Why IT pros should be more like librarians

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IT still tends to get a bad rap in the customer service department, and that is largely a matter of poor communication, suggests Dawn Thistle, CIO at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. If IT shops operated more like libraries, customer service--and the shop's reputation--would only improve.

There are two facets to the communications problems that plague a lot of IT shops, Thistle writes in a post at CIOInsight. Not only do IT pros speak in geek jargon, but they fail to communicate adequately with stakeholders while trying to resolve problems. It makes the non-IT people feel bad, and they don't hesitate to share their bitterness with others.

Like IT departments, libraries are service organizations, and they manage "large collections of things," notes Thistle, who used to be the library director at the college. However, libraries tend to have good reputations when it comes to customer service.

Librarians center their attention on users, not on the books and databases they offer. They help users learn the library's technology and they try to give them the tools to find their own answers. This requires considerable communications expertise.

"A primary skill of librarians is being able to conduct the 'reference interview.' This is how the librarian endeavors to find out the patron's real question or information need. Before any answers are provided, a reference interview helps librarians set the groundwork for communicating with users," she writes. "The user will leave the library with his or her problem solved and, as well, with the idea that he or she can always return to that librarian for assistance in the future."

Thistle suggests that IT professionals conduct their own reference interviews and give users a chance to explain their problems. It may require a shift in mindset, but it will lead to improved communication and an improved reputation.

For more:
- see Dawn Thistle's post at CIOInsight

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