Daily Archives: August 20, 2012

Why Libraries Are Not Creative Organizations

Firstly, schools of library and information science don’t teach it, and secondly, librarians don’t think it. OK, librarians as individuals are relatively creative, but I’m referring to library organizations – they are not creative or nimble.

Although we are just now starting to see SLIS cross fertilize with schools of design, that is still taking a somewhat business-like approach. Business-like is good, but it’s not necessarily creative, or all that is needed in today’s 21st Century environment. Operating a library in a more business-like manner is just that – business-like – not creative.

So what’s the difference? Being more business-like will help a library become profitable, but it won’t necessarily solve all its problems with being relevant. I wrote that “Library Profit = Community Relevance.” That was simply a way to measure a library’s profitability. It was not a way to achieve community relevance. THAT requires creativity.

OK, so why aren’t library organizations creative enough to solve the problem of being relevant to their community? Several reasons that I can think of.

1. A belief that all that is needed is more information to solve their problems.
Well, information is one of the library’s problems – too much, not enough, wrong format, unorganized, etc. None of this information addresses their local problems. The “profession” is not offering any useful answers. So, what solutions are emerging are coming from local library organizations that have figured out that being creative is the only course of action that will work.

2. Library leaders are afraid to market test anything.
We have been taught to analyze and research, rather than test. We don’t really know how to test market programs or ideas in our communities. We have trouble with planned abandonment, so how can libraries be expected to test seemingly good ideas. We are also not risk-takers at heart. It comes very hard to library organizations to truly reward risk-takers, so therefore we don’t cultivate them in our libraries. Samuel Goldwyn reportedly said; “What we need are some new clichés.” meaning that what they needed was more of the tried and tested and known to work formula movies. Maybe that works in Hollywood, but it does nothing but stifle creativity in library organizations.

3. Too much emphasis on management at the expense of creativity.
Water is a main ingredient of soda pop, but thank goodness soda is much more than just water. So too, management is essential to a well run library organization, but management only focuses on WHAT IS. Creativity is essential to figuring out what your library CAN BE. The 21st Century Library needs a massive infusion of what it CAN BE! Couple traditional management with a lack of vision, or even foresight, and the results are stagnation.

4. Complacency is the enemy of creativity.
Being complacent about what you have, what you are and what your library should be will never promote creativity. Commercial information providers are searching for “the” information provider model. They know that creating a better mouse trap will give them the competitive advantage and cause people to flock to them for their services. So too should libraries be searching for “the” public and academic and school and special library model to make their customers flock to them for their services. Creativity is the only way to accomplish that.

5. Short-term thinking focused too much on results that will satisfy funding authorities.
This may sound duplicitous coming from me, the guy who has written about the importance of outcomes, outcomes, outcomes for funding decision makers. But, again, that is about management – not creativity. Management may be the water in the soda pop, but creativity is the flavor. Would you prefer plain water or lemon-lime, or black cherry, or cola instead? Creativity makes the water enjoyable and desirable.

Until library organizations – and librarians as a profession – become more creative in finding solutions to becoming more relevant to their community, we will continue to get the “Why do we need libraries?” question. Aren’t you tired of that question? I know I am.

[Adapted from Edward de Bono‘s article “Why CEOs Are Not Creative” in Chief Executive]

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