Access 2013: Culture Clash: IT Experimentation, Innovation, and Failure in Libraries

Dale Askey, Mark Jordan, Catherine Steeves, & MJ Suhonos

What is a culture of innovation?

Do you need a marketing plan?

Dale: Most of the IT people are used to change, but for everyone else, think there is an implementation plan and start panicking. Will need to be careful on how you craft the message.

Is it time to punish the loiterers?

Not seen much of this. Need to start doing this? Or how to reward the innovation people (rather than punish loiterers).

How do you foster a culture of innovation?

Catherine: Engagement is essential, because the two go hand in hand. Cannot plan or force innovation. It’s an environment and mindset.

What does a culture of innovation look like?

  • Belief that new ideas can come from anywhere.
  • Ideas come from people. Everyone has a role.
  • Collaboration and diversity generate and foster innovation.
  • Employees are passionate and empowered to contribute.
  • Leaders have a great degree of trust.

What kind of formal and informal barriers exist in the organization that thwart experimentation and risk taking?

Catherine: Many factors: people, systems, technology. resources, etc.

  • Organization: silos, strict job definitions, politics, prioritization, assessing now (not future)
  • Finances: funding cycles, budget
  • Assessment: too much assessment, not enough on R&D, performance measures (feedback is important, but too focused on current programs)

Need to talk about how to change this.

MJ: Toronto Public Library (TPL) very much governmental. Lack of clarity between how much to put towards operations versus R&D. Need approval for everything as risk mitigation. Innovation not encouraged or allowed. Can get into a lot of trouble for building new things if don’t have permission.

Got with an attitude of yes, but when having to say no, make it a well qualified ‘no’.

How does innovation relate to the core values of our organizations and our subcultures?

Catherine: Is that an important question? But it does relate in terms of the mindset. Core values ground us, so innovation should be one of them to influence current and future endeavours.

MJ: Openness and sharing is very key. Collection of experts that are contributing specific skills or expertise. Best way to integrate things into each person’s workflow. Come together to discuss, but then go back to each subculture.

Audience: Need to not only come up with innovative ideas, but need to be looking at the path from innovation to implementation.

What role do notions such as failure, openness and risk play in innovation?

Mark: Need to differentiate from failure due to carelessness or the other more negative causes from failure because something didn’t quite work the way we expected (e.g. no uptake). Define failure and risk differently. Don’t need to be afraid of failure. Doing a good job if trying things, even if don’t fully succeed.

MJ: The goal is not to “be successful”, the goal is to learn about what works. Learning what doesn’t work is just as important. Need to think about how to get these ideas through.

The only way to double your success rate is to triple your failure rate.

If you’re not making mistakes, you’ll never have any successes. Should be learning from failures. Can also turn 6 month failures into 2 week failures.

What proportion of failure is done informally (instead of officially)?

Mark: The excellent work that Tod and Calvin was talking about multi-APIs was all done informally. Did not need to ask permission. Major payoff for some innovation in the hallway.

Dale: A lot of “jealousy” issues from other departments or staff. Attitude needs to change, because many of the questions asked of IT departments can stifle innovation e.g. Can you make a committee for that? Project management is different from a committee, but unfortunately, many don’t see that. A lot of IT people work in a different culture, and don’t work just between 9-5 in a building behind certain walls.

MJ: Trust within the institution. Need to trust that people are doing what they were hired to do.

Audience: Need to go horizontal, and collaborate between different departments.

How do we know that innovation is impacting the end user? Is there something we think of before or after?

MJ: Need to think about assessment as part of what’s involved in implementing a project. How do we define the success? What do we want to learn? Need to be able to convey a good reason if not doing something. Start with the discussion of how it impacts the library and its services if we to implement an idea.

Dale: More easily swayed by salesmen than by data.

Our users are not snowflakes.

The end user is ourselves (the staff) , and that shouldn’t be the case.

Audience: How do you deal with the librarian that comes up with anecdotes?

Create a user experience team to report on user behaviour. Ask for numbers. Be evidence based.

Is failure more accepted in library IT than other parts of the library? If so, why?

Mark: Just by the nature of the tools that they use, yes. The stuff that they work with, you can usual copy it. Tend to take risks just to see what happens unless it’s a big risk. Can create tension between how IT wants to solve a problem and how others want to. Tend to learn from their failures more readily than others.

Catherine: Innovation comes from across the library. A lot of experimentation from the user experience team.

How do we celebrate failure? How should we celebrate failure?

Dale: No postmortem about what went wrong. Never unpacked it as a failure. We should stop talking about failure. Change the frame of reference. Call it R&D. Some products hit and some don’t. Need to talk more about R&D, proof of concept, etc.

Audience: Is innovation more likely to fail in IT than in other areas?

Mark: Perhaps more prone to fail, because of the constraints, but not necessarily more likely to fail.

Apologies, I was watching the live stream, so I couldn’t hear what most audience members said. Panelists were also talking quite quickly, so I hope I got at least a decent summary of what they were trying to say.

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

3 thoughts on “Access 2013: Culture Clash: IT Experimentation, Innovation, and Failure in Libraries”

Leave a Comment

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: