Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Techies vs. Non-Techies in and around the Library

A post at LibrarianInBlack today, pointed me to a blog article by David Lee King discussing communication issues between Techies and Non-Techies. This is a subject that I grapple with on a daily basis. As such, I was incredibly interested in reading through all of the different articles and posts - and spent quite a bit of time doing so. One of my favorites was a link to an article entitled How to help someone use a computer by Phil Agre. This article has some great tips about helping people use computers that I think all techies should review often in order to maintain a good relationship with users. Being a techie (and a user) can be difficult - and there is a definite divide between those who understand computers and technology and those who do not. As the primary means of technical support for staff in my library, I am often painfully aware of this technological divide. I have worked hard - very hard to try and bridge that divide.

I think that this divide is the result of a natural tension between technical people and those users they support. Techies have a responsibility to maintain equipment, keep it running smoothly, minimize down time and maintain good security. And they need to do this in spite of users. For many IT people, this makes users a large part of the problem in maintaining equipment. Spyware, viruses and many other problems make maintaining desktops a tricky and difficult task. Users often mistakenly install spyware, open viruses, keep their passwords under their mouse pads and commit many other IT "sins." As a result, many techs feel as if the end user is the greatest threat to security and to computers. However, it is vitally important to note that without users there would be no need for technical support. I constantly remind myself that just because I can spot a virus-infected email and because I can remove spyware myself doesn't mean that this is common knowledge. I am expected to know these things in order to help my coworkers. It is important that users be able to spot viruses attachments and understand about spyware. But, it is my responsibility to give them that knowledge. If we have problems with these things, I can't think of it as a problem with users. There is something else going on - and I need to find a positive way to deal with the situation that empowers users rather than denigrates them. Phil Agre's article has some great tips to help with this.

One of the bizarre things about being a library tech is that I am often on both sides of this natural divide between techs and non-techs. In the library, I am without a doubt The Tech. However, this wasn't always the way that people in the college's IT department saw it. To them, I was another user - one with more requests and more problems than other users. They often did not respect the amount of technology nor the importance of the systems in the library. It took me a long time to convince the IT staff that I had decent technical knowledge, that I knew what I was talking about and that I alleviate some of their burden. I still have to remind them about how firewall changes, network changes etc. will affect our systems. I now regularly attend all IT meetings - and I even think that many of the guys think of me as an honorary IT member. It was a long hard battle to get to this point but I think that this battle has helped me understand the position of the end user a little bit better.

In the meantime, I think that I will put a copy of Phil Agre's article on my bulletin board. I think reading it repeatedly could be a good thing - and help to make me a better tech support person.

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