There was a good comment to a post on Library/IT that really succinctly brought out a viewpoint that is probably the common approach to IT relationships.
Why shouldn't librarians treat IT as vendors?
First, I like the way my director put it: IT departments are enablers - but I think we are talking about essentially the same concept. (Note: all this is from the perspective of academic health centers. I fully recognize that different industries and different libraries must have different visions and different approaches to IT. One size does not fit all). Yes, IT's core role is as an enabler, particularly in health sciences. So why do I think we need more than: "Why not learn enough IT to be able to (1) make your needs clear to IT people, (2) know what is currently possible, and (3) smell bull-whacky?" Well, because there is such great potential for libraries, for IT and most importantly for our customers (a.k.a. users). Yes, to start - we can follow Willem's advice to learn enough to meet the three objectives, and that would put most of us in a better position than we currently occupy; but I want more. Libraries and IT have an opportunity to join together to create something that not only enhances both individual fields, but also can bring new depth, connections and knowledge to those we serve.
Libraries. Libraries have a rich history of organizing and disseminating information - information and knowledge management and fostering knowledge growth.* Throughout history, libraries have evolved to meet current technology in a way that maximizes the above mentioned goals/mission. Today, information and knowledge transfer have reached new levels of integration with the technology of their dissemination. Information is no longer just about the words printed on scrolls or books, information transfer happens through the method we use to deliver that information. Finding information isn't about finding the right book, it is about having the right IT tools at the right time. To say IT is just the next step after books in this aim is to deny the huge potential that IT presents. Delivering information at the point of need calls on so many particulars, from having the information, to the tools to find the information amidst the exploding sea of data, the user knowledge of utilizing the systems, and delivering not only the information but access to the information where it is needed, when it is needed. What libraries lack is a true integration that enables the best use of information and creates underutilized information and lost knowledge from less than ideal information and knowledge management. What was good enough for yesterday just is not good enough for today. Information and information needs have changed.
IT. Information technology is about enabling information transfer in a way that is usable by its customers. It is about delivering the data at the point of need. IT creates the essential pathways and tools necessary for data transfer. What IT lacks is the bigger picture vision of information and knowledge management and creating good information users, and application of that vision to its systems and pathways. What libraries can bring is that vision, an important perspective on knowledge transfer and information organization from the end user perspective and the ability to teach end users.
What users can get out of this is a richer, deeper information base that more fully meets their needs at the point of need. While I have not quite got a clear big picture on the totality of ways this can truly be better than the current modus operandi, I do see particular areas that can benefit greatly, like internal operational knowledge bases and institutional repositories (especially in research organizations) and educational tools.
I want to keep developing this vision, so you may hear of it from time to time, and of course, I'd love to hear what you think.
*Yes, there are the aspects of public good, fostering democracy and public discourse, intellectual property, etc. I am not saying these are the only things, just the ones on which I am focusing.