April 23, 2007

Computers in Libraries: Day 2 afternoon sessions

Innovative Libraries: Best Practices and Tales from the Stacks by Jill Hurst-Wahl, Hurst Associates and Christina K. Pikas, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

It's always nice to see a blog buddy do good work and win a measure of fame and (ok, not) fortune as a result. This was a truly great presentation, something Christina and Jill can be truly proud, particularly for bringing to light the kinds of less-hearalded but no less remarkable innovations and strategies that don't normally get a lot of buzz at conferences.

They started off the presentation noting that they had used web 2.0 tools to work on the proect and this presentation: IM, Google Docs, Skype and Zoho (and I hear that Google Docs is coming out with presentation software soon too...).

The background is that a failure to innovate for libraries is not an option, adapting to the new research culture, especially of millennials. In 2007, what can we learn from library leaders, get some concrete examples of how to innovate. Why is this research important: learn to manage innovation, cope with the pressure to innovate and to retain & motivate staff & secure funding. They used a qualitative methodology for the study, to find ways to learn from people that don't self-promote. The limitations were mostly of time, also worth noting is that the interviews were not recorded, only notes were taken. They interviewed the managers of 1 special, 2 acad, 2 school and 3 publics, trying to get diversity within the groups.

They noted the manager personality -- persistent in dealing with non-goal oriented, non-team, non-leadership staff members, proud of their staff and their accomplishments, somewhat considered renegades, they also considered themselves lucky, not really recognizing the degree to which they created their own luck by hiring good people and learning to work around the uncooperative. There was also a diversity of funding: some had good cash flows some not so good. In both cases, the situation actually motivated and pushed forward innovation. They also used a variety of formal & informal ways to push their plans forward, brainstorming for success. Formally, they all had the idea that everyone has an expectation to serve and they always recognized good work and innovative ideas.

Informally, they always gave their staff the freedom to play, to try things out without worrying about failure, to look to the business world/literature for new models, to look at other departments, to learn from customers to go to non-library conferences. And to take this innovative spirit to all parts of the organization, even to the shelving people to find a way to make their jobs less physically taxing. These quiet innovators live the innovative life, rarely reporting at conferences or in the literature, they don't see themselves as innovative only as doing their best in a complex environment. The play an entrepreneurial role, trying things as pilot projects, they want the library to be seen as a source for information, as experts in research.

The attitude is that there are no failures, sometimes you try things too early in their life cycle, you have unexpected consequences, you fail to get key buy-in. You try things knowing that some of them will break. The staff structure you need to do this is very self-motivated, the kind of people that you can do more with less. Mentoring and coaching are also important, as is giving something akin to Google's 20% time to work on new projects.

Conclusions? Motivation is important, finding the staff who can and will do the job. So is organizational atmosphere, everybody looking for new ideas. Emphasize training and other prof development venues. Advice? Embrace tech, have courage going forward, encourage everyone to go to training and conferences, reward staff for professional development efforts, focus on user needs.

The Social Web: On the Importance of Happy Robots by Jesse Andrews, CommerceNet & Book Burro.

A weird little presentation, but kinda fun nevertheless. Certainly the only with massive amounts of code flashing across the screen. Not a problem for me, but I did see a few people scurrying towards the door when the javascript started to fly.

So, how to get all the social software tools on the web to interoperate, to work together and pass information? You have delicious for bookmarks, flickr for photos, librarything for books, wikipedia for information, twitter & jabber for messaging, wordpress for blogging -- how to mashup these things and get them to be part of your online life.

Problem: I'm looking for a book but I don't want to visit a bunch of different sites, both bookstores and libraries. Use robots! Software robots, that is. Commercial interfaces, like Amazon, have good robot interfaces (APIs). Local bookstores, WorldCat and many libraries have bad ones. For example, how to build an IM bot for Amazon? Use twitter/Jabber to ask the library if a book is available and get the answer back. Andrews showed many examples of how to build chains of social tools, mostly using twitter as the glue, to do interesting, real world things. Check him out at Book Burro and Overstimulate.


Christina said...

You made my day! Thanks for the kind words.

John Dupuis said...

You're welcome,Christina. It was a great presentation, you and Jill deserve the kind words for work-well-done.