCal, a study room booking system with faultless performance.

Condition Green: The situation requires monitoring but not immediate intervention, not until higher-order priorities have been addressed. This was the situation with OCLC WorldShare Management Services (WMS). This LSP offers only limited functionality—scandalously to my mind, subscribers still have to pull many reports via FTP. But the platform is cheap and handles the core functions of circulation, cataloging, and interlibrary loan perfectly. For us, WMS was low-priority.

Condition Yellow: The situation needs to be salvaged and the system sustained, but it is still not quite the top priority. In this category fell the OCLC knowledge base and WorldCat discovery layer, which in Hodges University’s instance experiences incessant link resolution issues and requires constant monitoring and frequent repair tickets to OCLC. A screwy discovery layer impacts users’ ability to access resources as well as creating a frustrating user experience. BUT I decided not to prioritize knowledge base optimization because the methodology was already in place for triaging the crisis. For years my colleagues had been steering students directly toward subject databases in lieu of WorldCat.

Condition Red: The system is in dire need of improvement – this is Priority 1. Into this category fell the library’s content management system, LibGuides. My first priority on taking over web services was to upgrade LibGuides to Version 2, which offers responsive design and superior features, and then to integrate the entire library website within this new-and-improved CMS. I would also argue that internal customer service falls into this category – staff must documentation, training, and other support to do their work well before they can exceed expectations for external customer service. These are the critical priorities.

A few additional points.

1. Library technologists must revisit traige placements periodically and reassess as needed. Movement is the goal – from conditions Red to Blue.

2. Library technologists must eschew using triage as a stopgap measure. Triage is vital to long-range planning in terms of budget allocation, project management, and other responsibilities. Triage is planning.

3. Where each priority is placed in a triage system is contingent on local needs and circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all generalization.

How do you use triage at your library? Is it a useful approach?

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