Regarding Innovation

Every month at some undetermined point in time, I remember that I need to change the banner on the blog. It’s a haphazard process of finding a quote based on my moods, searching Flickr for Creative Commons licensed pictures that go with it, and then a mishmash of the two. I use Inkscape and GIMP to create what looms at the top of my blog for a period of time that is more or less a month. I add each blog banner to a collection in my Flickr account so that others can see the banners that have graced the header (and I can double check and see if I used a quote or picture before).

In creating this month’s banner, I picked the quote because it really spoke to me and the librarian profession. There certainly is a lot of hand wringing going on over, well, just about everything. Swapping away from Dewey? Crazy. Removing every sign in the library? Crazy. Expanding the collection beyond to things like games, home improvement tools, and cookware? Crazy. Directly lobbying politicians for library funding? Crazy for some, old news for others. But you get my point.

I can understand why some of those examples are considered crazy. They are radical breaks from the status quo, the standard operating procedures for the library. This is not to say that the status quo is necessarily bad; there is a reason that it has become the norm which includes being the most efficient technique for accomplishing a certain task. There are certain status quos that don’t need to be tinkered with. The trouble is that they are not labeled as such.

While I’m on this end of the idea, I’d like to point out that there is a distinct difference the individuals who argue against change. There are people who have weighed each idea and find that the current model or technique is still the better of the two. It’s a decision that we make in our lives all the time; a comparison followed by a decision. Should I stay with this bank or open an account with another? Should I buy my usual cereal or a new one? It’s a pretty normal thing.

Then there are the people who argue against change for reasons not based on such a comparison. They are afraid, stubborn, workspace territorial, or (in a narrow range of case) vindictive; they are against change simply because it is change, not because of an evaluative process. These are the villains of the dialogue over changes within the library, the library profession, and the evolution of the library. And it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two types; it takes some inquiry to figure out their reasoning and motivations and even then it’s can be a judgment call.

For the librarians pushing this level of change, it’s a difficult thing. To give these people credit, I would highly doubt it is the product of casual thinking. There seems to be little credence given to the sheer volume of effort that is placed behind such notions. It’s the very definition of innovation: to create something as the result of study and experimentation. When it comes to this kind of institutional change, I think the supporting research, time spent examining and discussing the idea, and the hours invested in it get lost sometimes on the opposition. The interest in the result preempts any examination on the underlying rationale and analysis that precluded the change. And that’s a shame, really.

But all innovation doesn’t have to be radical. We are surrounded by products that were just slight upgrades from previous incarnations. Whether it is the material used, an added function, or a new purpose, those are all tiny innovations. For example, the modern pen is a series of incremental changes that go all the way back to the quill. Yes, there were some leaps in the technology (think the ball point and plastic), but the bulk of changes over time to the design of the pen itself were smaller ones.

I believe this brings this discussion around to Ranganathan’s Fifth Law: “The library is a growing organism”. For me, it’s an evolution. Even in the simplest acts (such as moving collection from one place to another or offering an additional way to renew a book), there is innovation. It’s an improvement on a previous design. It may not yield a ripple in the greater picture; it may change the greater picture as whole. The nasty drawback of library innovation is that it doesn’t always scale, apply, or even make sense based on the numerous differences between library sizes and types. But let not that be a hindrance to the changes that work where you are and sharing those results with the work.

As Mr. Ellison says, if you’re going to innovate, be prepared for people to tell you that you’re nuts. For me, I’d take it as a compliment. It means I’m doing something right, even if it is making people think about what I’m doing wrong.

2 thoughts on “Regarding Innovation

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Regarding Innovation « Agnostic, Maybe -- Topsy.com

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