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.
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?