This is the first a few reports I hope to give the staff on programs I attended at the recent ALA meeting in Anaheim, California. It was a good conference, but as usual, some programs were excellent and others just so-so.
The first program I attended was “The Mashed Up Library” sponsored by OCLC. It featured a keynote address by Michael Schrage (http://ebusiness.mit.edu/schrage/) of the MIT Sloan School for Digital Business. His talk focused on innovation and change and was quite good.
He pointed out that the biggest challenge is managing institutional change (libraries, universities, and businesses), less so for individuals or small groups which are more adaptable and nimble. He made three provocative statements:
- Innovation is the conversion of “novelty” into “value.” Innovation must have value and not be innovation for innovation’s sake.
- Innovation is a means to an end. We must ask ourselves, to what end are we innovating?
- Innovation is what innovators offer. It’s what customers, clients, and users adopt.
He suggested that we ask our patrons “what is the most innovative thing you think we do?” The answers might be very surprising. I would suggest that we add that to our next user survey along with “What innovative things do you think we should be doing?”
Schrage stated that the greatest opportunity for libraries today is interoperability, the ability to exchange date and share information resources. In this way will be more effective.
He talked a lot about competition, in our case in the information access arena. Years ago libraries had the market cornered on this. Now users have many, many options. Competition, he said, is like innovation in that it is a means to an end. It is also about “perceived value from choice.” We have many choices to get information—which gives us the most value? He asked: “How do your ‘users’ and ‘user communities’ brand you as a competitor?”
He presented four ideas to take away and think about:
- Learn from our lead users. Find out who they are and what they think. Learn from them and apply their ideas whenever appropriate.
- With whom do we want to collaborate to create value and why? Which libraries can we work with to improve service and access to information for our clientele?
- Market our best internal arguments and disagreements. Have discussions with users in an attempt to resolve issues.
- Establish ‘Libertories’ (his mash-up of libraries and laboratories) that attract talent and inspire hypotheses. Provoke new thinking and values.
He stressed that success comes not from taking the path of least resistance but the path of maximum advantage. He also pointed out that the value is not in the product itself but the experience of using it. Therefore, libraries should focus on giving our patrons a great experience. Libraries get better, he noted, when the users leave their imprint on us. We should allow, even encourage our users to make a difference.
Dr. Schrage’s talk was followed by a panel of three librarians giving examples of mash-ups they used in their libraries. The most useful was the presentation by Susan Gibbons of the River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester. That’s the school that hired an anthropologist to study student behavior to help improve library service. A book was produced from that study: The academic library and the net gen student: making the connections (ALA, 2007). They’ve done several interesting things at her library:
1. They obtained student feedback about their website by reproducing poster-sized views of their web pages and asking students to circle what they use and tell the staff what’s missing. The latter was fascinating: the students asked for non-library information such as exam schedules, dining hours, etc.!
2. They do course guides, not subject guides. Each course’s Blackboard (?) page has a link to a course guide which includes a link to the OPAC, a course-related e-journal list and database list, and the name of a librarian “assigned” to the course. Included is the librarian’s photo and “new” title. While formally the librarian may be the Humanities Reference Librarian, for Dr. Bucholz’s “History of London’ course, the librarian is now the “History of London Librarian” until the course has been completed. A given librarian may be the course librarian for several courses. They use mash up data from the registrar and an access database to avoid repetitive typing. Their theory behind this is that undergraduate students don’t think of themselves as history students who need a history subject guide, but rather simply a student taking the History of London course. It has been successful and is an innovative approach to connecting students with library resources and librarians.
3. They “mash up” people via cross-training of librarians, writing center staff, and student advisors to reduce referrals and to better understand other academic support groups. In the process, the librarians have learned more about the curriculum, the freshman experience, the advising process, and so on. As a result, the librarians have become more valuable and more valued members of the university community.