Innovative Libraries: Tales from the Stacks


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To be presented at Computers in Libraries, April 17, 2007 by Jill Hurst-Wahl and Christina K. Pikas

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Innovative Libraries: Tales from the Stacks

  1. 1. Innovative Libraries: Tales from the Stacks Jill Hurst-Wahl Christina K. Pikas Hurst Associates, Ltd. The Johns Hopkins Univ. Applied Physics Laboratory
  2. 2. Agenda Why is This Study Important? Research Methods What Our Participants Told Us Conclusions Advice From Participants Q&A
  3. 3. Background 2006: Failing to Innovate: Not an Option – Need to innovative to remain relevant – Could be driven by community needs – Formal processes exist, but… 2007: Pikas & Hurst-Wahl – What could be learned from library leaders? – Are there useful tales from the stacks?
  4. 4. What is Innovation? The creation of a new process or product resulting from study and experimentation. The successful implementation of creativity. It combines free thinking and brainstorming with careful planning, execution, and evaluation of results.
  5. 5. Why is this study Important? The need for real-world analysis on library mgmt. support for innovation – Pressure from all sides to innovate – Seemingly insurmountable barriers The desire to know how successful library managers understand – The role of staff, structure and funding in library innovation – The role of the “user” in innovation
  6. 6. Methods Why Qualitative Research? We wanted to know best practices Lack of data to compile useful survey We wanted in-depth information Make the invisible, visible: librarians frequently don't take credit and brag about themselves!
  7. 7. Methods Purposeful sample Semi-structured interview, flexible Most by phone, one on-site Not recorded Coded & analyzed by C & J
  8. 8. Limitations Time! (Work, school, CIL) Types of organizations Note-taking vs. taped interviews Analysis is a work in progress Limited member checks
  9. 9. Managers From… One special library, 26 FTE employees Two academic libraries – 29,957 students – 3,000 FTE students, two campus Two school library systems – 1 district, 67 schools, 52.8K students – 22 districts, 63 school libraries, 26K student Three public libraries – Inner-city central public library – Mid-size public library with 56 FTE – County library system, 250 FTE
  10. 10. Manager Personality All were amazing, enthusiastic, and smart people. Other traits: – Persistent in dealing with “non-goal oriented, non-team oriented, non-leadership people” (ckp-3) – Able to see the “big picture” or view the “box” from a different angle What would best serve the organization? (ckp-3)
  11. 11. Manager Personality – Proud of staff, system, accomplishments – Willing to ask for permission as well as ask for forgiveness – Model (the verb) behavior
  12. 12. Lucky? Supportive bosses Technology advanced leadership – supportive of getting new tools, even ones that are expensive (jhw-3) Leadership is open to anything (jhw-1) Wonderful staff I'm lucky I have an incredible staff (ckp-4) Pre-existing innovative culture Healthy budgets
  13. 13. Some create their own “luck” Hire amazing people Work with people who are willing to try new things Work around uncooperative people It's all out there but let more interested people find things - they become very positive voices - focusing on early adopters (ckp-4)
  14. 14. Money: Plenty vs. Lack While some were well funded, others found the motivation to be innovative out of their limited funding. “expensive is not equal to innovative!” (ckp-2)
  15. 15. Formal vs. Informal Our participants reported using both formal and informal brainstorming, submission/approval, planning, and evaluation processes “Explore, read reviews, pilot back off or expand” (jhw-3)
  16. 16. Formal Processes Item on staff evaluations – An innovation goal / Expectation to serve… Written into the strategic plan Recognition for innovative ideas Formal Submission & Approval Processes – But...delegated to the lowest level possible Task forces to identify needs, innovations (jhw-2)
  17. 17. Informal Processes: Freedom to Play Innovative library managers do not micromanage their staff. Instead, they allow them time and resources to play.
  18. 18. Informal Processes: Freedom to Play “They try things that they don't know how to do or that are outside of their experience. Put people in that position and it feeds on itself.. increases confidence” (ckp-1) “One branch tried it and now others have picked it up...they all have permission to try” (ckp-2) “Experiment, show it to everyone else, then get permission to put it in production” (jhw-1)
  19. 19. Informal Processes: Innovative Approaches Innovative library managers look for ideas everywhere − other departments – business books − non-LIS conferences – customers And for everything – Shelving – Checking out books – Organizing workflow, work spaces
  20. 20. Informal Processes: Living the Innovative Life “We live it – so things don't seem innovative to us” (jhw-3) “Tech people see themselves as being innovative. Librarians see it as doing their jobs. Constantly evaluating. Matching programs with population” (ckp-4)
  21. 21. Entrepreneurial Role Several mentioned the library as the organization that came up with the ideas, did pilot projects, and then transitioned the functioning program to another department, complete with best practices. “[we] are small business incubator. [funding agency] is the venture capitalist.” (ckp-4)
  22. 22. Entrepreneurial Role The library – has the enterprise view – has access to ideas/vision – can do research – is the home of innovation
  23. 23. There are No Failures We asked each manager about things they'd tried that failed. Overwhelmingly, the managers stated that there were no failures. – Some innovations were too early – Some had unexpected consequences – Some did not have customer/partner buy-in “they were things to bring more attention to what we had, not what we needed to do” (ckp-1)
  24. 24. There are No Failures They learned, identified what didn't work, tried a new approach, got more buy-in/feedback the next time... “Don't worry about mistakes...know that things will break” (jhw-1)
  25. 25. Staff & Structure Need to do more with fewer FTE – One reported 30% less in last 4 years – Flat staff vs. growing user base Limited hierarchical structure Aging staff that needs to work smarter Want staff to be self-motivated “Innovation used to mean hiring more staff. Now innovation means doing more with less money.” (jhw-2)
  26. 26. Mentoring Our participants hire creative, enthusiastic staff, and have them manage projects. The manager offers coaching and mentoring in project management. “Everyone has something that they can feel passionate about, my job is to coach them in how to do something and then they take it to the next level” (ckp-3)
  27. 27. Conclusions Non-innovative Innovative Motivation – Funding – Staff size
  28. 28. Conclusions Atmosphere – Everyone looking for new ideas – Low risk experimentation and play – "Committee of the whole" to bounce ideas off of (jhw-1) Training – Ways to think about innovation – Planning/project management
  29. 29. Advice: Leadership Be committed Embrace technology or promote those who can Be open to successes & failures Have a plan / long-range plan Have courage Make a financial commitment Hire a consultant
  30. 30. Advice: Training Attend workshops & conferences (leadership & staff) Teach techniques that help with innovation Read & share what you read Reward staff for participating in training
  31. 31. Advice: Focus Focus on your users & their needs Make yourself available to your users – Implement their good ideas
  32. 32. Who Inspires Them? Americans for Libraries Public Library Association Council (ALC) (PLA) Cornell University Public Library of Charlotte Mecklenburg County Liverpool (NY) Public Library Richmond (B.C.) Public MIT Library – Ironwood Branch Middle Country Public Smaller college libraries Library- Centereach South Jersey Regional Library Mukilteo (WA) School District Cooperative NY Library Association Topeka and Shawnee County Orange County (FL) Library Public Library System Western Benchmarking Consortium
  33. 33. Final Advice “You have to feel excitement and passion and have fun and laugh and make mistakes and feel it and these are hard things to do.” (ckp-1)
  34. 34. Contact Information Jill Hurst-Wahl Hurst Associates, Ltd. Christina K. Pikas The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory