Choose Your Own Adventure

 In the business cycle of the Legislative Library, the planning process has begun once again. In the dark days of winter, it’s time to plant the seeds of the future. 

 “Innovation” has emerged as an important theme for our management team, and it has featured prominently in our discussions. We’re challenged by our senior executives to scan the horizon, to detect emerging issues and suggest possible responses. Exciting stuff! Our clients, on the other hand, expect the information infrastructure to remain intact. If the division doesn’t carry out its core functions: providing information management, IT and library services – we’ve failed. 

I love shiny new things. I could happily spent my whole career popping from one new method, concept or tool, thinking about how to adapt what I’ve learned to my workplace. It’s fun, challenging and never boring. But circumstances may demand a more deliberate approach. How can we reconcile blue-sky thinking with the need for responsible management?

One of my colleagues in the management team used a wonderful soccer analogy when talking about the need to balance innovative thinking with risk abatement.

The closer to your own goal you are (the defending third), the more conservative you must be. You have more to risk, so there is no point in being fancy in your play. Stick to the fundamentals, and execute. If you are in the final third, creativity may be your friend. There is capacity for experimentation, and creativity may yield rewards. Risk-taking should be encouraged, and staff can be allowed to learn through failure. And the mid-field? You may be able to indulge in some creative strategies, but be prepared to pull back and take a defensive stance if the opposition gains possession. 

I love this analogy. It’s understandable and practical. It also gives managers and staff permission to vary their approach to innovation. It frees us to chase the shiny new idea, to take calculated risks at appropriate times, and justifies the discipline of a less aggressive approach at other times. 

So, what are the things I’m going to be thinking about in my library? 

E-books: Academic libraries are starting to make inroads into collecting and managing digital texts, but I have yet to hear much from the world of special libraries. Some of the legal publishers are beginning to experiment with the idea, but I have yet to have a conversation with a legal publisher where the word “lendable” was heard with anything less than horror. This needs to change. Look to the public libraries – it seems to me that they have the model all sorted out. Libraries license a certain number of copies of e-books, which are made available to cardholders. Once the limit is reached, borrowers may be placed on a waiting list. When the borrowing period is ended, the digital book disappears from the borrowers’ device. (I’m not sure if renewals are possible, but I suspect not). We librarians need to think about whether or not they wish to purchase and lend devices, or focus our attention on building collections. 

Virtual clients: Librarians have been grumbling for years about how seldom they see their clients. As mobile technologies dominate the workplace, we have to reconcile ourselves to the idea of the virtual client. How does mobile technology change the way we deliver current awareness, answer reference questions and reach out to our clients, who visit us less and less, but still rely on us to understand their needs? Can we afford not to learn how to create apps and design information products which can be easily read and used on a smartphone or tablet? The change needs to be cultural as well as technological – be seen as responsive to new technologies, and you can sell the idea of the library as a place of innovation and adaptation, rather than a capital cost. 

Going back to the soccer analogy, where are we on the field? With an election due in the fall (and knowing that a number of Members are not standing for re-election), we at the Legislative Library can anticipate a certain amount of change in the coming year. Many libraries have similar, predictable turnover in their client bases – does this present an opportunity for creativity and change, or do you need to go back to fundamentals? I would argue that this is the best time to try something new – what do you think?

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