Do Libraries Innovate: Blogging at ALA

Check out this quasi-transcript (and this one too) of the session “The Ultimate Debate: Do Libraries Innovate?” Topics discussed include why libraries aren’t innovative, the relationship between IT profession and library profession, and how to promote change in an professional organization (ALA)–all very relevant to art librarians/VR curators. ALA conference program description:

The Ultimate Debate: Do Libraries Innovate?
Track: Transformation & Innovations
Libraries did not invent Google Book Search, Library Think, Facebook, or any other innovation critical to the new information era/knowledge economy. We make use of these inventions. But is that enough? What prevents us from being more inventive? Join four thought-provoking speakers for a debate on these questions and a search for answers.
Speakers: Roy Tennant, California Digital Library; Stephen Abram, SirsiDynix; Joseph Janes, University of Washington; Karen Schneider, Florida State University

We’ve discussed changes we’d like to see in ArLiS/NA, but maybe the question “Do [Art] Libraries innovate?” would be help us get to the root of the issue. I think that innovation can increase the significance, not to mention status, of our profession and professional organization. We are an imaginative, resourceful group of people who value creativity (in visual art, architecture and other fields) — it follows that art librarians would or could be an innovative group of professionals. What do you think?

2 Comments on “Do Libraries Innovate: Blogging at ALA”

  1. Bryan Loar says:

    I don’t think libraries innovate, and I think it is partially due to general perceptions (i.e. the library is a repository for books – SEE: 2003 OCLC Environmental Scan: Pattern Recognition).

    MLIS programs have tried to incorporate the technical side of innovation by having dual programs or at least tracks in information technology (e.g. Drexel’s MS/MSIS program)

    Don Barlow, Dir of the Westerville (OH) Public Library, has said on numerous occasions that an org like ALA really needs an R&D department in order to stay ahead of the curve.

    I see art & architecture librarians being instrumental in the design of information retrieval systems that deal specifically with their users’ perceived/actual needs as well as not-yet-realized needs. Both the structural qualities (i.e. organizational) and graphic user interfaces (GUI) of future systems would benefit from the collaboration with such librarians.

    It is interesting to me that they mention “Library Thin[g]” because the founder & developer, Tim Spalding, has credited library data as superior and his first hire was a librarian (SEE: Fifteen Million Books!). Moreover, it wasn’t like Tim or the other examples listed in the above abstract came up with something completely original–instead they tweaked. Google Book Search brought full-text searching to a once closed container system (i.e. the book) and has hosted it on the Web (sounds like a mashup to me). Library Thing makes someone’s inventory of their library sociable. Facebook/MySpace brings together diaries (blogging), grade-school note passing (Comments), and social cliques (groups). Really, to be innovative using these exemplars, you just have to combine what people have already done & deliver the service in an easy, already accepted medium (the “already accepted medium” is pretty important — e-books anyone?).

    I’ll concede that it is easier said than done; however, if you have the right elements, things should fall into place. I’d argue you would need:

    1. Visionaries – folks who can see immediate or future needs
    2. Architects – folks who can create systems that address those needs
    3. Implementers – folks who can place the system in place & also act as an authority on the system
    4. Culture – this would be the public realm which accepts or rejects the system

    (Adapted from “The Cycle of Continuous Change” figure in Lawrence, T. B., Bruno, D., Maitlis, S., & Mauws, M. (2006). The Underlying Structure of Continuous Change. MIT Sloan Management Review, 47(4), 59-66. )

    This type of system is continuous where each step informs the next step & step 4 informs step 1.
    I think multidisciplinary collaboration will be absolutely necessary for libraries. In order to become true innovators, librarians will need to stretch their own skills as well as partner with atypical organizations to create truly innovative products & services. These products & services will help change general perceptions within the public, and, thus, affect the culture that libraries are positioned within.