Monday’s Improving Society Question

Lankes describes innovation as being “at the heart of librarianship.” If you were working in a library that seemed overly averse to taking risks or testing new ideas, how might you sway them to instead value and promote an innovative atmosphere? How might you address their potential concerns about risking certain resources (financial or otherwise) in unproven or uncertain efforts? Or do you perhaps instead feel that libraries should be especially cautious in especially uncertain times?

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  • Erin Lee

    I am not sure how to answer this but I do have a comment to make.  Often, even if, as an employee, you manage to get the library manager to agree to what you want to do, their hands are tied by those above them.  In the college library I worked in there was a whole hierarchy above the librarian, who stipulated what the library was and was not allowed to do.  So often we will have to convince out boss and then rely on them to carry the concept to a higher body and fight for it on our behalf.

    I would say that you have to have evidence of success which you can present to your library colleagues and give them a good sense of how it can succeed.  Start small and build up to your ultimate goal…I have found that many non-innovative libraries are such because they don’t want to leave their comfort zone.  If you slowly guide them to change without making a massive leap into the unknown then they will be more likely to follow.

    • Anonymous

      One of the points made in the book that I thought was interesting was how innovation often comes in the form of implementing a small tweak to an existing practice/system, which, if done right, can ultimately have big results. I think keeping this in mind coupled with the approach you describe of slowly guiding a library towards change efforts, may help in many of the difficulties in getting innovative efforts going.

      More dramatic, larger-scale attempts at being innovative are likely going to be an intimidating prospect to a number of people–either those at the top who have to greenlight something like that, or those that have become, as you mention, overly comfortable in established routines. Large-scale efforts can even seem intimidating to those who DO want to make big, sweeping changes, but don’t feel confident in their ability to lead change like that themselves.

      Focusing on efforts that are somewhat smaller in scale or more gradual in nature probably may not be the end goal one should settle for in pushing a library towards adopting a more innovative attitude, but it seems like a very good way to start.

      Or would others perhaps feel it’s better to light a fire, so to speak, under an organization as soon as possible, pressuring those at all levels of management to pursue change quickly to serve the people of a quickly changing world? If so, how could you best make your case?

    • Erin O’Connell

      I absolutely agree with starting small and providing evidence, with the hope of reaching a larger goal. But what do you think about innovation/change during difficult financial times? Should we even be thinking of change? Or should we always be thinking of change? I wonder if we have to be more cautious in order to avoid backlash from the community.

      • Anonymous

        I think that sometimes difficult financial times necessitate change the most.  You’re right that it’s important to avoid backlash from the community.  It’s probably best to take risks on things with less potential financial loss for that reason.  However with so many budgets being cut or questioned, innovation is a way for librarians to prove our worth.  While we may not need a revolutionary change, the right innovations could prove to the people deciding budgets that libraries are a worthwhile investment for the community.

        • AmyBehr

          The librarian that I interviewed for one of my classes told me how
          difficult it was for her to cut through the red tape in terms of
          implementing new projects.  Especially in a public library, everything
          is political.  The director told me that most of her efforts are spent
          on providing the town council with legislation to ensure that the
          library continues to get any funding whatsoever.  Therefore,  while
          innovation is a great thing and I personally would promote taking the
          risks, the reality is that in many situations, libraries are struggling
          to simply maintain what they have.  It is quite the paradox.  We can’t
          maintain and keep libraries around if we don’t take the risks and
          innovate.  Yet, we also cannot  take some of these risks for fear of losing the library altogether.  This conflict, I feel, may tend to alienate the library director from the general staff…

          • Anonymous

            That’s a good point.  I hadn’t thought about the ways politics and bureaucracy can shut down change.  

          • Anonymous

            Indeed, if certain elements of the community aren’t wild about funding the bare-bones functions of libraries in a time of tight budgets, they certainly won’t be eager to support efforts that look to expand existing functions or experiment with improving things.

            If that’s the economic reality for many, then I suppose we have two options that both need to be acted upon. First, to do the best with what we’ve got, and second, to actively try to change community attitudes about funding and support for the library.

            A public library director I spoke to said she sets aside 1% of the budget each year for innovation efforts and gives her employees time during the work week where they get away from some of their more everyday duties to develop new ideas. Despite the relatively small investment (that is, there was no large grant awarded or special staff brought on), she saw some very positive results that both the community and the board of supervisors were very impressed with. This led to more freedom in developing further innovative projects.

            Now, maybe some libraries cannot even afford to spare that 1% of their budget or cannot afford to occassionally pull staff aside. But many libraries could take a similar approach, I think, in looking to work well within their means (even if they’re not satisfied with what they currently have) to try to come up with some demonstrable success stories.

            Because, ultimately, if a library is able to do well in improving their ability to serve the community, they should have an easier (if still not easy) time making their case that further efforts should be supported by that community. One of the problems here, though, is that for this plan to work, you would need rather immediate successes to showcase. For some libraries, the very real benefits of the trial and error approach Erin describes may be a luxury not available to them, as even small failures may halt future efforts to pursue success.

            So perhaps as we work in terms of small-scale innovation within the libraries, we have to look to make larger-scale changes outside of the libraries. We should perhaps look to continue and expand existing activism promoting the benefits and necessity of libraries in our society. Unfortunately, as resources dwindle, the benefits may shrink with them, and with rapid technological and social change, public perception of their necessity is changing, too (though mistakenly so, many would argue).

            Adaptability is key to survival for libraries, as it is for all things. That adaptability applies not only to evolving to thrive within a changing environment of user needs, but also adapting to a changing financial environment. If economic or political restrictions are hampering our ability to change, then we can try to succeed with the limited resources available, and we can try to increase the amount of resources alloted. But no matter how difficult those tasks may be, we can’t just privately lament that the current enviornoment is a harsh one to survive in*.

            Obviously, this is all very easy to say and very hard to do. So, returning to somewhat more practical concerns, what kind of library innovation projects might show clear value with little investment? Have you seen any in working at or visiting libraries? And what kinds of efforts or arguments do you think might help sway public opinion to be more in favor of supporting libraries in these efforts? Have you learned anything that might be useful in this by talking to people you know about libraries?

            *(I’m not suggesting that this is what you were doing, Amy. Just trying to expand on the issues brought up by the difficulties you describe).

          • Matthew Gunby

            There is actually a class offered next semester titled, “Innovation in Public Libraries” and I am really interested to see what ideas are out there for dealing with these extremely difficult questions.  Even if it is not a class you can take or not a field you are planning to pursue it might be worth sitting in on occasionally just to see what kind of ideas are out there.  That is assuming you can sit in on the course, I am told there are some you can (511 comes to mind).  It might also be of use to set up a listserv or wiki labeled “Success Stories in Public Libraries” or something more grandiose sounding that puts in one place various ideas that have worked in given communities, not to guarantee they will work elsewhere, but to at least provide concrete examples of where success has occurred in public libraries.

      • bkeefe

        Not a member of this class, but interested in the discussion.

        I agree with that employers and managers need evidence that the
        innovation will succeed.  However, if you have evidence of the same
        programme being implemented elsewhere, then how innovative could your
        strategy be?

        With the idea about change during difficult times, my experience working in a special library is that change happens regardless of whether the person holding the purse strings wants it to.  If you don’t embrace change and innovation, other problems will arise that will cost your organization more in the end when the organization has suffered some huge catastrophe, AND the proposed solution or innovation must be adopted anyways.

  • Anonymous

    We talked about in class the importance of trying new ideas, assessing if they are successful, and if not stopping them before spending anymore time or money on them. I think for innovation to work in libraries, we have to be willing to do some trial and error. That doesn’t mean that the library has to spend millions of dollars on one new project and then have it fail after 6 months. Change can, and often does, start on a small scale. Instead of investing in 20 ereaders, why not try 5? If the demand for the ereaders increases dramatically, than the library can buy more according to the need. Taking small steps and then increasing funding to the project as the demand rises, seems like the right way to go.

    • Anonymous

      We should also think of a system of trial and error not just within libraries but between them as well. All it may take for change to catch on is for a small group or single library to try out an idea and show some success. Given the networking that exists between libraries and librarians, it wouldn’t take much for  positive evidence of innovation to spread.