Managing Innovative Personalities for Successful Library Innovation

I have spent the past seven years working to lead an organization into a new culture of innovation.  Saying it has, at times, been a struggle is tantamount to saying that Everest is a bit steep.  Whenever I find challenges, I always look inward as much as at the environment to find any potential challenges to success or meeting my goals.  As a result, I have spent much of those seven years learning to hone my management and leadership style into one that creates, or if not ‘creates’ then at least ‘allows for’ or ‘encourages’ an environment where Innovation will flourish.  I have come to understand that the primary component in this effort is the cultivating and managing of innovative people.  Unless you intend to be a one-person show (which I seriously discourage as it will ultimately be unsuccessful in an organization/team setting and just plain leave you exhausted) you must surround yourself with other personalities, minds and skill sets that will hopefully meld into a force that creates and drives Innovation.

During my years of honing, I have discovered that all too often it is not being able to find these innovative minds, or not being an organization culture that does not allow them to create, explore and innovate that is the difficulty.  The challenge comes in reigning these necessarily strong, independent and creative minds into a productive and strategic focus.  If not handled careful, a manager/leader can frustrate their innovative thinkers into giving up, becoming a destructive rather than productive force, or ultimately leaving your organization all together!  This management/leadership dance is a delicate and intricate one that I have never found to play out the same way twice. It is simply a dance you learn through experience that allows you, hopefully, to manage your creative people using a precarious balance of the specific elements/factors of their situation. This makes crafting a management formula or disseminating my hard-won experience into translatable models for fellow Library managers/leaders extremely difficult.

I recently discovered an excellent article that provides some fascinating insights into managing those Innovative spirits among us!!

Harvard Business Review “The Inescapable Paradox of Managing Creativity”

When facing the challenge of unleashing organizational innovation, many leaders fail. Some attempt to help their teams flourish by granting almost unlimited freedoms, only to discover that they have created chaos, not high performance. Others try to force their employees’ creativity through prescribed programs and activities, which usually yields humdrum results at best.

After studying proven masters at fostering organizational innovation for over ten years, we have identified the heart of the difficulty. At the core of leading innovation lies a fundamental tension, or paradox, inherent in the leader’s role: leaders need to unleash individuals’ talents, yet also harness all those diverse talents to yield a useful and cohesive result.

So well stated!!

It’s easy to think of many new ideas, but it’s much more difficult to convert those ideas into something new that actually solves a problem.

So true!!

As a leader, you must constantly ask yourself, “How will I:

  • Affirm each person’s need for individual recognition and identity yet also tend to the needs of the collective?
  • Encourage team members to support one another while simultaneously challenging and provoking each other through robust debate?
  • Foster experimentation, continuous learning and high performance?
  • Determine how much structure — rules, hierarchy, planning and the like — provide sufficient constraints without stifling improvisation?
  • Mix patience and a sense of urgency?
  • Balance bottom-up initiatives and top-down interventions?”

The “right” position at any moment will depend on specific current circumstances. The goal will always be to take whatever positions enable the collaboration, experimentation, and integration necessary for innovation.

And we must continue to hone our leadership and managerial skill!!

This kind of leadership is not easy, especially for leaders who hold conventional notions of top-down leadership, or who find conflict or loss of control uncomfortable. Even skilled leaders of innovation find it hard not to favor one side of the paradox scales over the other. The task of creating new and useful things requires leaders to continually recalibrate the needs of their organizations and to modify their behavior accordingly. They must develop the capacity to lead from the right place on each scale for the moment and situation.

And such a lovely conclusion…

Many leaders need to rethink what they do if they want a more innovative organization. It takes a powerful leader to unleash and harness innovation. This power resides in managing paradox rather than controlling destiny.

So may we all become Managers of Paradox!! Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Trump Style Librarianship

This is not a post about politics! This is a post about librarianship!

Having said that, I want to make an analogy to librarianship by using Donald Trump’s bid for presidential candidate in 2016. Many commentators have criticized him as being a “joke” as a candidate, and point out what they view as many other unflattering characteristics. One said his best day would be the day he announced, but then retracted that assessment when Trump later placed second in a recent poll of registered voters.

Trump has clearly and repeatedly stated that he is not a “politician” and he knows how to “return America to greatness.” He cites his business success and experience working with politicians as evidence he is a viable candidate, but he is not a politician. He believes that is a good thing, and electing someone who is not a politician would be good for America, since politicians are the ones who have created the situation America is in today.

The comments of one commentator are the reason I decided to write this post, because I believe the mindset it demonstrates is the same mindset that exists among those who influence librarianship in this 21st Century environment. The commentator said, in essence, Trump can’t win because he’s not being “political.” I interpreted this as an assertion that only a “politician” can be elected President since politicians are, above all else, political, and that voters will only elect someone who is political.

So how does this analogy apply to librarianship? There are many in the profession and among library boards and government jurisdictions who don’t recognize that libraries can operate in nontraditional ways. The concept that libraries are the same now as they have always been is a mindset that prevents change and adaptation that provides 21st Century information and library services in this 21st Century environment.

Inability to put away the old stereotype librarianship, to think outside the box and develop new approaches to delivering library services will surely doom libraries to a status that libraries do not deserve. Libraries will suffer from lack of funding if librarians cannot develop that entrepreneurial spirit that enables libraries to deliver quality library services. Without quality library services communities are hard pressed to support their local libraries, with funding or attendance. Whether Donald Trump becomes President is irrelevant, but taking a few pages from his playbook about how to tackle the 21st Century environment and thrive is the most relevant thing librarians can do now and in the future.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The art of saying YES!

Many years ago I was a young manager sitting in a meeting of other managers.  We were discussing various issues and one primary topic was the random and odd requests from patrons.  Those in public libraries will smile a little and perhaps chuckle…you know what I mean.  The conversation had taken a turn that was a bit…synical. “I get so tired of it.” “No you can’t hold a meeting in the silent room tomorrow night!” “Why do people keep asking for special treatment?!”  Our Director very thoughtfully said “I wish it was harder for all of you to say NO than YES.”  And she left the room.

That has never left me.  I have framed much of my management and customer service philosophy around the concept of saying Yes.  Embracing the unusual suggestion. Fostering the reality that the Library belongs to our patrons and community.  We are here to manage, improve, facilitate, guide and more.  Unfortunately, too often we translate that to a sense of ownership and control that often manifests in a proclivity to say NO to the unusual or out of the ordinary.  But we are smart folks! And we know that the unusual and new, while scary, is also where brilliant things occur!

I came across a TED Talk the other day that reminded me of this.  It is worth the 11 minutes!

Pam Sandlian Smith, Director of Anythink Libraries in Colorado presents a wonderful talk about what happens when we say YES!!


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The 21st Century Library is Now on FaceBook!

We are pleased to announce that The 21st Century Library Blog now has a ‘sister’ Facebook page!!

The 21st Century Librarian  


We will share timely news, articles and research about The 21st Century Library and Library Innovation.  And occasionally having a little fun!

Follow The 21st Century Librarian! 


Filed under Uncategorized

In the event of my untimely death…

Shocking title I know… but we have all suffered loss and we know how fragile life can be. Of course for some they choose not to acknowledge the potential risk; but for most of us we make serious, carefully considered, legally binding plans in the event that something were to happen to us. Parents, in particular, feel the responsibility of planning for the event. Why? So that those we love are cared for and because we realize that life carries on. The loss is hard enough. We make plans so that our untimely ‘departure’ will not leave those we care about without guidance or direction- from funeral plans to care of children to financial issues.
Many of us pour our hearts and souls into our work; but how many of us think to leave directions to our colleagues in the event of our passing?
After so many years in the workplace, I recognize that no one is irreplaceable (We miss them absolutely! And maybe we will never find another that brings the same talents to the table… but we are all replaceable to an extent in the context of work). However, a sudden ‘departure’ can, depending upon the person’s responsibilities, and will cause ripples in the work process. Depending upon the person’s responsibilities, the effects can range from minor to nearly catastrophic. Are you the only person who knows the password to the Facebook account? Are you the only person with a key to that magic closet where they keep the check stock- is it on your key ring buried deep in your purse?
If you are the keeper of certain items such as these, make sure that you have documentation that can be used to carry on your good work. Of course you want to keep passwords and keys secure… but don’t keep them SO secret that NO one can locate them in an emergency.
If you are the Supervisor of staff who are keepers of these types of projects or information, sit with each person and develop a plan ‘just in case’.
If you are the Director, have you thought of what would occur if one day you did not successfully make the journey to the office? Who would take the lead? Who would make the calls? Have you left your Board Chair with guidance of who you feel would be best suited to take a lead role in such a transition?
These issues apply to Libraries of every type and size. In large organizations you have the benefit that there are many partners on various projects. The Director will likely be working with Human Resources, Business Managers, Supervisors, Branch Operations Directors, etc. This may allow for an easier transition than in a smaller library where the Director is gatekeeper to ongoing vendor issues, budgets, labor matters, and more. Plus, in large organizations it is absolutely vital for each individual to provide some type of backup plan. By their very nature, large organizations may more easily lose sight of the fact that one individual is holding a lynch pin upon which many other factors of a project or task rely.

This is a difficult and uncomfortable subject. It raises fear and pain in the hearts of many. However, it is essential… and inevitable. And the best, most responsible approach we can all take, just as we do in our personal life, is not to obsess or deny but rather to make a realistic and fair plan that is revisited as necessary.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why librarians (and therefore libraries) will always be better than Wikipedia. 

As librarians we protect our services, collections, and patrons from censorship and bias. Simply put- We do not allow it. From too much left or right wing material to too much sci-fi or mystery. At our core we begin from a place of balance, equality, representation, and non-censorship.  This is one of librarianship’s inherent characteristics that draw people to join the profession.

Interestingly I found this today:

Wikipedia Countering Systemic Bias Project

The Wikipedia project suffers systemic bias that naturally grows from its contributors’ demographic groups, manifesting an imbalanced coverage of a subject, thereby discriminating against the less represented demographic groups. …
This project aims to control and (possibly) eliminate the cultural perspective gaps made by the systemic bias, consciously focusing upon subjects and points of view neglected by the encyclopedia as a whole.


I must admit…this felt a bit like finding Bigfoot because he stepped into Times Square and said “Ya got me!!”  For how many years have librarians been asked if, in the face of Google and Wikipedia, we would continue to be relevant?  And here we have Wikipedia providing us with the very best answer – within their product exists “systemic bias that naturally grows from its contributors…”.  

Well ladies and gentleman, I cry foul.  There cannot possibly be a more diverse demographic group than is represented within the profession of librarianship. And yet (though VERY isolated instances may occur) public librarians have built centuries of public trust for exactly the fact that they embody the antithesis of what Wikipedia now admits is a serious “systemic” concern for them.  

Long live public libraries…public librarians…and all they have become known and respected for.  See world… it’s isn’t that easy… otherwise anyone (or everyone in the case of Wikipedia) could do it.



Filed under Uncategorized

Trenton Free Public Library adds Outposts to its 21st Century Library Service Model.

Over 4 years ago, having faced two and a half years of budget reductions totaling almost 50%, my Library was forced to close four of our five locations.
It was devastating to the Library and our Community.  While the Main Library is well situated in the center of our City, these four branches had provided a network of coverage throughout the community for nearly 80 years.  Now we were losing that…
Questions, fears, anger, hurt, and more swirled within our organization and as a barrage from the community.
How had we let this happen?
How  would we provide service now?
Would the Library Survive?
What about people who couldn’t get to the Main Library?
This was no subtle shift- no gradual scaling down of the operation- this was a massive closure of facilities all on one day- August 16, 2010.  Everyone felt the void in the fabric of the community.  And frankly it was necessary to take a period of time to lick wounds, heal the hurt and grieve before anyone (staff or patron) was ready to move forward.  But the beauty of all things is that the sun always rises and tomorrow is a new day.  So eventually the time came when everyone was open to the discussion of “What next?” and together we walked into the 21st Century Chapter of the Trenton Free Public Library.
We did not want to half-heartedly replace what we had lost or ‘make due’.  We wanted something innovative that met the particular needs of our City!  Our new service model needed to be economic, low impact on resources, satiate the desire of the community for services close to home, and attempt to repair the damage to the image of the library caused by the shattering of four of our five locations. To this end the library began to search for a new service model.
We knew that continuing to look back at the branches we had lost was a waste of our resources and energy best spent crafting an innovated 21st-century Service Model and began instead to at the loss of our branches as a an opportunity to begin the planning process with an open canvas. This fresh perspective allowed us to build a five-year strategic plan that addresses specifically the service to the entire community on site without physical locations.
Our new Service Model, stripped to its most simplistic version, include the implementation of the following components over a five-year period:
  • Outposts spread throughout the community (four at least)
  • A CyberMobile
  • A small physical location in a high traffic commercial area dedicated to On-The-Go Technology and Service
  • An emphasis upon Outreach and Embedded Librarianship
  • Become the Hub for all community information.

With this service model and idea in place, approved by the Library Board, and our City partners, we began to move forward.  First up Outposts!

What is an outpost you may ask yourself?

You may have heard them referred to as a satellite location, an unmanned branch, a vending machine, etc. None of these names resonated within our organization or our community; therefore, we termed them “Outposts”. An Outpost consists of three pieces of equipment and a commitment of partnership and out reach in that particular location. The equipment includes a lending machine (think vending machine but with books instead of potato chips and Snickers bars), a locker system for hold pickup, and a book drop.

After the appropriate RFP process, we purchased 2 Outposts from a lovely company called PIK,Inc using CDBG funds graciously given to the project by the City of Trenton.   We partnered with respected Community organizations (such as the YMCA) to place the Outposts in  high-use facilities within the community to maximize their potential and exposure.

These new Outposts, the first 2 of 4, provide our Library Card holders with instant access to between 250-500 books in the lending machine and the ENTIRE collection for pick up at the lockers within 24-48 hours.  Along with the book drop, these Outposts provide patrons with the ability to access the Libraries materials in their own neighborhoods!

This Outpost is not only the first of its kind in New Jersey but also the FIRST on the entire mid-Atlantic Seaboard. We are very proud!!


YMCA Ribbon

DSC_0094-s Crystal speaking

DSC_0100-s-Yvonne scans her Library Card2 DSC_0102-s-2-Yvonne removes her Book from the Lending Library

Up Next…………



Filed under Uncategorized