So, in the past year or so I’ve noticed a pretty astounding number of innovative, capable library technologists move from libraries to vendors. [Just some examples. Roy Tennant to OCLC. Nicole Engard to LibLime. Ross Singer to Talis. Andrew Pace to OCLC. Casey Durfee to LibraryThing. Steve Toub to Bibliocommons. There are probably more I’m not thinking of. ]
Now, first let’s get this out of the way: There’s nothing inherently wrong with vendors or working for them. We do indeed need our vendors to have people who are smart and understand technology and have an idea of library futures working for them. Most of these folks have gone to work on interesting and useful projects. I understand (I think) some of the allure here, and suspect that at some point in a hopefully long library career I’ll end up working for a vendor for at least a little while.
Nonetheless,would it be safe to categorize this as a ‘brain drain’? A veritable ‘giant sucking sound’ (blast from presidential election seasons past)?
What does this mean about the library sector? What does this mean for the library sector?
Some people might assume that money is the motivating factor here. While vendors in general probably can pay higher salaries than libraries in general, I’m not sure this is mostly about money. Rather, I think people who realize the huge and potentially exciting changes that are possible and neccessary in the library environment want to work in change-oriented organizations with clear strategic directions, in environments that value innovation, value these people’s work, and let them work on interesting and important projects with other smart, capable, and future-oriented colleagues.
I think most readers will sadly recognize that it is exceedingly difficult to find that kind of environment working for a library.
I’ve been saying for a while that in order to achieve the change that we all realize libraries need, libraries can’t just rely on the vendors delivering an ‘out of the box’ solution–no matter how much we’re willing to pay. It’s by relinquishing all responsibility for innovation to vendors that got us to where we are today, and it’s not a pretty place. Libraries need to participate in figuring out where we are going, and defining the strategic directions to get us there. To be sure, libraries still need vendors, of all kinds. But libraries need to step up and be partners in innovation with their vendors.
I think that without this, the prospects of change are dim. Vendors can’t do it alone, no matter how many smart people they hire. And, if libraries can’t hold on to smart future-oriented people who understand the role technology can play in creating an exciting future for us–the prospects of libraries accepting the mantle of innovation also seem dim.
When was the last time you heard about a brilliant library technology worker moving from a vendor to a library?
: While already thinking about this topic, I happened to read an article in the nyt about yahoo/microsoft recruiting woes:
“Engineers here want to work on tomorrow’s technology, not yesterday’s,” said Bill Demas… “If it’s perceived that Yahoo or anyone else is not focused on the future, it’s going to be very difficult to recruit top people,”