Innovation is all a matter of Perspective


We spend so very much time talking about innovation and 21st century librarianship! We attempt to define what it is and what it looks like. We try to pin it down like a butterfly on a board so that we can study it. Why? Because we are either looking for a template (What should I be doing?) or validation (Ah Ha! I am innovative!) People ask me on a regular basis: “So what is the next big Library Innovation?” My answer remains always the same. “For which Library?”

What is innovative to one community is yesterday’s news to another and the work of a science-fiction whacko to yet another. In defining innovation, it is absolutely critical to know your audience (aka-your community).

All we need do is review that last week or so of headlines to see this play out:

Irving Public Library Unveils New Catalog!!

 Irving Public Library announces the launch of a new, state-of-the-art online catalog system, Polaris, which keeps track of library materials and customer records. The system goes live Aug. 28.

Customers also will be able to place holds and check out eBooks, as well as monitor account activity directly from the library’s catalog. Other new account features include an option to keep one’s reading history, create alphanumeric usernames and receive text notifications.

New Public Library Opens in Elk Mound

After years of work, Elk Mound finally has a library to call its own.

A grand opening for the new Elk mound Public Library was held Monday.

It’s a satellite library based out of Menomonie.

Ted Stark, the Director of the Menomonie Public Library, says the new building has all the resources as any other library, wireless internet, computers, books, magazines and much more.

He says the library is linked to several other libraries, and has access to around one and a half million books.

Ted stark, director of menomonie public library “I think it’s a lot better looking then I ever imagined it could be, because if you saw it before, my first thought was to tear it down, because it was bad but they have really done an amazing job, it’s like a brand new building,” says Stark.

The library will have regular hours Monday through Thursday

What’s all the Hoopla in Muncie??

Muncie Public Library is now offering Hoopla, a digital streaming service similar to Netflix.

The addition of Hoopla to MPL’s offerings is just another step in the library’s stated mission of keeping up all the growing and changing forms of media its patrons can use, according to Gentis. “We just want to offer what people want,” she said.

MPL Director Virginia Nilles called the addition of the streaming service “a natural progression” in the library’s embrace of technology. “We were interested in it before the technology was there,” she said.

MPL began offering Hoopla in July, and a little more than a month in had more than 200 users who were using it through the Hoopla app or website, Gentis said.

Though the article by Ms. Erickson is flawed in its logic nearly to the point of uselessness…it does highlight a fabulous innovation and utilize some wonderful quotes.  Is your idea of the innovative 21st Century Library one with more Technology and Less Books?  The James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University agrees!!

What Does a Library without Books Look Like?

What makes a library a library, anyway?

The James B. Hunt Jr. Library, at North Carolina State University, thinks it has an answer. University officials in Raleigh just spent $115 million building what some people call the most advanced library in the world.

“We started asking people, ‘What do you need?’” Hiscoe says. “We wanted to create a space that would serve the people who used it, not our high-minded idea of what a library should be.” The students, he says, had two main requests — they wanted spaces to work together and opportunities to visualize data on some kind of grand scale.

With these ideas in mind, the team set out to create a new kind of space. But they wanted to do more than drop in a couple of extra computer terminals and couches. It’s not an exaggeration to say that they set out to reinvent the library.

That meant hiring Oslo firm Snohetta to design the building, a sleek modernist structure that looks like rows and rows of shiny silver dominos, lined up on a ramp. It also meant playing down the books, and playing up the many other amenities, like the hang-out spaces.

Then there’s the technology, all 241,000 pieces. Students can rent out everything from iPads to microtiles to Google glasses. A hive of robots retrieves and reshelves the books. (Patrons can no longer wander through the stacks themselves, but they can “browse” digitally — a computer will pull up a photo of a particular shelf; patrons can request whatever they like). Screens are everywhere.

There are rooms where students can build simulations of entire spaces. Hunt Library wanted to have a spot, say, for students to digitally recreate a 17th-century cathedral. With that, they could study how sound travels, to better understand how sermons stirred people. “All we had is text,” Hiscoe says. “We didn’t know what it sounded like, whether the preacher is up there screaming, whether the echo would do particular things to his voices.”

A team of students and professors also digitally “re-created” a speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. at White Rock Baptist Church in 1960. Floor-to-ceiling screens displayed what King would actually have seen as he looked out into the crowd; audio technology modulated the volume of his talk so that students could get a feel for what it would actually have been like to hear the speech.

At first, people didn’t even think the space should be called a library, Hiscoe says. But once people actually get inside, they understand it as a focal point of the community, a place that brings people together to think, create and learn, a place that gives them the tools they need for these central missions. And isn’t that the point?

“No matter where people are, they have to look at their community and ask, ‘If it’s no longer books, what is it?’” Hiscoe says. “Every community will answer that question differently. But it’s a question that is answerable … Maybe you don’t buy a lot of Wallace Stevens … Maybe you buy a 3D printer instead.”

But on the other extreme of the “To Book or Not to Book” debate…you have Boston:
Why is Boston Public Library Discarding Books?

It’s housecleaning time at the Boston Public Library, with tens of thousands of books being pulled from branch shelves all around the city. And it’s a beast of a task. The only library in America with more volumes in its collection than the BPL’s 19 million-plus is the Library of Congress. Take that New York!

“The number of volumes in a library is not a good reflection of the quality of the collection or how well it’s being used,” said Larry Neal, head of the Public Library division of the American Library Association, and probable Yankees fan.

“The intention is not just to hoard everything that you can possibly stash away,” he said. “Your job is to provide things that the community wants that have an interest in and make it easy for them to find.”

And that means, sometimes, books have to go — something that Amy Ryan, head of the Boston Public Library, says is standard, daily practice for all libraries.

But many of the books being weeded are perfectly accurate and in good shape. They just aren’t being checked out. The BPL is targeting books that haven’t circulated for four to six years. And this has some concerned, like Dave Vieira, a longtime patron and former President of the City-Wide Friends of the Boston Public Library.

But what Ryan calls an evolution, feels like a revolution to Vieira — one that he worries could leave loyal, older patrons behind. At the opening of the East Boston library, he says he couldn’t help but think, “Where are all the books?”

“While the library of the future may look like that, we are moving too fast, we are rushing from point A to point C,” he said.

But whatever the speed, libraries, like the rest of us, have no choice but to trudge into the future. And for Neal, that future, looks remarkably like the past.

And it is also important to remember that not every experiment with innovation works! Failure is an important factor to consider in the risk of innovation. Only invest what you can survive losing and don’t be afraid to say your attempt failed…at least you tried!

Brooklyn Public Library Yanks iPads from Tots!!

Perverts at a Brooklyn public library have lost their iPad privileges.

Officials have permanently yanked two iPads out of the children’s reading section of the Kensington branch after kids and some parents kept sneaking off with the devices to shop, play violent video games and view porn sites, sources said.

“It’s a shame,” a library staffer said. “This was a pilot program. I guess you can say it failed.”

The iPads on the top floor of the 18th Ave. branch were installed with reading and other educational apps for youngsters between the ages of 2 and 5, when the branch opened two years ago.

But there have been “unfortunate issues” with older kids hijacking the electronics to change passwords and install their own apps, said library spokeswoman Emma Woods.

One even took a selfie and set it as the background photo, a library insider said.

So what do all these wide and varied examples of “innovation” mean. How do we reconcile the fact that they run the spectrum and sometime conflict with another library’s innovative methods? The take away is that Innovation (like beauty) is really in the eye of the beholder. To one community a nearly all-digital library with a maker’s space cathedral is innovative… To another it is having a library at all.

At the end of the day, the relevancy you create for your library within your community is the only true judge of your innovation.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Innovation is all a matter of Perspective

  1. Pingback: Innovation is all a matter of Perspective | Lib...

  2. I read with interest your post on library innovation being a matter of perspective. It’s a very good point. I do have a question about you preface to the quote about North Carolina State University’s new library:
    “Though the article by Ms. Erickson is flawed in its logic nearly to the point of uselessness…it does highlight a fabulous innovation and utilize some wonderful quotes. Is your idea of the innovative 21st Century Library one with more Technology and Less Books?” I am not sure what Erickson wrote that was so flawed. Was it her comments about “plummeting” public library use? (I do not see her stats as supporting that statement.) Anyway, I was just curious what was so incredibly flawed by her article. Thanks!

    • Kimberly Matthews

      Certainly the “plummeting” use statement caught my attention…but it was one of many statements that lacked foundation, understanding or data. In addition, she jumps between the idea of ‘books’ and ‘libraries’ as if they are one and the same. And she makes broad arching statements that-while having a lovely profound ring to them- have little to no bases in reality when you really look at them. The logic throughout the article shows a fundamental lack of understanding of Libraries- their purpose and mission.

      Just a few examples:
      “After all, in the age of e-books and Amazon and shrinking municipal budgets, building a library from scratch sounds a little like founding a print newspaper or starting a mimeograph business.”
      So a library is outdated? If that isn’t what she is saying then what comparison is she attempting to make?

      “Between 2001 and 2010, states cut public library funding by $800 million, a drop of 37.6 percent according to an Institute of Museum and Library Services June 2014 report. Eleven states, including California, Texas, Louisiana, Washington and Wyoming, don’t provide libraries any money at all. That means libraries are increasingly reliant on local governments, which provide about 85 percent of public library funding nationally.”
      Most public libraries have always been primarily funded by local government…state funding from most libraries has always been small and a much smaller portion than they receive from local government.

      “Sure, the Buffalo library can’t compete with Hunt. It’ll probably never even compare to some of the better-funded city systems, like Seattle or New York. But by making choices and re-thinking how and what visitors want, Jakubowski says they’ve been able to make big improvements.”
      I think it is unfair and shows a basic lack of understanding about the various library environments to write that the “Buffalo library can’t compete with Hunt”. I highly doubt they are TRYING to compete as they are two completely different types of libraries, organizations and communities. Then insult to injury “It’ll probably never even compare to some of the better-funded city systems”…WOW…really? I would bet the Buffalo PL is doing a fine job and this comment implies they are somehow ‘less’. Not true!

      “It’s part of a broader shift, a reclassification of sorts. Once, libraries saw their encyclopedias, their newspaper reels, their almanacs and atlases, as their core resource. The Internet has made much of that information accessible, freely, with the click of a button.”
      Hmm…Not so much. We pay a hefty fee for that access- especially our Newspapers.

      “Rather than cut services entirely, city governments are trying to figure out ways to “do more with less.” That means using technology to supplement services on the cheap, something librarians have gotten good at.”
      See our Blog on “doing more with less”… And Librarians have gotten good at “using technology to supplement services on the cheap”? What does this phrase really even mean? Where is the evidence to support the statement? What is she talking about??

      And worse:
      “This new, service-oriented public library is something Laura Damon-Moore can get behind. ”
      Newsflash…libraries have ALWAYS been service-oriented. PERIOD. Yes- we focus now on being more customer oriented; but we have always, by our very nature, been service oriented- nothing new there.

      And then the Ultimate:
      “The only thing everyone seems to agree on? Books aren’t the point anymore.”
      Books were never the point of a library. Is was, is and always will be access to information.

      Perhaps if Ms. Erickson understood Libraries better she could write an article about then that builds on that foundation. But for this piece she takes interesting facts and data and strings them together with the type of comprehension that reminds you of someone who has never actually eaten a donut trying to explain what they taste like and why Krispy Kreme is better than Dunkin.

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