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What's My Line? The Evolving Role of the INNOPAC System Coordinator

Ilene Rockman, California Polytechnic State University
Fred Gertler, Santa Clara University
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Fred Gertler, Head Electronic Services at Santa Clara University and Ilene Rockman, Associate Dean of Library Services at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo jointly presented this session on the changing roles and needs of the INNOPAC systems coordinator. Gertler opened the session noting that what INNOPAC coordinators currently do is quite different than what they began doing years ago. Now technical knowledge is a must and the pace of change means coordinators end up troubleshooting problems well outside the INNOPAC system. In fact, many systems librarians are not librarians at all; others were hired as support staff or technicians, and assumed some system responsibilities as changes set in. In many libraries, the OPAC is often a smaller percentage of the overall library responsibilities as work becomes more complex and responsibilities broaden. Since these changes are happening across the discipline, it is important to remember that whatever the challenges, you are not alone.

Gertler described the INNOPAC coordinator as a symphony conductor. Although everyone is working from the same score, the coordinator must know how to blend the components to make the system work. The coordinator also often has to be the one to represent what is happening to those who have the purse strings and make institutional decisions. Santa Clara University converted its manual system to INNOPAC in 1991 as a software only site. Gertler was hired to coordinate activity between the law and main libraries, two separate cultures and staffs. He is now also in charge of the web page, CD network, and anything else called electronic in the library. A new position with university-wide training responsibilities now reports to him. It helped that he developed a good working relationship with academic computing. Gertler reports to the Library Director, who is in charge of making systems recommendations on behalf of the library.

Rockman has been the Associate Dean at Cal Poly since 1991 with supervisory responsibilities for the OPAC and library-wide systems support. In 1994-95 she coordinated the migration to and implementation of INNOPAC (hardware and software) from another library automation system. She has a larger staff than Gertler, maintains good working relationships with the various computing departments on campus, and represents the library on committees charged with administrative computing needs and information resource management, policy, and planning issues. She and her staff are similarly in charge of the nebulous "electronic services" which cover everything from troubleshooting, support, and maintenance of hardware and software to managing library-wide e-mail system and web servers. Rockman focuses on the broad level vision and planning issues, but gets down to the operational level when necessary. Her goal is for systems to blend seamlessly with other service areas in the library and on campus. She reports to the Dean of Library Services.

Rockman and Gertler note that internal and external forces are rapidly changing the roles they and others play in their institutions. Advances in technology, hardware and software, web/java developments, increased demand for learning/productivity tools linked to the OPAC, availability of electronic resources in multiple formats, and changes in networking all challenge the current status of access, delivery, and teaching. Our decisions are further complicated by Innovative's decisions, increased demands for accountability and efficiency from parents and legislators, and internal restructuring for increased productivity. The desire to move forward, however, must be balanced with the need to continue supporting, at the same level, what is already working. Consortia and buying clubs add to our ability to afford new resources, but staff must then creatively integrate these into the technological mix in order to make them available. Gertler notes the challenge of learning about each new incremental piece. In addition, new staff is usually not added.

The old roles don't fade away as the new ones emerge. We still need to communicate with staff and users, troubleshoot, provide secure systems, formulate policies, write programs, and educate staff and users. To meet the new challenges, Rockman noted, it is no longer enough to work 40 hours per week. Staff must continuously keep learning to maintain currency by reading appropriate technical listservs and magazines, even walking aisles in computer stores to keep up, authoring web pages, helping with interface design, and providing many more services. But everything can't be a priority. Gertler suggests that he must either find additional resources or learn to manage expectations so the community understands what can be feasibly delivered.

Competencies for the systems librarian role are changing as well. Adaptability, time/management and communication skills, flexibility, creativity, and a good customer service orientation are essential. The INNOPAC systems coordinator is also a necessary agent for change in the institution. Rockman emphasized that the pace of change demands staff with the technical knowledge to integrate the OPAC with other library vendor systems and other library services (e.g. web classes, document delivery services). Staff with these skills may not always be coming from library schools. In fact, many systems librarians are no longer librarians.

In closing, Gertler emphasized that it is important to celebrate your accomplishments and recognize that you are not alone. Talk to reference and computing staff, forge new friendships and partnerships. And keep making the magic happen.

In the question and answer period that followed, one participant in the session noted that staff in small libraries have even a greater challenge as one has to do everything, sometimes including reference and/or cataloging in addition to systems work. Another noted that the norm in most institutions was to pick up computer knowledge on the way and do what you can. A 1994 graduate of Simmons College defended her education by saying she had gained considerable technical competence through independent studies offered at the school.

Recorded by: Barbara Valentine, Linfield College

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