Thursday, April 09, 2009

OSU Library Labs: Concept to Production in 90 Days

The number of libraries discussing the concepts of agile development, perpetual beta, and rapid prototyping is encouraging. The one thing that all of these approaches have in common is the idea of including customers as active participants in the development and/or testing of new products and services. To that end, many libraries have created library labs sites to distribute various experimental and half-baked tools and gadgets.

A library lab allows an academic library to introduce new services at any time, not just during the three week window between semesters or when the services are ‘perfected.’ It creates an environment for users to experiment with new services. It is a showcase for projects under development or consideration. There is really no limit to what can be put on a labs site, nor is it limited to just technology solutions. A labs site allows a library to invest just enough resources to see if the idea is worth investing in, or let go of prototypes in a dignified manner.

The idea of an OSU labs site has been kicked around internally for at least a year. The challenge was other projects and job responsibilities kept the project in concept mode. Well, today we soft-launched OSU Library Labs.

In late January, as I prepared to transition to my new emerging technologies role, I assembled a small team of five people to (finally) move the project forward. The team members were selected based on both their interest in emerging technologies and in doing a project, well, differently. Since the project was outside the responsibilities of the team members, and that we have a traditionally organizational structure, I worked on an elevator talk (um, err, email) to present to the appropriate managers to gain 'permission' for staff involvement. Fortunately, everyone was excited by the project concept.

Once the initial team was assembled, the first thing we discussed was the need to work against natural tendencies of wanting to get buy-in at all levels and creating the perfect service. This was actually harder than one would think and surprising since we had no outside pressures. In fact, we had support for doing things differently. Goes to show how old behaviors are hard to change.

Once we granted ourselves permission to behave differently, the team decided to work on two-week deadlines. We met in person four times for an hour each. We kept things as simple as possible and kept catching ourselves when we began to over think or over plan. As the title states, it took us 90-days from the first time we began discussions to the posting of our "Hello World" entry.

The team has already gotten props for how fast we got the project up and online. Congrats team! Sphere: Related Content

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