This series of posts are from an assignment Alison Miller gave we future librarians Innovation in Public Libraries class Spring 2013 where our long-term assignment was to create a project plan for a new library service or program, and the information and ideas I gained from speaking with Canadian treasure Ken Roberts were too great to keep to the confines of my laptop. Now that I am a recently graduated and fully certified librarian, I know these ideas will be ones I will want to revisit frequently. I hope you do to!
Last Post: Implementing Innovation
Ken’s innovation inspiration is homegrown. He reminisces, “my Dad was one of the very first environmental engineers, [so] I grew up with it. I was watching my Dad [innovate] all the time. I guess it was that kind of lack of fear of things that you can’t see.” I mention this idea is the prevalent in Chris Anderson’s 2012 book Makers, crediting his grandfather’s inventiveness with his own affinity for innovation. Ken reminds me that Anderson “makes the point in that book too that you have to be willing to understand that means people with ideas can come from any walk of life and any place, which he says is one of the great things about the online community because you don’t know anything about the person, you just know the ideas they’re coming up with”. This reminds me of Joe Kraus’ article reviewing Josh Linker’s book Disciplined Dreaming where Linker reminds us all to think like a six year old daily to strengthen our curiosity and increase our ability to innovate.
Seeking the “unseeable” future, as impossible as it might seem, is critical for the future health of libraries. Libraries need to consider “apperception”, and “to sell their street presence and the need for them to be visible entities within their communities…The term ‘apperception’ really means it’s the memory or the intellectual belief or thought, the image that you have of your head of a person, place, or thing as opposed to the reality of that person, place, or thing. In advertising and design, it works on the particular image so you have that image inside your head. What I was thinking about when I was reading [about apperception] is the fact that for more than 50 years, when we go back and we talk about the image of the…public library, we always know that way less than 50% of the people are regular users of the library in even the best communities. Libraries keep talking about how do we convert and make it that more people are using the libraries. That’s actually not going to happen. What you have to do is that more than half the people by far think well of you. The surveys that are done in terms of public satisfaction of services, it’s frequently the top two services are fire and library, and library scores around 80% of the community that thinks well of you. Well, we know in all of those communities that score 80%, less than 50% have a library card. That means 20% of the people think well of you even though they don’t use you at all. Why is that?…When they were kids they visited libraries, they went to story times, they did all of those different types of things. They have an image of the library that is of being a basic societal good. But when I look at my younger kids, they didn’t go to the library to do school projects; they did them with online material. Even if that online material came from the library they didn’t always realize….My concern is that the apperception of the library—and we see this in lots of the news reports and the responses that people give to them—is changing, and it’s changing quite rapidly. How do we innovatively change that apperception and make it so that people think well of us? We know from the PEW research and OCLC research that people still associate [libraries] with books, books, books, and books, even though that’s not who we are anymore. How do we manage to change that apperception? My belief is that—and this is one of the things we do in Hamilton and do exceptionally well—every new building and every new renovation has to absolutely speak to the street; has to have big windows; has to make it so that the public computing area is seen from the street so that people driving by on their way home see people inside of it; has to make sure that the lounge area with Wi-Fi shows people using their laptops in addition to the books that are in the background. Because you want those people that are going home from work, that are going to work in the morning, that are going shopping on the weekend, to pass that library, to glance inside, and to think ‘even if I don’t use that library…that place is doing good things’”.
Ken’s final point holds the most gravity for us all. We spend our waking hours toiling to create beautiful, transformative library spaces. We are learning how to market and promote our resources. Yet it the most powerful tool we have to remain a useful part of our communities is the sum of our work, in plain sight, front and center, so that people who pass by our windows or come in our doors know that good things happen in libraries, that these good things lead to healthy, educated societies, and it is these values that are worthwhile to invest in for now and forever. This is not to say we hide the books. After all, books are our brand. We keep them visible while still showing our communities what we are working hard to provide them in addition to books. That we think libraries are more than just books. Libraries are creation spaces, community places, knowledge incubators. And that our beautiful buildings mean nothing without people inside them.