The Ultimate Debate: Do Libraries Innovate?

Karen Schneider
Joseph Janes
Stephen Abram
moderated by Andrew Pace (standing in for Roy Tennant)

Bullets from the discussion —

Innovation comes from individuals, not institutions so perhaps question should be, “do *librarians* innovate?” which would be answered “yes” but to ask about institutions is a non-question. Institutions either “facilitate or get in the way of the individual” per the panel.

Stephen Abram — we have innovative people but very poor *diffusion* … when there’s a good idea in the business world, it spreads quickly; when there’s a good idea in the library world, hardly any one knows about it. Fix our diffusion, our communication. Start bragging.

Library culture is one of victimization, creating self-fulfilling prophecies of failure, but truth is that libraries are doing just fine, even as some libraries close, many other libraries have increased budgets. We have a doomsday culture right now. Why?

Karen Schneider — Changing the terms of how we succeed — Flickr was originally intended to be a gaming site by founders, but they looked at how the site was getting used and changed gears.

Stephen Abram — innovators vs. slugs … slugs are the ones with a long silver trail behind them

Joseph Janes — San Jose’s Second Life school might not work, but at least they’re *trying* it; public library in Arizona that dropped Dewey in favor of bookstore-like genre browsing has had zero complaints from users. Library community beats up on those who try new things without waiting to see how it turns out.

My impressions: The culture of librarians came up a lot in this debate. Our stereotypes, our self-perceptions, our obsession with the status quo. The panel members were terrific and dynamic and almost seemed to be calling for a sort of library revolution… but not quite. I can’t really put my finger on what exactly they were calling for, but it would be a change from what we have now, whatever it is. Change in many directions, from the way librarians negotiate to the structure of ALA itself. I think this is a conversation that needs to continue and develop into action, not just conversation. Do we, as librarians, already have a centralized place to continue this discussion? Perhaps our diffusion problem is as symptom of our fragmentation. But then, what form could this imaginary conversation venue take in order to accommodate the most librarians and the greatest diversity of librarians?

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3 thoughts on “The Ultimate Debate: Do Libraries Innovate?

  1. But then, what form could this imaginary conversation venue take in order to accommodate the most librarians and the greatest diversity of librarians?

    Honestly, I think this is why so many people are trying so hard to change ALA from within. It’s difficult and slow, yes, but there’s really no other venue that will reach the number of libraries and librarians that ALA can. Before such a venue can be created in ALA, the culture has to change.

    After thinking about this session for a while, I find it interesting that no one asked “Do libraries need to innovate?” It may be the nature of the people attracted to that particular meeting. The question keeps rattling around in my head, though – do ALL libraries need to innovate? How much? Is non-technological innovation enough?

  2. I heartily disagree with the idea that there is no venue for reaching librarians other than ALA. To wit: I have followed this discussion on numerous blogs and lists. Some were related to ALA, but most were not. I am grateful that ALA provided the venue for “this” particular topic, but librarians are having these discussions online everyday.

  3. Pingback: Do Libraries Innovate « Library 2.0

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