Monday, June 25, 2007

do libraries innovate?

This June 23rd blog posting - - covers a session that was held at ALA this weekend - "The Ultimate Debate: Do Libraries Innovate?" It reminds us where our heads need to be at to get our profession and our organizations to innovate. Key points:

  • Don’t be afraid to be a follower of a new idea.

  • Don’t be afraid to fail.

  • Be willing to re-evaluate the definition of success.

  • "Having a tough hide is necessary..."

Some controversial but interesting points made as well:
- why does it seem like our profession is permeated by a "culture of victimization"?
- "We should get over the idea of requiring an MLS to be useful in a library. Experts of all backgrounds have a role to play."

Like the author of this blog posting, the saying "Change happens from those who show up" resonates with me...

I know that there are plenty of innovative library people roaming around - I've worked with them, met them at conferences, in person, read their blogs, emails, even their "tweets". The question is - do the organizations that they are in allow them to fulfill their innovative potential?

I don't agree that the problem is that librarianship is permeated by a culture of victimization. I think the problem is more one of power and politics... and how these things prevent the development of a culture of innovation in many large library organizations. (Hence why we see so much exciting work happening among our smaller public libraries out there - larger ones have the $$$, but not all of them have the innovative zeal they need to get out of their own way.) There are siloes and hierarchies that too often define what does and does not get done in the library. In all too many libraries, we don't see a meritocracy - a culture that rewards quality ideas - we instead see people who are rewarded for their loyalty to power structures that may or may not deserve that loyalty. I'm not saying that loyalty is bad - but loyalty should be to an organization's mission, better still, to the end-user, not to a specific power structure.

If anything, I'd say that a problem for librarianship is the "know-it-all" mentality that librarians - who are probably a bit too smart for their own good sometimes (yeah, I know, I'm one, too) - sometimes have. I started library school in 1998. It was common then to hear that any librarian could learn to be a techie, but not all techies could learn to be librarians. The arrogance of the statement tended to blow me away particularly back then - when I had no MLIS, but, via my job at that time, found myself repeatedly coaching library personnel who were held in the highest regard through computer tasks that were beyond basic! And that would be ok - I don't mean to discourage anyone - we all start from where we start from... but then we can't allow the profession to make the kinds of claims that techies are some low-level group... this failure to embrace techies, in fact, probably explains why so little development has originated from the library world. Over time, I do think that many librarians have come to respect technical gurus, but I also think that if a good portion of our profession hadn't let its aloofness toward that group hold it back in the 90s, we would've been able to do so much more - developing partnerships with the people who have transformed the internet to the web and the web to web2.0 and who are working on web3.0...

In fact, that's what we should all be turning to right now - we shouldn't be fighting among ourselves, debating issues that only hold us back. Instead, we should all agree that the next step for us is to play a vital role in the development of the semantic web. We all need to work together, some of us need to become XML-literate, all of us need to become more aware - and to get on board with the next steps towards the semantic web.

We need to work with one another, share knowledge, and progress more quickly than we have been progressing. Digital Archives? All of that content shouldn't be locked up inside - make it portable, participative, part of a larger conversation! And honestly - explode that OPAC - no vendor should dictate a lousy experience for your users - you know them best so rebuild your web-based tools around them!

Now you know what you have to do - and you know that it's too big a job to do entirely alone - so find some productive collaborators (this is key, because if your "collaborators" are pulling against you, you're better off going it alone)... so start doing it!

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