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In this TEDx clip Grant Lichtman talks about education and teachers.  As I was watching it I found myself substituting “schools” with “libraries” and “teachers” with “librarians” and in doing so found that it maps very well onto the current situation in which libraries find themselves.  The industrial age of education and libraries is over.  I love the term he uses about 9 minutes in — the “cognitosphere”.  We need to look into the unknown future and be comfortable with that.

Interestingly on YouTube the title of this is What 60 Schools Can Tell Us About Teaching 21st Century Skills, while on the Mindshift blog the title is more provocative: Why It’s Time to Stop Talking And Start Acting to Make Change.  I am drawn towards the more provocative version.

I found this series of videos about James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University to be really inspiring.  In particular I like the reinforcement about importance of how a space is experienced.  I do see some potential challenges in ongoing maintenance over time (e.g. 80 different types of chairs) and I wonder what happens when the BookBot is having a bad day.  But overall the planners and designers clearly had savvy, vision and passion and the ability to get past some typical barriers as they took an important leap forward.  Good for them!!

Photo credit: bridgeandtunnelclub.com

The Seattle Public Library is running an online voters guide and checking facts on a range of issues in the Washington State and Federal elections.  Hurray for them.  Their site is called the Living Voters Guide.  It covers some hot-button issues including same gender marriage, legalization of marijuana and charter schools.

A recent blog on the Seattle Times website had a headline calling this a risky experiment, but valuable  and describes how it works and some of the issues that have arisen for the librarians supporting this resource.  I disagree with the headline and the characterization of this as being risky.  This is exactly what our profession should be doing, particularly because we can assess, evaluate and curate information sources so well.

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BTW, as you can see I have taken an extended break from blogging here.  I’m now focusing on getting back into it on a more regular basis.

Photo credit: St. Louis County Library

Speaking recently in Colombia, bestselling author Jonathan Franzen decried the emergence of eBooks, apparently saying that impermanence of eBooks is incompatible with enduring principles.  I disagree.  I think the two are unrelated.  His comments remind me of Clifford Stoll’s book, called Silicon Snake Oil, that was published in 1996 and so badly predicted that the Internet would not live up to the predictions that many were making at the time.  He was entirely wrong, in part because he did not imagine the savvy adaptations that would emerge in the decade after his book was published.  He also did not imagine the widespread adoption of digital technologies into everyday life.

I feel that Mr. Franzen in making a similar mistake.  One compelling statistic is the dramatic rise in ownership of eBook readers and tablet computers in late 2011, as announced by the Pew Research Center.  Ownership by adults for both kinds of devices rose from 10% to 19% in just over a month.  That’s compelling data, strongly demonstrating the digital shift that world is undergoing.

Libraries are struggling to keep up with the eBook phenomenon, hampered in part by rapidly shifting relationships between themselves, publishers and eBook vendors that broker licenses, access and prices between publishers and libraries.  It’s a world where the sands will continue to shift for a while.

That said, I find it very interesting that one well-known U.S. bookstore, Barnes & Noble, is gearing up for the eBook future and challenging Amazon and its Kindle.  The New York Times described the efforts in a recent article.  It’s an uphill battle and it’s clear from the article that publishers are aware of the challenge that B&N faces.  A debate on this morning’s CBC radio program Q, which covers the arts, explored the tension between online bookstores such as Amazon and independent bookstores.

There is a growing consensus that there is a symbiotic relationship between eBooks and printed books, between online vendors and in-person, real life stores where you can talk to a sales rep and walk out with a printed-on-paper, bound book in your hand.  I agree.  It’s not either or, but rather that reading and the demand for books is multiplying because of both.  They leverage off of each other.

Libraries must continue to stay on top of trends and issues related to eBooks and innovate as needed if THEY are to stay relevant as the landscape changes.

Firstly, I’m really pleased I’ve been approved to do a presentation at the BC Library Association conference in May.  Two other presenters will join me to talk about innovative organizational culture in libraries, using the nine principles that I described in my January 9th post.

I’m also following other initiatives that show early promise for breaking new ground and connecting libraries with innovation.

The Harvard Library Innovation Laboratory consists of a small group of tech-savvy librarians trying out ideas by creating them in usable form. As they say on their site, much of the software they build will be simply proof-of-concept, as opposed to production-quality code, but some will be developed more fully.  Check out the site for more detail about three of their projects, ShelfLife, StackView and LibraryCloud and a number of their investigations.

The Library as Incubator Project is focusing on arts by featuring (according to the site):

  • “Visual artists, performing artists, and writers who use libraries in their communities for inspiration, information, and as gallery space;
  • Collections, libraries and library staff that incubate the arts, and the ways that artists can use them effectively;
  • Free-to-share resources for librarians looking to incubate the arts at their libraries;
  • Ideas for artists looking to connect with their communities through library programming.”
These are indeed very positive developments for libraries and those who use and support them.  There have been many recent forecasts that the end of libraries is nigh.  These and other initiatives could prove those forecasters to be wrong.

One of the purposes of this blog is to feature and explore innovation in libraries.  Staying relevant and succeeding in the coming decade will require that libraries undergo reinvention and renewal through intentional, ongoing practices within our organizations and in partnerships with others.  Using the so-called “Google 9” principles of innovation (there are several variations around the Web), I am proposing the following adaptations and elaboration for libraries:

1. Ideas come from everywhere — anyone in any unit or department, regardless of position can propose an innovative idea and it will be considered.

2. Innovation, not instant perfection – test early and often and evaluate based on small versions or pilot projects.

3. License to pursue dreams – allow individuals opportunities and flexibility to pursue ideas and concepts that interest them (and that are relevant to creating/sustaining an innovative organization).

4. Morph projects, don’t kill them – there are often useful, effective elements of programs or services that can be preserved or transferred to a renewed or updated version or to other initiatives.

5. Share as much information as you can – ensure internal mechanisms are in place that enable collaboration.

6. Users, users, users – continually bring their focus and feedback into discussions around planning, implementing and evaluating programs and services.

7. Data is apolitical – organizational hierarchy, authority and influence still matter, but be rigorous in the use of metrics.

8. Creativity loves constraints – articulate the vision, then set parameters for available resources and timelines or deadlines.

9. You’re brilliant?  We’re hiring – recognize innovators when you see them, hire them if you can, or if you can’t, consider collaboration or other ways to get them involved.

While innovation is commonly tied to technology, it’s also important to focus on non-technological means to find new and creative ways of offering or supporting programs and services that are linked to the needs of users.

A few years ago when I gave a presentation on the future of libraries I used a prediction offered by Professor Joseph Janes from the University of Washington’s iSchool, that a library is essentially made up of five basic categories:

  1. Stuff
  2. Help
  3. Place
  4. Values
  5. Interaction

After my presentation the participants broke into small groups and discussed what might change for each category as well as what might stay the same and what factors will likely influence what libraries will be doing in the future.

Recently there have been some news stories that focus on public libraries that are offering high-tech “hackerspaces” or tech shops as part of what their services.  The Fayetteville Free Library in New York State is developing a “Fab Lab”, a free high-tech space that allows users access to machines and software in order to design and fabricate things.  What things, you might ask?  So far except for 3D printing the predictions are a little vague.  The products will be most likely be moulded out of plastic (although the high-tech fabrication machines also work with wood and other materials), they will be three dimensional, and they are meant to be functional; lots of opportunity for the DIY set, in other words.

The Allen County Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana has another example they are calling the TekVenture Maker Station.  TekVenture is a non-profit organization with a tag line that speaks to interconnecting imagination, technology and community.  It and the library are partners in this small but ambitious endeavour.

TekVenture Maker Station (photo credit: TekVenture.org)

It’s much too early to know whether these efforts will be adopted more broadly and become more mainstream.  But they do speak to all five of the library categories offered by Prof. Janes.  In this case the users create the stuff with the help of the library that provides a place for learning through interaction or collaboration with partners so that creators can interact with others in their own learning.  As for values, Allen County Public Library’s director, Jeff Krull says that libraries are “in the learning business and the exploration business and the expand-your-mind business”, and so he says, the Maker Station fits with the library’s mission.

If you want to hear the radio coverage of these efforts that was aired by CBC’s Spark program here is the link to the podcast of the episode (#166).  Scroll down to the audio portion called “Hacking the Library”.

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