Friday, October 31, 2008

Does the Innovation-Decision Process Impact Library Innovation?

It occurs to me that while libraries DO want to innovate our service development lifecycles are way too long to be really innovative. We wait until a technology has emerged before we even start learning about it. We then investigate possible service applications of a technology only when a majority of the staff are comfortable. Adding onto the lifecycle is the need to build consensus during the planning process and making sure the service is perfect before releasing it. 

So, the question I keep asking colleagues is if libraries could speed up the service development lifecycle if we were more proactive in providing awareness and how-to knowledge about innovative / disruptive technologies / services as they were emerging, rather than waiting until they emerged? 

The latest book on innovation I have opened up is Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations.  One section jumped out at me since it was a mashup of the innovation theme with library decision making process. Or, as defined by Rogers, the innovation-decision process:
The innovation-decision process is essentially an information-seeking information-processing activity in which the individual is motivated to reduce uncertainty about the advantages and disadvantages of an innovation. This is a social process involving talking to others.
Rogers describes three types of innovation related knowledge. 

Awareness-knowledge is simply information that the innovation exists. This information simply motivates than individual to seek out  How-To Knowledge, which consists of how to use the innovation 'properly.'  This is an essential type since rejection may occur if the amount of information relative to the complexity of the innovation is inadequate.  Principles-knowledge consists of information about the underlying functionality of how the innovation works.

What I instinctively liked about the Learning 2.0 approach, and what I now understand,  is that its success may be because it contains all three knowledge areas. Participants are made aware of various online tools, are provided and a hands on / how to  opportunity to play with each, and by the end the participants should have a conceptual understanding of the underlying principles of Web 2.0 / the social web. 

So, it makes sense to me that if a library creates a participatory technology learning environment it would create a more active innovation-decision process, which would then speed up the service development lifecycle.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Testing iPhone App

I just installed a blog writing application on my iPod Touch. While not my preferred method of creating an entry, it may work in a pinch.

I will find out soon if I can save this as a draft to work on later, or if the only option is to post.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Random 2008 LITA National Forum Thoughts

I attended the 2008 LITA National Forum in Cincinnati the other weekend. This was my first time attending the forum. It was nice to have a conference nearby given the recent cuts in travel allocations.

I participated in my first Forum by writing a series of posts for the LITA blog including Tim Spalding's keynote, a discussion about IT Management, the implementation of Library Labs, and the development of a Homegrown CMS. I was a bit frustrated by the number of typos that got through. The spellchecker on WordPress wasn't working on my Mac (kept getting javascript error) and I am used to going back into my published posts to make minor edits. (Which I have already done three times to this post)

The conference was well run and the communications from the organizers were great. The facilities were very nice, although open wireless access was non-existent in many of the breakout rooms. The hotel also seemed to turn off the 'default' service at the end of the sessions. At least the hotel provided 'free' wired Internet to attendees.

One thing I really liked about the Forum was that the conference planners put on a fairly green event. Participants only received two handouts: a USB key containing all he conference materials (thanks to Serials Solutions) and a badge. No packets of vendor materials. No printed conference program. No bag! Almost all conference materials including schedules, handouts, and PowerPoint's were made available prior to the conference. Participants were encouraged to print off what they needed. I just downloaded the materials to my laptop or just popped in the USB key. The wiki was also very helpful! This is in stark contrast to most conferences in which one receives literally pounds of paper, much of which goes into the garbage (hoping the hotel recycles!).

The Forum is described as a "highly regarded annual event for those involved in new and leading edge technologies in the library and information technology field." There were some interesting topics presented such as the management of web site redesigns, content management systems, and IT Dept. However, based solely on what I saw and heard at this one conference, it not for technology-oriented librarians looking for leading edge innovative solutions. (I guess I have to get myself up to Access one of these years.) Instead, the conference would seem to serve a very good niche for those responsible for managing virtual public services and are looking for already emergent technology solutions.

Did I have too high of expectations for the conference content? Probably. Did I expect a higher technology level of attendees? Probably. Case in point. In one session, the speaker asked how many of the 30 people in the room heard of Joomla. Two of us raised our hands. With that said, experiencing both Tim Spalding and Michael Porter presentations for the first time was worth the price of admission.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Annoyed Librarian: Unmasked?

There has been quite a bit of chatter in the blogosphere from Library Journal's recent decision to hire the Annoyed Librarian.   

After returning to my hotel room after dinner last night (in Cinci attending the LITA Forum) I had a message awaiting on the hotel phone with the following message:
"There is a very important matter I need to discuss with you. Please meet me in the southeast corner of the lower level of the Mall parking garage across from the hotel at 2 am. I know the identity of the Annoyed Librarian."
After a long night, I may now know the identity of the Annoyed Librarian. And no, it isn't Meredith Farkas.

I left my 11th floor hotel room at around 1:45am, sneaking down the back stairs to alley. I then walked through the shadows and around the dumpsters of the alleyway, making my across the street over into the garage, looking back often making sure I wasn't being followed.

When I arrived to the lower level nobody was there. Fifteen minutes passed, and then a half hour. Then out of the corner of my eye I caught a faint glow. There he was, waiting in a dark corner, huddled against the wall.

" So, you want to know who the Annoyed Librarian is?"

"Well, it could help me to increase the profile of my blog," I said as I took out me phone to update my Facebook status," Why are you wanting to tell me?" 

"Your Tim Spalding blog post was the first result that came up when I Googled "2008 LITA Forum blog."

It was obvious that knowing the identify of the Annoyed Blogger had taken its toll. Even when he was in the shadows of the garage I could tell was quite thin and, when the end of his cigarette glowed when he drew on it, his eyes were quite bloodshot.

The man I began to think of as Deep Link then began to sip the drink he had gingerly, then wiped his mouth inelegantly with the back of his hand.

"He ran the blog. Insulating himself through the functionaries around him. This guy is smart and can be smooth if necessary. "

"Wait a second, he?! I thought the Annoyed one was a she! How worried was he that the fact that she was a he would be found out?"

"How worried was he? Worried?" Deep Link began pacing around nervously, his lower jaw seemed to quiver. "The covert activities at LJ involves everybody and are incredible. The cover up has little to do with the blog itself. It is all a publicity stunt thought up by LJ and the Annoyed Librarian."

He walked forward towards me and in front of one of the cars in the garage and, standing erect, placed his gloved hands authoritatively on the hood as if it were a rostrum. Deep Link then confirmed what all the bloggers had missed.

"You mean the past ALA President that has been called antidigital, elitist, and a luddite by his detractors?" 

"Think about it." Deep Link said pulling out copies of posts and looking at them like a dealer studying his hand. 

"All the posts about ALA politics and even a mention of him sending fan mail. There was even several attempts to divert any attention away from himself. In fact, if you noticed, the Annoyed Librarian blog started near the end of his term as President. The Annoyed Librarian is his alter ego. Do you think he really retired?"

Deep Link then went on to talk about how politics had infiltrated every corner of LJ, a strong arm takeover, and the frightening implications on how far LJ would go to meet their ends. The involvement of at least 50 undercover LJ operatives.

So what we may be looking at can only be described as GormanGate.

As daylight began to break we parted ways. I sought out the closest LillyPad site to work on this post.... 

So that is what I know. Please feel to comment if you have other evidence which can help confirm this information. 

(thanks to Woodward and Bernstein for the inspiration and an occasional description. EDIT: Sorry Bob! Spellcheck initially changed your name...)
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Monday, October 13, 2008

Consensus Building Cripples Library Innovation

I am not a fan of consensus building, an approach that is common in many, if not most, library organizations. While such an approach can be effective for small groups it has a number of shortcomings in larger groups, or if used to manage an organization.

One of the problems I have with consensus building is that an individual or a small minority can effectively block agreement to a proposal or idea. It unfairly tips the decision-making scales towards a staff member who may simply like the existing conditions, which may continue to exist long after the majority would like the conditions changed. Consensus building has the potential to reward the least accommodating group or staff members while punishing those trying to innovate. 

By giving all group or staff members the right to block any idea or proposal, an organization can essentially be held hostage to an inflexible minority or an individual. The impact this has on a library's ability to create innovative library services can be significant since creative or alternative ideas can be blocked or slowed by a small minority.

Consensus building also focuses on the need to discuss the topic ad nauseam and the need to seek the input of anyone would could possibly be affected.  This turns decision making into a very time-consuming process. This poses a liability to organizations trying to become more innovative since decisions often need to be made quickly. Since innovative process often result in half -baked solutions, it is simply not feasible to incorporate the opinions of everyone who could be affected in a reasonable period of time.
Library organizations probably migrate to consensus building since they generally want to work towards agreement, not disagreement. Yet, innovative organizations more often create atmospheres in which there is a great deal of disagreement and debate. Staff in innovative organizations learn how to disagree and build up a tolerance for disagreement. In such organizations, everyone is encouraged to act based on their individual motivations, and are rewarded simply for acting, rather than for success or failure. If libraries wish to create a culture innovation, we must 'allow' staff with the desire and energy to act on their own vision. This means that libraries must also empower staff to act by changing the system of rewards and support non-consensus decision-making processes.

Throughout history the most innovative ideas have been in opposition of the consensus opinion. According to Robert S. Root-Bernstein, the decision to go forward with an innovative idea should not be made because everyone agreed that it would work, but instead on different set of criteria: 
  • that it was controversial, striking at the heart of the field. (Libraries tend to want to avoid controversy) 
  • that it hasn’t been tried before and was therefore likely to yield new knowledge regardless of the outcome. (Libraries tend to wait until 'someone else' does it first and publishes it in the literature. And if it fails nobody will ever forget it did.)
  • that it was designed in such a way that it would easily be seen whether it worked or not (Libraries tend to over-think solutions and make things more complex then they need to be)
  • that the research was relatively inexpensive compared with the possible pay-off if success were to occur. (See above)
  • that the idea had a champion (or leader) who was willing and eager to risk his or her time and effort to implement the program. (Libraries support this notion, but there also needed to be a task force or committee with full representation and, oh, there still needs to be a consensus) 
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Monday, October 06, 2008

Changing Academic Librarianship Scholarship Criteria

I am privileged to be serving as the Chair of our University Libraries Promotion and Tenure Committee.

In preparation for this responsibility, I have been catching up on various trends relating to scholarship and what is going on at tenure granting academic libraries. There is a great wiki site on the topic that appears to be managed by Chris Lewis, Media Librarian at American University.

Specifically, I have been curious about the criteria used to define and evaluate scholarship in tenure and promotion cases. This post is one of many I expect to write on the topic over the next year.

I have a healthy respect for the need and desire to keep the traditions of the academy. Still, I seem to be wondering aloud alot more lately about the increasing gap between how scholarship in academic librarianship is defined and the practices of the profession. As a profession we talk about the need to be more innovative and make use of emerging technologies. However, how can we ever expect faculty to push the innovation and emerging technology envelopes if the criteria we use to define and evaluate scholarship remains rooted in the dark ages of academia and librarianship?

I applaud a number of libraries in redefine how they define and evaluate scholarship. Here are just a few I uncovered:

From the Florida Atlantic University Libraries Promotion Guidelines:
  • The research and development of courses or classes in librarianship or a scholarly topic on which the individual has expertise
  • Obtaining grants and other funding, such as fellowships, internships or study leaves, which benefit the FAU Libraries or librarianship
  • Developing original computer software or successful adaptations of software for the FAU Libraries or professional uses
  • Developing original uses of other technologies to enhance FAU Libraries’ operations.
The above items caught my attention. Unlike some criteria I have seen, FAU does not appear to distinguish scholarship as being independent from job related activities. The creation of curriculum and courses relating to a specialty are considered. Grants and external funding in support of library services, not just the associated publications are considered. Software or technologies created or adapted in support of library services are also considered.

The University at Buffalo included many of the traditional contributions but included "Significant web based publications that can be peer reviewed." In evaluating such works, the document states:
    Peer review is characterized by the disinterested, critical review of the candidate’s research or creative activity by respected members of that community.
    What caught my attention is how they they do not define peer review. The document does not indicate peer-review as being a prerequisite to publication. One therefore could assume that peer-review includes feedback obtained after publication. What I like here is that one could define blogging as a 'significant web based publication' and comments and track backs becoming evidence of peer review.

    Oregon State University also has an interesting way of defining scholarship:
    In some fields, refereed journals and monographs are the traditional media for communication and peer validation; in others, exhibitions and performances. In still other fields, emerging technologies are creating, and will continue to create, entirely new media and methods.

    This definition seems to allow the library system maximum flexibility in accepting a wide variety of activities as scholarship, including the development of software, application of technology to enhance library services, and yes, even blogging. Sphere: Related Content