Archive for January, 2012

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.

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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.

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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.

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