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New Job Title: Innovation Catalyst Librarian

image via WilzDesign on Flickr

There are a growing number of positions that I’ve seen that are focused on new technologies and fresh ideas in libraries. From time to time I get questions or emails asking about my previous role as an Emerging Technologies Librarian and advice that I might have for people starting out in a similar role. While I think these roles are going to be very different from institution to institution I think there are some bits of advice that will contribute to success in a role dedicated to new tech and ideas. People in these roles should not think of themselves as the “tech person” though. Thinking only about tech is extremely limiting. They should think of themselves as innovation catalysts. That is the reason they were hired, though it’s not always that explicit. They were hired to make meaningful change at their institution. To do this sort of work, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Spend time in the future

For someone who wants to be a leader of meaningful change in the library, it’s necessary to focus on the future, not just incremental improvements. Being aware of trends inside and especially outside of libraries will allow you to more easily change course or seize opportunities you might otherwise miss. The thing is though, this takes time. You have to regularly set aside time to read, research, explore and engage with others. You have to purposely spend time in the future. Some of my favorite spots include blogs, people on Twitter, and even print magazines.

Blogs:

Twitter:
List of some Twitter Folks focused on the future (people like Anil Dash, Seth Brogan, Joi Ito, Richard Branson, etc.)
Magazines (a lot of this content is free online but I like the print design and can’t I check my email on a magazine):

Experiment…a lot

Not every initiative that you try is going to work. This shouldn’t  be discouraging though. As Churchill said, “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” As a librarian who is trying to invent the future, you have to do a lot of experimentation. You have to have multiple pilot projects going and be learning from them, especially the ones that don’t work. To do this type of work you need to develop an experimental, entrepreneurial spirit. A couple of great resources for this are Think Like a Startup and Too Much Assessment Not Enough Innovation, whitepapers by Brian Mathews.

Stop talking to librarians

Librarians are awesome, but they’re not always the best people to talk to if you want fresh, future oriented perspectives. That’s not to say that librarians are stuck in the past, for the most part we’re not. But being professionals we bring a certain perspective and it becomes hard to see through different lenses. The most important people you can talk to are members of your learning community. Talk regularly to students and faculty, not about the library but about their needs and what they feel success looks like. Attend faculty senate meetings and student advisory boards. Create opportunities to talk with and better understand your users and see the world with fresh eyes.

Whether you’re an emerging technologies librarian or an innovation catalyst librarian (I hope someone uses this title)  it’s necessary to be aware of larger trends, develop entrepreneurial habits, and get outside your limited perspective and your curse of knowledge. What other habits or perspectives do you find necessary in inventing the future of libraries?

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Librarians: Ultimate Inter-Disciplinarians

We’ve been having a lot of students coming in recently working on a really challenging literature review assignment for their junior year Core classes (interdisciplinary common curriculum). They often need 20-40 sources about some technology related to globalization in human rights. This task often seems overwhelming to the students who come for help. But I have started using a really effective method to help students focus and get them to start structuring and planning their paper.

image via Richard Scott 33 on Flickr

I’ve begun using mind-mapping as a tool at the reference desk to get students to break their topic down into different pieces and begin seeing the connections between ideas from across disciplines. Once students actually see their topic broken down on a piece of paper it begins to take shape for them and they begin to feel a lot less overwhelmed. 20 or more sources doesn’t seem as daunting when they are about  various aspects of the same topic.

Making connections is one of the things librarians do best. We’re the ultimate inter-disciplinarians. I admire people who have deep, rich subject knowledge and are experts in their fields, but I could never concentrate on just one thing like logical positivism or Emerson. The reason I got into librarianship is because I’m interested in a lot of different things. I read about and explore a variety of subjects from psychology and philosophy, to business and education, to science, space and dinosaurs. I got into librarianship because I’m curious, and want to further the cause of human curiosity.

We see, and help others see, connections that they might miss due to tunnel vision or simply being too immersed in the problem. If their topic is social media we might ask about the cultural or marketing impacts. If their topic is women and human rights we might bring up the recent example of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan. If their interested in biomedical technology we might mention nanobots or bring up possible ethical issues.

The silos of different disciplines continue to increasingly break down to solve 21st century problems that can’t be solved with a single way of thinking. In this environment, librarians will be well positioned to help people make these important connections between science and anthropology, between psychology and economics, not to mention previously unexplored connections between information problems and solutions. The world isn’t separated along clear fault lines, it’s richly interconnected. And being able to make those connections are skills that we can provide and help teach our students, so they can go out and solve the big problems.