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Innovation, Invention, and Inspiration

light bulb

Jessamyn West recently commented on the “Ultimate Debate” from the 2007 ALA conference, in which the question of whether or not libraries “innovate.”  As she mentions countless other blogs jumped on this topic, and the subsequent conversations on the Web4lib mailing list became equally as thought provoking.  So where do the issues lead us?

The discussions lead many to believe that though the individuals within libraries are themselves innovative and eager to try new things, the institutions they reside within are often not as eager to budget this innovation against their operating costs.  One of the main problems may be the issues involved with communicating these new ideas.  Communication begins with the exploration of the base concept.  At this stage it is imperative to be attuned to the blogs, RSS feeds, mailing lists, and literature available on the topic in question.  This may sound easy but not everyone takes the time to blog about the new concept for organizing their online journals or for a new reference advertising campaign on You Tube!.  Even if you can’t find the time, or an appropriate journal, to write an in depth article on your experiment; there may be a blog, wiki, or group ready to converse on the projects value.

Now that the search is over on who has already tried it, how they did it, and why yours is different; you must talk to those the project will affect.  The question was raised as to why a Systems Librarian should be spending time at the reference desk and not creating innovative services for the library.  In truth, the small percentage of their time at the desk helps those focused more on PHP, understand what the larger portion of their position means to user services.  Keeping everyone fenced off into their own domains, reminds me of the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant.

Getting input from others can be difficult if the presented project or topic is obfuscated in any way.  The lesson to be learned is to know your audience and speak to them in their language.  Tech services wants to know about server size and CSS styles, but the Dean of the libraries would rather hear about outreach and library communication. 

Within that crafted presentation must also come a bit of showmanship.  By this I don’t mean smoke and mirrors (although something with lasers and a lovely assistant dressed in sequins might help), but instead a bit of bravado.  Don’t be afraid to take a leap or make a controversial stand, if it may positive result in developing new services.

Think big, talk big, and act big; but most importantly, talk to one another.  In this Web 2.0 world finding and interacting with others who share you common interests/goals is much more attainable.  Have a collaborative meeting with another library or brainstorm an idea on a Facebook wall.  Start making the first steps to innovation in whatever you are doing.  Though we may not all be Edisons many of us think about how beneficial a new form of lighting fixture would be. 

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