Monthly Archives: June 2011

Ideas For Innovation Are All Around Us

We are subject to a non-stop barrage of information about innovation. Experts give us advice on how to be more innovative. The stories we read in our library literature share news about innovative libraries. Yet we rarely learn how to be innovative. Ask a few librarians what it means to be innovative and you’ll get many different answers. It’s something new. It’s something different. It’s something creative. It’s something that comes from business. I know this because in preparing for a presentation about innovation in academic libraries, I asked many different academic librarians to tell me how they define innovation. The best definition of innovation I have come across defines it quite simply: something new or new for your organization that provides value. The emphasis is on “value”. You can come up with something new, different, unique or creative but if it fails to deliver value to members of your user community – or the library staff – it’s not innovative for them. Sometimes it’s our failures that lead to the real innovation.

Many of us academic librarians think of ourselves as being innovative or we want to be more innovative than we are. Succeeding at it is hard. The challenge is finding ideas that are likely to result in good innovations for your community. I do believe our future relevance (or indispensability if you prefer that) depends on being entrepreneurial and proactive about innovation. Not just innovation in the library, but looking for ways to be innovative in the campus community. That could mean aggresively looking for opportunities, for solutions to problems that students or faculty have, but for which no one is delivering a solution. It may not be a solution to a known problem, but a service or resource that the community needs that has yet to even be sought out. That’s the Apple philosophy – don’t give people what they ask for – give them the things they will want but haven’t even expressed a desire for yet.

Our success and sustainability can no longer be guaranteed by simply doing the same things we’ve always done and which is what everyone expects us to do – and for which they increasingly no longer really need us. When we innovate we seek out new services that provide value to our community members. To my way of thinking, anything that allows them to do something new that they can’t do now, or allows them to do something better, faster, easier, more expeditiously than they can now – that’s a breakthrough innovation. But where do you get the ideas for that? It helps to be an explorer, the type of person who constantly seeks out new mysteries and then seeks to unravel that mystery. It’s like Roger Martin says: All human knowledge is advanced by mystery. The explorer, through diving into new mysteries, will discover what people want to do or need, particularly something they can’t do easily now or that requires great effort.

The opportunities are out there. Here’s an example I want to share. During the first week of May the Chronicle of Higher Education featured a special supplement called “The Digital Campus”. There were several good articles. As I read this one I thought this is just calling out to librarians to get their innovation engines revving up. In “New Technologies to Get Your Students Engaged” author Ryan Cordell shares his techniques for getting students to interact with research material. He writes:

I want my students to conduct research using primary sources. Every year more digital archives publish historical books, magazines, newspapers, letters, tracts, maps, photographs, audio, and film. Delving into those archives allows students (nearly) direct access to materials that were once available only at colleges with extensive special-collections libraries. I’ve asked students in my 19th-century-literature classes to research historically grounded projects using the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America project, an open collection of historical American newspapers.

Cordell also talks about wanting his students to use personal bibliographic management software. He goes on to mention a handful of technology tools he exposes to his students, including Evernote, blogging and Omeka (for organizing digital collections). For Cordell, using these technologies is all about giving students an authentic research experience that enables them engage in his course as scholars.

It’s clear that Cordell is ahead of the curve with these technologies. Yet even he can probably discover resources offered by the library that faculty often overlook. But what about all the other faculty that may be encouraged by Cordell and will want to incorporate more primary research and scholarly engagement into their courses? They may not have the time or technology experience to replicate Cordell’s pedagogy. Who will be there to help them go choose the right technology tools, and help connect their students to primary research materials? We can be there, and that’s where entrepreneurial spirt is required. The ideas are out there. Academic librarians need to supply the drive and enthusiasm to find them, refine them and implement them.

Social Hacking at the Library

I’m always interested to read about ideas that folks outside of librarianship have about libraries. The other day my partner forwarded me a tweet from tech publisher Tim O’Reilly:

Interesting note about an MIT professor who “hacked” (socially) the library as a way of recruiting interesting students http://bit.ly/k4qzrl

O’Reilly links to Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab blog to a brief post by Matt Phillips that discusses an obituary for an MIT professor. The obituary noted that this faculty member kept many library books in his office long after they were due, because:

the library would send him the students who wanted those books, and he would interview them as potential assistants

Phillips goes on to write:

People connect through works held at the library and the library should encourage these connections.

Many of the thoughts that ran through my head after reading this are expressed in the comments for the blog post. How could the library reveal which patron had checked out those books?! Doesn’t LibraryThing (among other social reading tools) already help readers connect over similar interests? And what about the poor students who didn’t feel like going over to that faculty member’s office — wasn’t he holding those books hostage?

While the specifics of this situation are probably somewhat unique to the institution, I do think that providing opportunities for patrons to connect around library collections is an interesting idea. But the privacy concerns are a big deal. Protecting our patrons’ privacy is a core value of librarianship, and revealing to another patron who has checked out a book flies directly in the face of that.

Perhaps we could provide the opportunity for patrons to opt-in to a service that would allow them to connect with other interested readers, to give our users a choice between keeping their reading history private and sharing it. Though I worry that it can sometimes be easier to see the short term benefits of decreased privacy than the possible longer term detriments. With so many services incrementally moving to public by default (yes, Facebook, I’m looking at you) it’s getting easier to share more and more of our information, and it seems like the more we share the easier it gets.

There are also technical issues. Barbara wrote about academic libraries using LibraryThing a couple of years ago, but it seems like most libraries that have added LibraryThing to their catalogs feature tags and related readings only, not the kinds of social connections that are available on the main LibraryThing site. Would it be possible to layer what is essentially social networking on top of our library catalogs? I’m sure the feasibility of this would vary between catalogs. There are some promising social networking applications out there, including open source options like BuddyPress, a plugin for the WordPress blogging platform, which might be a candidate for a social catalog hack.

I’m sure there are lots of other possibilities for making our catalogs (and databases?) more social and helping our readers connect over their shared interests. If you’re experimenting with these kinds of features in your library, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Just Connect: Getting Involved In ACRL

Editor’s Note: This is the finale of our series of posts from the ACRL Emerging Leaders Team about the upcoming ALA Conference in New Orleans. Is it hard to get involved in ACRL? Not really. But if you need some advice on how to get started Tabatha Farney, Web Services Librarian, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Elizabeth Berman, Science & Engineering Librarian, University of Vermont, have some great ideas for you. Headed to ALA? Then get yourself to the ACRL 101 program (details below) to start your path as an active, involved ACRL member. The ACRLog team wishes to thank the Emerging Leaders for all of their contributions.

One of the most popular questions asked at the ACRL 101 session held at ALA Annual is, “How can I get involved with ACRL?” Whether you are a seasoned library professional or new to the profession, the answer is simple: get connected . We asked three former ALA Emerging Leaders, Beth Kumar (EL ‘09), Maliaca Oxnam (EL ‘10), and Kim Leeder (EL ‘08), to talk about their involvement in ACRL and share their best advice to those interested in getting connected with the association.

What is the best advice you can give to a new librarian who is interested in getting involved with ACRL?

Malaica Oxnam, past Chair of the Science and Technology Section (STS), first became involved in ACRL by volunteering to serve on an STS committee. After serving on the committee for two years, she was asked to step into the chair position; from there, she became involved in STS Council and was elected as Chair of STS. She offers practical advice on getting involved: “Get involved with the conversations! Sit in on meetings that interest you. Introduce yourself to others at section social events and most importantly – have fun meeting and working with new colleagues!”

Beth Kumar, Web Editor for the Education and Behavior Science Section (EBSS), wanted to get more involved in ACRL after participating in the Emerging Leaders program. She was encouraged by her supervisor to apply for the Education and Behavioral Science Section (EBSS) Web Editor position, a position that has allowed her to work closely with all the committees and section chairs to keep the website up-to-date. Her advice? “Find a section that suits your interests. ALA can be large and overwhelming, but in a section of ACRL you’ll find other academic librarians who are in similar positions and understand your specific area. If you have a question, don’t be afraid to ask, as I’ve learned much from the listserv, the meetings and programs.”

Kim Leeder, current Chair of the University Libraries (ULS) section, also had a mentor who was involved in ULS and encouraged her to take a committee position while in library school; from there, she gradually moved up the ACRL ladder, moving from committee member, to being asked to chair a committee, to being elected chair of the section. In her experience, “What you get out of ACRL is based on what you put into it, so it starts with putting yourself out there, talking to people and asking for committee appointments, and then once you’ve got one, contributing your best, regularly. If you try one and it doesn’t work, try something else. If you make the effort, it’s bound to pay off. And if you’re feeling discouraged and ready to give up, call me. I’d be happy to help.”

And it is this attitude that keeps the committee sections strong. Once you’re connected with ACRL, you’ll be introduced to new opportunities such as enlarging your professional network and engaging in innovative ideas. Kim shares, “ACRL’s infrastructure provides us with amazing opportunities all the time to meet interesting new people in our field, and to build relationships with those we’ve met before. Conferences and committees and webinars give us the chance to break out of our daily routine and see our work in new ways. It also helps us keep the big picture in mind when we might otherwise become overly focused on our specific job tasks.” Beth and Maliaca agree that by getting involved with ACRL, each have benefited by forming relations with other librarians across the nation. Maliaca believes her involvement on ACRL committees has led to “long-term professional mentorships and friendships that are particularly helpful to lean on when I want to get input from somebody outside my own institution!” So get involved with ACRL and get connected with your colleagues and profession.

Summary of Tips for Getting Involved with ACRL

* Look locally for experienced library professionals already involved with ACRL. They can help introduce to specific committees and become potential mentors.

* Find a committee that interests you. With over 30 division-level committees and over 200 section level committees, task forces, and discussion groups, there will be something for you. Appointments are typically for one or two years, beginning after ALA Annual. While it’s too late to volunteer for a committee position for 2011-2012, it’s never too early to start planning ahead. To volunteer, simply fill out the form by February 2012 and indicate your interests.

* Getting involved with ACRL does not necessitate committee work. There are other ways to get involved, including attending an ACRL conference or workshop and reading and contributing to ACRL listservs.

* Be an active participant. As the joke goes, “Show up, volunteer to do something, do it, become chair.” The more active you choose to be, the more you will get out of your experience.

* Mingle at the ACRL 101 Program at ALA Annual Conference. Stop by on Saturday, June 25th from 8 – 10AM in the Memorial Convention Center, RM 293-295. Learn how you can get involved and meet your ACRL Leadership. It is a great place to network and excellent opportunity to hand out those business cards.

Many thanks to our interviewees:
Beth Kumar (2009 ALA Emerging Leader), Electronic Resources and Serials Librarian at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and the liaison librarian for the College of Education
Maliaca Oxnam (2010 ALA Emerging Leader), Associate Librarian at the University of Arizona and part of their Digital Libraries Team.
Kim Leeder (2008 ALA Emerging Leader), Librarian/Assistant Professor in Reference and Instruction at Boise State University.

Go To ALA To Find New Ideas For Experimentation

Editor’s Note: In this next post, in a series about the upcoming ALA Conference in New Orleans, William Breitbach, a Librarian from California State University-Fullerton sponsored by CLS Section of ACRL, shares his thoughts on how to get more out of your conference experience by going to programs where one is likely to find new ideas for library experimentation. ACRLog will have one more post in this series about the ALA Conference from this year’s class of ACRL Emerging Leaders.

I generally go to ALA and other conferences to get ideas for experimenting at my library. This year’s conference schedule is packed with programs that will likely provide many interesting insights, ideas, and motivation to bring progressive change and innovation to your local campus. Although there are at least 25 sessions I would like to attend, based on my interests in instruction, library assessment, and general innovation, there are a few can’t miss sessions you will find me attending:

* Bringing the Immersion Program Back Home – ACRL’s Information Literacy Immersion Program has no doubt had an impact on countless librarians (including me). However, until now, the work of participants has largely gone unknown outside the local context. This session in bound not only to highlight the impact of ACRL Immersion, but also provide great insights and motivation for librarians wishing to improve their professional practice.

* Demonstrating the Value of the Library: Assessment Tools and Techniques – Anyone interested in implementing some of the recommendations from the ACRL Value of Academic Libraries may want to attend this session. The report identified a number of difficult challenges for libraries, so additional discussion and suggestions for realizing those recommendations will certainly be useful for many of us.

* Making Information Literacy Instruction Meaningful through Creativity – I like the sound of this session for a couple of reasons. First, it is put together by the Instruction Section Interest Group of ACRL who put on some nice programs in the past. And second, it’s objective is to help instruction librarians put a little excitement and creativity into our instruction sessions, something many of us could benefit from.

* Innovation in an Age of Limits – This program has some great speakers and will surely inspire us to be innovative in our practice and is followed by a poster session that will likely invigorate our creative energy.

These are my top picks, but whatever you decide to attend, commit to experimenting with at least one new thing when you return to your campus. Keep this personal commitment in mind as you plan your schedule for the conference. Learning about new ways of doing things, information technologies, and professional practices will help ensure that your institution remains a relevant and vital part of your campus.

You Can Tell Everyone About This PHITE Club

Editor’s Note: Here at ACRLog we are always open to guest posts from academic librarians who want to share a story about an interesting or innovative project at their library. I was attending the Texas Library Association conference when I came upon just such a project at the poster sessions. I had to know what PHITE Club was all about. Once I did, I thought ACRLog readers might want to know about it too. So I asked Ian Barba, Library Technology and Management Services Librarian, and Shelley Barba, Metadata Librarian, both at Texas Tech University, to tell us more about PHITE Club. In their contributed post below, for which we greatly thank them, Ian and Shelley describe what PHITE Club is, what the rules are (of course), and how it has made a difference at their library. If you are looking for a unique professional development program for your library, this may be something worth trying. Just think about it. Challenging your fellow academic librarians to a PHITE! Here’s how it works…

There is more to this idea than just a cheeky title. PHITE (Present Hypothesis in Team Environment) Club was created out of a necessity to engage in scholarship. It is such a large part of our job, and yet there is little that senior academic librarians do to support neophyte librarians in navigating the at times scary world of presenting research in front of a professional audience. And thus, much more out of necessity than creativity, PHITE Club was formed at Texas Tech University Libraries.

We meet once a month on a strictly volunteer basis. At the meeting, a member or group of members will give a presentation which is then followed by appropriate questions and constructive criticism. Near the end of the meeting, that day’s presenter draws the next presenter’s name out of a box containing name slips of those present. That person then has one month to research and prepare a presentation. All library faculty and staff are invited to participate, as long as they are willing to follow the club’s rules.

These rules are:
1) Talk incessantly about PHITE Club
2) Participants should only offer constructive criticism
3) Participants have to PHITE, eventually

The first rule is a twist on Chuck Palahniuk’s first rule. There are no hidden agendas or conspiracies with this club. We just want to practice public speaking and become better at it. If people wish to discuss the club with their colleagues, we encourage them doing so.

The second rule is to support the club as a safe place of growth, not a way to develop new neuroses about presenting. Comments can cover anything about the presentation from the substance of the material presented, to the presenters’ body language, and are always intended to help.

This third rule is important as the goal of the club is professional improvement. Thus the lottery system for choosing the next presenter ensures some amount of buy-in and risk among club members, not to mention just the right amount of fear to keep things interesting. Indeed, the risk of presenting in front of fellow employees is in many ways scarier than presenting at a professional conference.

And, much like its titular godfather, our club is helping junior librarians and library staff overcome the fears that are holding them back. Since the inaugural meeting in October 2009, at least three members have either taken their PHITE Club presentations on the road or made commitments to do so. The feedback we have received since the club was formed has been overwhelmingly positive—particularly regarding the questions and comments portion of the meetings.

We expect to see more presentations premiered in club meetings before given at professional conferences. In fact, at more recent meetings, the club has forgone drawing a presenter at random because there have been willing volunteers—eager for a chance to present in the PHITE Club environment. And while we are proud that we are sharing research across departments and building stronger presentations, it is the environment we are building of which we are most proud. In our small way, we are helping faculty and staff make their library jobs into their library career.