Thursday, June 26, 2008

Michael Schrage at ALA Friday 6/27 at 1:30p

If you are at ALA, make sure you attend the OCLC Symposium: The Mashed-Up Library at 1:30 on Friday 6/27 that includes a great keynote speaker and panel that will discuss developing new library services by mixing data and functionality from several sources.

The keynote speaker with Michael Schrage, author of Serious Play and Shared Minds—The New Technologies of Collaboration and columnist for CIO and MIT’s Technology Review.

The panel includes Susan Gibbons, Associate Dean, Public Services & Collection Development, University of Rochester (NY) River Campus Libraries David Lee King, Digital Branch & Services Manager, Topeka & Shawnee County (KS) Public Library, and Mary Beth Sancomb-Moran, Librarian, University of Minnesota, Rochester.

Any librarian that is concerned about how their organization can remain relevant in the time of technological change and how we can establish services where our customers are should attend. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, June 23, 2008

Will the Next Generation of Library Systems be Customer Generated?

I have been lurking in on an OhioLink task force discussing "next generation" discovery layers. One of the latest postings to the group was by Peter Murray , who highlighted a report from the Next Generation Summit Search Interface Working Group of the Orbis/Cascade Alliance.

The report supports several concepts I have been pushing for a couple years now, including the idea of consortia to support library systems development. However, the more important concept is included in the report’s recommendations:

Regardless of who provides the Alliance’s next generation OPAC product, one of the deliverables that must be available as part of any solution is API or web services access to the catalog. Access at this level is important for two reasons:

... All major ILS vendors but III provide their customers a web services or HTTP REST API access to their systems, allowing for continued development around the catalog. Lacking such access, the Summit catalog will continue to be marginalized within the consortium’s academic campuses as tools and services are developed that take advantage of web service friendly applications.

... The Alliance should strive to create a resource that encourages users, libraries, and campuses to develop services around the Summit catalog. The library community has recognized that our patrons want social tools, which we tend to identify as tagging, commenting, etc. However, Web 2.0 applications like Flickr are popular because of the API access that they provide to their users as well. This access has enabled other web services, individuals, and organizations to develop different methods for exporting and utilizing the images placed within the Flickr photo archive. The Alliance should strive to make the Summit catalog open in this way, so that users and members alike are free to enhance Summit to meet individual, campus, or consortial needs.

Aha. Without using the geek terminology what they are describing is actually Service Oriented Architecture. However, what I am really excited to read is the desire on the part of the Alliance to break library culture and control over bibliographic information and to let the customers play with it. The number of applications that make use of the Google Maps shows how creative customers can be in seeing new connections between information sources.

I could see a customer building a new system in which leverages OPAC data in a weekend which could take a library organization a year to work through. Libraries should be building and licencing systems which exposes our content and data. Let the customers can play with it. Let them mash it up. Let them create systems that fit their immediate needs.

The challenge is that libraries do build systems and services with our (librarian) needs in mind. Our need for control. Our need for perfection. Our need for process. A library information system (or service) that uses a development process that does not meet our internal cultural needs is almost immediately classified as being a failure. We then focus way too much energy doing a post mortem on what went wrong in the development process in an effort to "do it right the next time."

It's no wonder that library systems of tomorrow are really just library systems of yesterday.

It seems to me that as a profession we are stuck in a bad relationship with our systems and vendors. We just can't figure out a way to get out of it. Are we happy that III will not give us APIs? Are we so insecure with our relationship with them that we are content to take what they give us? Do we feel we are that powerless?

The approach that the Alliance has outlined in their report is a extremely positive sign that some finally have had enough and are willing to make the hard decisions required for information system independence.

Photo: "REST eye for the SOA GUY" by psd. Creative Commons. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Does the Medici Effect Work for Libraries?

The Medicis were a banking family in Florence that funded sculptors, scientists, poets, painters, and architects among others. Individuals from many disciplines converged upon the city of Florence where they learned from one another while breaking down barriers between disciplines. They forged a world based on new ideas and created what we know as as the Renaissance.

In his book The Medici Effect, author Frans Johansson discusses how he sees the drivers of innovation as being diversity and the intersection of disciplines.
"The key difference between a field and an intersection of fields lies in how concepts within them are combined... If you operate within a field, you primarily are able to combine concepts within that particular field, generating ideas that evolve along a particular direction -- what I call directional ideas. When you step into the Intersection, you can combine concepts between multiple fields, generating ideas that leap in new directions -- what I call intersectional ideas."
Most individuals are predisposed to using directional thinking when faced with a problem or challenge. Solutions based on the intersection of ideas requires breaking down the barriers between traditional methods, fields, and disciplines. Intersectional ideas are important because they have the potential to create what Clayton Christensen calls disruptive innovations.

We recently interviewed candidates for our open Library Director (technically an AVP) position. I asked about how one goes about changing the culture of a library from one being focused on planning and makings sure everything we do is right the first time to a culture in which half-baked ideas and failure are permissible.

One candidate responded that the culture needs to be changed from the inside out. When asked for an example, they describe a situation where they intentionally hired a person with a technical services background to work in the circulation department. Their thinking was that the staff member would bring to the circulation department a perceptive based on the technical services discipline. The result was that new ideas and processes developed. The candidate intentionally created a new intersection, which resulted in a mini-Medici Effect, if you will.

Libraries looking to become more innovative can do so by intentionally creating an environment/organization in the Medici Effect can occur. This can be accomplished very simply by strategic reassignment of staff in key areas as the candidate did.

On a much larger scale, a library can reorganize itself so that existing work/social networks are broken up, an approach that Johansson also suggests. Breaking networks takes a deliberate effort and is tricky because networks are made up of relationships between people, and relationships are cultivated over time. Social networks are built upon relationships that often go beyond work and becomes the foundation for trust. Breaking these social networks would mean disrupting the social capital that has been built within parts of the organization.

Still, one can build a strong argument that innovation is more likely to occur when an organization moves from one that aspires to enhance existing social networks to one that breaks them, then rebuilds them over again.

Photo "Medici statute" by Vic15 is available though the Creative Commons license Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Three Perspectives on Innovation

I have been given a great opportunity to lead an innovation task force for Ohio State University Libraries. The TF is one of several the resulted from a day long planning session held back in April. The goal of each of the TF is to help the library create a five year plan. I am planing to create a series of posts based on the TF activities.

The following are several perspectives on innovation the TF has uncovered:

Michael Schrage:
  • Innovation is more social than personal. It is a byproduct of how well or poorly one plays with others. Behavior - not knowledge, not insight - drives innovation.
  • You can't be a serious innovator unless you are willing and able to play

Clayton Christensen:

  • You have to be careful which customers you listen to, and then you need to watch what they do, not listen to what they say."
  • The problem is when you say "listen to your customers," your customers are only going to lead you in a direction that they want to go in. Generally, that will never lead you to disruptive growth. You've got to find that new set of customers, and listen to them and follow them. That's the trick.

Andrew H. Van De Ven:

  • People and organizations are largely designed to focus on, harvest, and protect existing practices than pay attention to developing new ideas. The more successful an organization the more difficult this is. (Christensen echoes this theory)
  • While the innovation of conception process many be an individual activity, innovation is a collective achievement of pushing and riding those ideas.
  • The process of transforming innovation into practice involves so many individuals that those involved may lose sight of the big picture.
  • Innovations transform the structure and practices of an organization. The problem is creating an infrastructure conducive to innovation.
Sphere: Related Content