As a participant in the College Library Section’s Your Research Coach program I volunteer to assist other librarians conduct a research project that leads to publication or presentation. What I find is that the greatest barrier to publication and presentation isn’t the research, it’s coming up with the right idea for a research topic. Academic librarians can be challenged to find good ideas that seem worth pursuing for further development. So where do you find good ideas, or how do you generate new ideas? Are there techniques available for stimulating new ideas, especially ideas for research projects?
Rachel Singer Gordon gives some suggestions for finding ideas right within your own workspace when she suggests “write about what you know”. She gives some excellent advice but it can be difficult in the static of the constant buzz of the workplace to filter out the noise to find a particularly unique idea. You may really know about information literacy if you deal with it all day, but what new idea can you add to the thousands of articles already in the literature on this topic. I also suggested some ways for how to generate new ideas in something I wrote called “What Works For Me“, but these approaches are based mostly on developing a keeping up regimen, and that might not work for everyone.
Here’s another suggestion. I came across a new webcast presentation that may be of interest to those who want to expand their thinking about idea generation. Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, is captured giving a lecture at MIT on “Innovation Through Design Thinking”. Listen to this discussion of the 3 I’s – Inspiration, Ideations, and Implementation. I think that idea generation is both art and science. Brown presents ideas that can be used in both spheres of idea development
When it comes to generating new ideas and innovation, some folks are better at it than others. But by applying methods identified by those who do it well, those who don’t can boost their idea generation skills. Sometimes, as we find in the Your Research Coach program, polishing a rough idea or turning an idea that can’t be implemented into one that can is often a matter of sharing it with colleagues, brainstorming it, breaking it down and building it up again, and otherwise picking it apart until a new or revised idea emerges. I will continue to share resources for idea generation as I discover good ones.
I tuned in to the College of DuPage teleconference on “Confronting The Crisis in Library Education” that aired on Friday, June 9. You can link to the page describing the program to get the particulars on who presented and what was covered. Did the program offer a library practitioners versus library educators style clash over who’s responsible for turning out qualified library professionals? Not quite. Michael Gorman seemed far more diplomatic than one would have expected given some of his previous rhetoric on the issues. When he started off by saying “Perhaps the word ‘crisis’ is too strong” I thought “Oh boy, we’re in for some kind of lovefest here”.
My main reaction is that there was an air of unreality to the program. By that I mean it didn’t seem to reflect the true degree of disconnect between library practitioners and library educators. It felt as if the presenters danced around a core issue in this debate, that being that most library practitioners perceive that what is being taught at library schools is mostly about information science, that LIS program faculty care little about what practitioners do or need in the way of well-prepared professional librarians, and that most LIS faculty are far more focused on publishing arcane theoretical articles about information science in order to get tenure than they are in finding out what library practitioners need from their students. I’m not saying that’s how I see it, but am basing my statement on comments I see in discussion lists and things I observe and hear at library meetings. Librarians have more angst about library education then you would have judged from this program.
That said I think the program was mostly beneficial in that it laid a good foundation for starting conversations between the two camps so that we can better understand each other and perhaps lay to rest some unhealthy perceptions that have persisted for some time. In fact the idea of “building bridges” was nicely expressed in a short segment from Richard Dougherty, a notable academic librarian and Emeritus Editor of Library Issues. One of the presenters made a good point. She likened LIS program grads to pieces of wood that come with a single coat of varnish, (Ok – maybe not the greatest metaphor) and that it was up to library practitioners to provide the training and development that would add more coats of varnish to bring the wood to a fine polish. As stated previously at ACRLog, it is unrealistic for practitioners to expect LIS programs to turn out finished products. So while it would have been interesting to see some verbal fisticuffs break out on this show, the presenters kept it civil and who knows, maybe this will lead to some better collaboration between library practitioners and educators.