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I went to Valerie Horton’s session at Lake Superior Libraries Symposium held on May 20th this year at College of St. Scholastica. It was a fast-paced, information-filled 60 minutes!


I went to Valerie Horton’s session at Lake Superior Libraries Symposium held on May 20th this year at College of St. Scholastica. It was a fast-paced, information-filled 60 minutes! Here are my notes on the session. She began by saying that libraries are in difficult times. There has been a 30 year decline of library usage. Website traffic is flattening out and three hundred libraries in the United Kingdom have shuttered with eight thousand jobs being eliminated. Not a very uplifting way to start a presentation. However, as Valerie explained, there are opportunities for libraries to innovate. As she explained, innovation is less an attribute of the exceptional individual and more an emergent property that bubbles up within communities of people solving problems together.

[[{"fid":"1685","view_mode":"image_insert_left","type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"title":"Image from","height":297,"width":440,"class":"media-element file-image-insert-left"}}]]Citing Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, she used the Disruptive Innovation diagram to illustrate how disruptive technology improves faster than standard technology over time. The example given for this is MOOC’s, or online classes. When it started the quality and cost of online classes were low but have been growing and will overtake standard classroom instruction as the main format for academic instruction. In a sense, online classes will take less time to make, less money to produce, and produce a higher quality product.

According to Valerie, there are two things libraries can do now in the area of innovation. The first is to improve customer relationships by investing in a core product or service. An example of this she gave was the Kindle ebook reader. They are easy to use, just click and read. With other products there are too many barriers so there isn’t as much use with them.  Libraries can look to the Kindle as a product that removes the barrier to enjoying ebooks. The second thing libraries can do now to innovate is to improve a current product or service or offer a new product or service that stays within the suite of library services. An example of this she gave was MNLink’s new discovery layer that will reduce barriers for patrons looking for and requesting books. The other example she gave was with Ebooks Minnesota.

Ebooks Minnesota came about through a partnership with Minnesota State Library Services to find a solution to the library community’s desire for a shared platform of ebooks that was easy to use and affordable. The two year pilot concentrates its collection in Minnesota-specific content with 10 Minnesota independent publishers and 3000 titles. Note: two books Valerie found of interest in the collection were Minnesota Mayhem and Minneapolis Madams.

Valerie also shared other projects that Minitex is exploring is SimplyE, LEAP Project, and Self-E. In partnership with New York Public Library, SimplyE is designed to take away the barriers to read ebooks for different ebook collections. The emphasis is on the patron, not the library. Patrons will be able to discover, borrow, read in an easy to use format. The LEAP Project is a nationwide ebook project consisting of two pieces: LEAP Marketplace and LEAP Infrastructure. The project is pulling together several ebook projects, including SimplyE, aiming to create a marketplace for libraries instead of separate working with individual vendors. They purpose is to create a relationship between the library and the publisher. SimplyE would be the front end product of this and for the patron it would become a seamless experience.

The final project Valerie mentioned in her presentation was Self-E. It is an ambitious project to address the issue of self-published titles. Currently, there are about 2 million + self-published titles floating around but are not on library shelves (or e-shelves). In the spirit of innovation libraries need to take a serious look at self-published titles in the model of demand, capacity, and partners. Is there demand for these titles? Self-published titles are at the beginning of an innovation disruption cycle. In Valerie’s argument, people remark that most self-published titles are crap. Taking Sturgeon’s Law, into play, ninety percent of everything is crap. Libraries don’t know how to deal with self-published titles but they need to get out there and start playing with them and the idea of what can be done with them.
How do we create a culture of innovation in our organizations? Innovation is not passive, it does not just come to you. Innovation is the process of discovery. There needs to be experimentation and with experimentation there will be failure. The reality is we have been failing forever. The business world knows that failure is a completely acceptable way to do business. When the worst things happen it can be the best thing to happen to your organization… over time. People who fail learn from it and will be more successful because of it. Articulation is key! When you fail articulate to your manager of what you learned from your failure. The new school way of doing things is to fail fast, identify a small piece of success from the whole, get fast feedback, assess, tweak, try something, test, and change.

To begin innovative projects pull people from core services – have a group of people that don’t all think alike. Valerie referred to the book by John Kotter, Accelerate, the talks about the traditional organizational hierarchies and their purpose to support a business’ operation. The structure doesn’t necessarily foster an environment of innovation or change. One thing that inhibits innovation is bureaucracy. It destroys initiative because its focus is on accountability. Ways to encourage innovation are to increase professionalism and staff knowledge, rotate assignments and have open communication. The act of doing different opens up new ideas and it’s not going to be neat and tidy, rather it will be messy – accept an untidy organizational structure and messy collaborations.

The last points Valerie made were that mistakes are learning opportunities and it’s okay to say “I was wrong”. Leaders must model this. A significant amount of people will think less of you – don’t care. A lack of time for reflection leads to burnout and exhaustion. Do the people on the team feel safe to contribute and explore? The number one way to suppress innovation is a lack of safety. She finished by  mentioning that she would love to learn more about psychological safety in the workplace and hear what others have to say on the topic.

Written by

Carla Pfahl
Reference Outreach & Instruction Librarian
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