Thinking Beyond the Profession

Maybe it’s just me, but the more I crane my neck outside of librarianship, the more I see new library initiatives being discussed in other professions. 3-D printing, the sharing economy or collective consumption, gamification, curation, information retrieval, content creation—the list goes on. The thing I find the most fascinating and reassuring is many of these other very credible industries discuss these same trends with the same level of concern about the impact they will have on their professions. So we can all breathe easier knowing we’re doing our best to keep up and to constantly bounce new ideas off of the old to make sure we’re staying true to ourselves while moving our professions forward. Instead, we can focus on ways we can contribute to the conversation and rev up libraries for our communities.

Where I see a difference is in scale and speed.

We are great at recognizing trends, and many forward-thinking librarians implement them fairly quickly. But with red tape and budgets, often the scale is small and dispersed. Small potatoes—appreciated within communities, but small. And by the time other libraries catch on, it’s more of a reaction to staying current within the profession rather than answering a global push towards new thinking.

I also think that librarians have a lot to offer these conversations—in many cases, as much or more to offer than we would take from the knowledge base. Many lament the future of libraries, and one way we can simultaneously remain stable and transform the way the world sees us is to be part of these larger conversations. Take part in the interdisciplinary movement and have discussions and collaborate on research projects with others outside of the profession. That means shifting focus from sharing ideas at library conferences and within scholarly journals towards tools that engage the global community. Librarians are valuable members of many organizations outside traditional librarianship, so let’s take the challenge to scale up and partner with other industries to shape trends that in turn we can bring back to our communities.

Thoughts on Busy

I’ve been reading and hearing the b-word a lot lately: busy. Being an ultra-organized perfectionist doing my best to ease up on the second part, it’s something that stands out for me as a new four-letter-word.

Everyone’s busy, and we’d all like to care about others’ busy-ness if we weren’t just so darned busy!

So if we’re all busy, then maybe nobody’s actually busy?

Just wait–imagine that for a second. What if we all just switched from feeling overwhelmed from what we have to do every day, to taking it like an adventurous challenge to do more and be just a little bit better every day.

But how on earth is that possible–I’m just so darned busy!

We’re grown ups. And yes, we all have stuff to do every day we don’t really want to do. What if we switched up our approach? What if we made it a game? Find ways to get through the less-than-fun stuff as quickly and efficiently as possible to make more time for the fun stuff, or the nothingness which is completely valid and worthwhile.

I’m a contractor now which is in sharp contrast to my last public sector job. As a contractor, I want to be involved in as many collaborative projects as possible where I have the most impact with the least amount of effort. I’m not lazy, in fact just the opposite. My days are filled with greater productivity than ever before and the skill of juggling projects comes with time. Long-term laborious projects better exceed value expectations because anything short of that would be a wasted effort, or basically working for nothing. Busy is good. Busy means I’ll always have a job. Way too many projects for me to handle means that I’m in demand and my value increases.

Instead of thinking about being busy, think about how much you would have earned today if you were billing by the hour and rethink your game plan for the greatest efficiency.

And I can tell you three degrees later (the two master’s degrees were completed while working full time) that the day after I graduated I was infinitely better at my professional skills than the day before. Why was that? Because I got out from under the mental torment of a to-do list and instead freed up my mind to the possibility of what was next. Not busy. Instead, the next new cool thing I just couldn’t wait to learn or do. That’s all it took for me to switch my outlook: new and cool not swamped and overwhelmed. Make it a game–you might be glad you did.

Interview with an Innovator: Inspiration (Part 3 of 3)

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.

Interview with an Innovator: Implementing Innovation (Part 2 of 3)

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: What is Innovation?

How can library leaders successfully improve facilities and services? Ken believes “innovation is not owned by one person or by one even small group of people. It has to be owned by the larger group with the sense of encouraging them to look at the daily operations for ways that things can be done differently….One of the things that you have to do to bring about change or innovation is a constant state of experimentation or piloting….You can actually put innovation through much more quickly—for example RFID, or self check, or any of those types of things—if you bring it in in a few locations and have everybody look at it and see it instead of just having it be this theoretical thing that’s in the sky”. This is very similar to the way that the Apple Store was developed, with Mickey Drexler, formerly of Gap, at the helm. The Apple Store was prototyped inside a warehouse where it was improved iteratively until it was ready for retail (Useem, 2007). Apple’s need to innovate came as they launched the iPhone but didn’t want to be at the mercy of big box stores. By starting small and experimenting they had the freedom to fail and brainstorm, which led to the Genius Bar. Is it possible that libraries can take a cue from Apple and apply this process to areas where we feel threatened from external pressures, such as the eBook market or Netflix subscription models?

Ken also believes firmly in evidence-based librarianship and the power of user needs assessment before implementing new resources; however, he cautions: “One thing I think you can’t do [is] rely too much upon [member feedback]…for [a library’s] strategic plan;…it’s the wrong approach to it. Sometimes you just have to know what is the right thing to do despite the fact that the public response is to do something quite different”. It seems here a balance between user needs assessment and professional opinion would provide optimum results. Even the most brilliant innovation is a waste of precious library resources if it is something users don’t want. Yet it is up to librarians to nudge their members towards a new vision of libraries that bumps against the edge of their comfort zone and stretches the boundaries further. It is this expansion of the known universe where libraries can provide value to their communities. But it does not end here. Rather, libraries must create programs grounded in measureable outcomes, and use simple assessment tools to evaluate on the fly, closing the loop to improve programming over time while keeping assessment within the scope of what is possible for already-busy librarians. This kind of assessment takes courage, because sometimes it uncovers the need to abandon unsuccessful programs and resources.

Building on this idea, Ken believes “the hardest part [of innovation] is not necessarily doing something new, it’s deciding what you’re not going to do. If you have ‘x’ amount of resources and they don’t tend to grow, then if you’re going to do something new you’re either going to drop the way you’re doing something that you previously did or you’re going to drop doing it completely. Innovation actually means that there’s a review. It’s not adding new things on top of the organization, it’s replacing things that you’re going to do and using people more efficiently throughout the organization. So, I think that means the organization has to learn that there’s a commitment to train, to re-train, to re-position jobs so that people if they’re taking on more responsibility are compensated for that. There has to be some type of a culture that encourages people to stop what they’re doing and to be willing to move to something else. The other thing involved is that [they have] to be appreciated for the time for that whatever they did was relevant to the organization”. This “appreciative inquiry” is the foundation of innovation that Ken has already described as a team sport, and leaders are responsible for creating a safe environment “where there’s a lot of…experimentation that takes place and there’s not a fear of failure. There’s not a fear of changing it from the original content. There’s not a sense of ‘the CEO said we have to do this so we’re going to do it that way even if it’s the wrong thing to do’. You can’t have that type of a culture”. This encouragement of the unknown must come from the belly of the management team and must drive all library innovation. Even the slightest hint of punishment from failure could freeze creativity in its tracks, wasting precious energy to thaw. And since innovation doesn’t happen in isolation, it is critical that library leaders nurture collaborative teams to dream the best ideas and create the best resources for their communities.

Next Post: Inspiration

Interview with an Innovator: What is Innovation? (Part 1 of 3)

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!

Ken Roberts is a Canadian public library treasure. He retired as Chief Librarian at Hamilton Public Library in May 2012, having ushered in countless initiatives to strengthen the link between library and community (Wong, 2012). A former CLA Chair, Ken was deservedly honored by the Canadian Library Association with an Outstanding Service to Librarianship Award (CLA, 2012). Few librarians understand the Canadian book ecosystem as completely as Ken: as Chair of the Canadian Urban Libraries Council working towards a new eBook delivery model linking libraries directly to publishers (CULC, 2012), and as an award-winning children’s book author. Innovation is a significant part of Ken Roberts’ success.

Ken distinguishes between “between big picture innovation and smaller innovation. There’s that transformational or the disruptive innovation, and there are the ones that are gradual outcomes from what you’ve seen before. And most of the time what we actually call innovation is, to an extent, copying something else and…twisting it a little bit so that you can actually see it….So, it’s really easy to be innovative for things you can see, that are on the horizon, that it’s clear that there’s a particular direction that you have to go in. It’s somewhat harder to do it when those elements are masked from you a little bit”. I confess that have not seen this “unseeable” thing as I seek to create an innovative public library project plan; however, Ken reminds me that “a large part of innovation is looking at our own existing services and taking a look at the world, and saying what are the impacts on the trends that we’re seeing and how those services can be changed. But it has to be a willingness to constantly do that. It’s remarkable to me that public access computing is one of the newest services provided by libraries…and yet in many respects the way in which we treat it is the most dated of all of those services”. Public library computer workstations are designed for short, silent, single-purpose, single-use conversations between computers and users. Yet technology is now social, noisy, interactive, and everywhere, something Ken describes in his 2012 Facing the Future report after visiting Amsterdam Central Library with their comfortable, flexible computer seating and Mohawk College Library with their collaborative, dynamic computing workstations for knowledge creation. Public libraries have invested in modern IT networks where Wi-Fi turns every inch of the building into a computer lab, and in multimedia creation spaces that allow for sophisticated multimedia project creation. Yet many libraries still offer “…one hour blocks of time” that are not conducive to members’ technology project needs.

Next post: Implementing Innovation

Public library lessons from the past: Ron Yeo

I read an inspirational article this week by Gary Deane (2005) that proves it doesn’t matter the location, all library systems can make a difference. The article about Ron Yeo, Regina Public Library’s (Saskatchewan, Canada) Chief Librarian from 1972-1988 who came to libraries later in life after a career in the book business. As such, he took a decidedly marketing focus and committed to management that put user needs first (p. 164). He ran the library like a business.

Yeo took calculated risks to innovate (p. 164). He did not rest on the idea that libraries would survive on the belief that they are necessary and good. He wanted change (p. 164). Yeo expected management to contribute to a creative and collaborative environment; status quo was not welcome (p. 164). He collaborated with the art gallery, film theatre, and local artists of all kinds (even hiring a curator) to bring cultural events into the library, seeing how much library users valued the local arts scene. He began collecting audio visual materials and screened independent and foreign films. And when he was challenged by provincial film groups, he stood his ground, citing the Public Libraries Act and the library’s mandate documents (p. 165). Yeo launched a model learning and literacy centre, including local psychologists, work that would later lead to an honorary doctorate (pp. 165-166). He also started the first writer in residence program (p. 166). His social responsibility and need to reach non-users led him to create an outreach program in local prisons (p. 166). The whole time, Yeo navigated bureaucracy, valued relationships, focused on results, and hired innovators and developed their skills, allowing them to do what they did best, and encouraging “constructive discontent” (p. 166).

The article is also a who’s who of prominent Canadian public library leaders who once worked at RPL. This entrepreneurial approach to library management seems so ahead of its time, closely aligned to what we learn today in library school. It seems to me that this is the exact rift between those stuck in the traditional library past, and those looking to the future. It’s not just libraries where this occurs; higher ed campuses are experiencing it too. We need to be brave and learn from leaders like Yeo that we are on the right path. Twenty five years later, Yeo’s vision is still relevant in public libraries.


Deane, G. (2005). Lasting lessons in leadership: How a former book trade rep took a library from good to truly great. Public Libraries, 44(3). 163-168.

A staff that reflects our community

I feel strongly that a library staff complement should reflect the faces of their community. And that is why I feel equally strongly that there is a meaningful place for people with disabilities–of any kind–to work as a library employee. In the past, have supervised two students with disabilities over a period of four years, and the positive impact for the workplace equaled the positive experience for the employee. I was interviewed about this for the 2010 newsletter for STEPS Forward, “a family-driven organization founded to ensure that people with developmental disabilities are included as students in the academic and social life of colleges and universities of British Columbia” and I want to share it here with you.

“When I received a request from STEPS Forward for the first time to have a student with developmental and physical disabilities apply for a job I was grateful we had a position that would fit. I can say with confidence that both students were nervous on their first day, and so was I. Neither of us knew what to expect. It was a ‘first job’ for the students and a first for me working alongside employees with significant disabilities. But once I got to know the students as people it became more about helping a person fit well into their job. I will continue learning from supervising students with disabilities, and have greatly increased my own person comfort zone, something I’m very grateful for. We feel more confident too working alongside and serving students with disabilities. It is just what we do now. We gelled more as a team wanting to provide support for a fellow colleague. We streamlined the tasks that the students perform, which has had a positive impact for everyone. In fact the students and the job coaches had ideas to make daily workflows better, something from which we have all benefited.

These experiences have changed the way I orient new staff. I now have a conversation with all new employees explaining what it means to work here, how I want us to interact, and how I’d like to see them interact with their colleagues. I am very lucky that I have an amazing staff to work with, and I welcome the opportunity to hire another student with the support of STEPS Forward in the future.”

It is important that we search our job postings for elements that can be drawn out and given to people who might otherwise be passed over for employment. It will only make lives and our libraries richer.

Humphries, J. (2010). UVic library employment. STEPS Forward Fall newsletter, 2, 5. Retrieved from

STEPS Forward. (n.d.) Retrieved January 10, 2013, from