The right conditions for innovation

Next Friday, a group of Tennessee academic librarians gathers to discuss ways in which we might coordinate and collaborate to build mobile-friendly libraries at our respective campuses. I am looking forward to this conversation very much. I am honored to be playing a small role in helping to organize the day’s agenda.

I spent most of my afternoon talking with Peter, my friend and mentor, about possible ways we might set up the agenda. Anytime you plan a 5 hour event for 20 or so people, there is a temptation to script everything out — offering a goal statement, bulleted discussion points and a predetermined conclusion at which everyone should happily arrive toward the end of the day. One possible outcome of such a meeting might be to establish a concrete action plan with specific assignments that everyone can follow in sequence to achieve the End Result.

There’s nothing really wrong with that. In fact, a lot of times, high organization is helpful in getting a group of people thinking in the same direction about a particular challenge or problem. Peter reminds me, though, that the opportunities before us are not really problems or challenges that require one-size-fits-all solutions. Academic librarians are faced with unique opportunities to create, experiment and improvise to figure out what works best for our local environment and our specific patrons.

A mobile-friendly library might incorporate many things: mobile-optimized websites, device agnostic eBook collections, mobile-optimized database interface designs, QR codes and other best practices for library service and workflow. In short, we need lots of smart people trying lots of smart things, failing well, learning and improving.

This is the fun part where everyone comes to the table, everyone is invested and has something to contribute. And so, rather than organize a day designed to get everyone facing in the same direction, we have developed an agenda designed to introduce a few potentially powerful tools (tablet management server/software and LibGuides Mobile Site Builder) and ask everyone around the table to think about what they might be able to accomplish in their own libraries with the right tools.

The work of the day won’t be simply organizing and assigning. The work will be capturing ideas and getting those ideas out to the entire system so everyone can pick up the ideas they like and leave the others for someone else to play with.

In other words, we aren’t only executing a strategic plan. We are developing a culture of collaborative innovation.

This is a reminder to myself: the best new things happen when smart, interested people get together and contribute their interests in an open, honest forum and then those contributions are collected and shared for the widest possible dissemination.

You can expect to hear more about this soon.

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