Innovation is often associated with technology; there’s a constant buzz about applying technology to existing functions and doing new technological things. Innovation is also about doing things differently or doing better by doing less.
Especially in these difficult times, libraries need both forms of innovation. I find two examples inspiring.
- Beginning in 2007/2008, colleges around the country began eliminating trays from their cafeterias. In July 2008, USA Today reported colleges have seen food waste decline by up to 50%, they’ve saved thousands of dollars through not washing trays and the vast majority of students surveyed supported the change.
- A few years earlier, UPS began eliminating left turns from its urban routes. The policy has been fully implemented and the change has improved delivery times because drivers are stuck in traffic less often, saved the company about 10 million gallons of gas per year and reduced CO2 emissions equivalent to the amount generated annually by 5,300 passenger cars.
These innovations disrupt our very notions about what it means to eat cafeteria-style or drive in the city. It’s really hard to see opportunities like these in the everyday things we do. It’s also hard to be disrupted, even in small ways.
So how can libraries overcome these challenges?
- Start small and local and grow innovation as part of your library’s culture.
- Begin with open dialogue among your immediate work team about the potential and difficulties that change brings. Talk about how it feels to learn new things and change habits, and how it feels when something you devised is altered or replaced.
- Share or switch jobs. You’d be amazed at what surfaces when you need to explain what you do to someone else, or answer their questions about options and alternatives.
- Invite the public to participate in library innovation. Create forums where people that work in various office and service environments share how they’ve innovated in their workplaces. Ask volunteers to review processes and perform some library functions and suggest new ways of doing things. Library staff will learn a lot about public questions, perceptions and preferences and the public who participate will be more committed, invested and supportive of the libary afterward.