Thank you to the National Library of Australia who are a Premium Sponsor for NLS6, generously supporting our fantastic day of Workshops. This sponsor guest post is authored by Sarah Schindeler, Digital Services Librarian, National Library of Australia.
Innovation is something that librarians know they need. We talk about it, sometimes in almost hallowed terms, as if it is magical or miraculous. Of course it’s neither of these things but it is as challenging as it is rewarding. Innovating as an early career librarian means:
- dealing with uncertainty and risk, including the possibility of failure.
- making a case for doing something differently and framing it in the context of culture, practical realities and timing.
- being conscious of change management and helping others see how things could be done differently.
When author Rajiv Malhotra’s pitched his book ‘Being Different’ to his publishers, they told him that it would be far more successful if he named it ‘Being same’. Innovation goes hand-in-hand with change and a willingness to be different in the face of opposition, both of which are quite terrifying concepts.
Last year the National Library decided to be a little bit different by using stop-motion animation in a series of instructional web videos. Our team loved them but they were rather cheeky and a definite departure from our previous YouTube content. Some of us were quietly nervous. What if nobody watched them? (they did) Worse, what if they hated them? (they didn’t).
There’s always a certain degree of risk. Take the success story that is the Trove discovery service as an example. There have been other discovery services in the past that were also innovative but never really took off. Trove’s success can be attributed, in part, to a somewhat risky venture into crowd-sourcing. Librarians don’t find it easy to relinquish control and trust our patrons. However, the initial fears of widespread spamming were never realized and today, Trove is an award-winning free discovery service that is used and enhanced by millions of people.
I feel for early career librarians who are keen to innovate but are held back not only fear of failure but by a lack of resourcing and lack of support. There are particular challenges around innovating from the bottom upwards but whenever I hear ‘my boss won’t let me’ I’m reminded of some excellent advice Seth Godin wrote in the Guardian a few years ago. The following quote gets to the heart of the matter:
“But wait!” I hear you say. “My boss won’t let me. I want to do something great, but she won’t let me.”
This is, of course, nonsense. Your boss won’t let you because what you’re really asking is: “May I do something silly and fun and, if it doesn’t work, will you take the blame – but if it does work, I get the credit?” What would you say to an offer like that?
The alternative sounds scary, but I don’t think it is. The alternative is to just be remarkable. Go all the way to the edge. Not in a big thing, perhaps, but in a little one. Find some area where you have a tiny bit of authority and run with it. After you succeed, you’ll discover you’ve got more leeway for next time. And if you fail? Don’t worry. Your organisation secretly wants employees willing to push hard even if it means failing every so often.
Innovating as a new librarian may be difficult but it doesn’t require creative genius, just patience, persistence, a tolerance for risk, and a willingness to lead from the ground up and invest in helping others see your point of view. As the proverb says, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If we remain rigid and unwilling to work to make our ideas happen, then we are disadvantaging ourselves from meeting and exceeding the needs of our patrons now and into the future.