Archives For Innovation


Considering the myriad reasons that people find themselves working in or visiting libraries, it is little wonder that librarians and library staff experience an interesting workplace personality dynamic. Introversion versus extroversion, as well as differences in self-monitoring (one’s ability to regulate one’s behavior and accommodate social situations), often leads to clashes that have repercussions in a library workplace setting.

For example, extroverts tend to find renewed energy in working at a reference desk; introverts may enjoy that interfacing, but still face burnout without appropriate recovery time away from others.

How does one successfully navigate relationships in a workplace where many people are personally fighting burnout while others must combat the burnout of those around them? How do we lead and unite a staff that represents the full spectrum of relational preferences with very different approaches to communicating with their colleagues and interpreting the organization’s goals?

How does a manager inspire staff who are so diversely motivated and energized?

In search of some answers to these questions, a group of librarians at the Bryan and College Station Public Library System in Texas is hoping to form some insights and coping strategies by using data from as wide a sample as possible. We invite librarians and library staff to take part in an anonymous survey that will provide information about each participant’s personality, self-monitoring abilities, and job satisfaction. We appreciate any and all responses we receive.

Spark Up in Denver!

Kevin King —  February 26, 2016 — Leave a comment

Compressed-air-horn-4d4939ffccf31_hiresDo you have an idea that you have been dying to tell the library world? Looking for a forum to share your brilliance? Going to the PLA Conference in Denver, April 5-9? (Tired of blog posts that start with a bunch of questions?) Due to popular demand, PLA is bringing back one of its most popular events from the 2014 conference, Spark Talks! The first Spark Talks event attracted a standing room only crowd. Participants were treated to idea after idea in five minute increments. Anyone going over the allotted time was subject to the sweet sounds of an air horn. It was fun.

The skill of being able to share an idea in a short time is one that all leaders need to learn. You never know when you are stuck in an elevator with someone who has the power to move your idea forward. The ability to succintly summarize has helped me get many ideas off of the ground. The opportunity to witness others trying to do it in a high pressure setting should help you learn what and what not to do.

I am calling upon all LL&F readers going to Denver to consider giving a Spark Talk. You can apply on the PLA Spark Talk page. Oh yeah, I forgot to add that I will be your host for the event. Let’s Spark it up!

sneakered feet ascending stairs with text "embracing next-gen librarianship"There has been much talk in the library world and beyond about generations. We are attuned to generational differences when it comes to our patrons, how they learn and use libraries, how they navigate the overloaded information landscape.[1] In the hushes of our faculty meetings and hallways, however, we sometimes talk about millennials and Gen Y with an air of dismay, ambivalence, or even disdain when it comes to their digital, phone-obsessed, tech-loving ways.

So, it comes as little surprise to me that I tend to be met with a certain measure of dismissiveness when I use the term “next-generation librarian” to describe the kind of leaders I want to attract and develop at The Collective (a new kind of professional development event I co-founded with Corey Halaychik) and to see thriving in academic libraries.

First, people often assume that next-generation has to do with youth; age, however, is not a prerequisite for being awesome, embracing change, or thinking forward. Next-generation pertains to the next stage of development or version of our profession; there’s no expiration date on participation save an individuals’ decision to assign themselves one.

Second, there is an unhealthy and prejudicial stereotype that those who embrace technology wholesale do not appreciate the analog or the “traditional” library values. I’m not sure if this comes from a lack of exposure to tech-savvy librarians or a fear-based tactic to defend a Luddite’s value in the institution, but we should celebrate how mad tech skillz and core librarian values are not an either-or. Indeed, we when choose to hire candidates who have both, the rising tide lifts all boats and nobody drowns.

At our best, I have seen how we can celebrate how much next-gen librarians improve our services, creativity, and research outputs. At our worst, we dismiss them as somehow not “real” librarians and stagnate our organizational growth and learning.

So, I’m on a crusade to redefine what we mean by next-generation. The next-generation librarian is a concept that transcends the traditional generational boundary of tabloid research and listicles. Not defined by birth year, next-generation is about a mindset, a disposition, an outlook.

Next-gen librarians are:

Less change averse, more risk embracing

They are not threatened by new ideas or technologies; they are willing to experiment, test, and fail.

Skill developers

They are not afraid of being pushed out of the workforce—they hope to reinvent it—and as such are constantly training up. They may be more mobile and willing to change jobs based on the climate of the workplace.

More likely to be hybrids, blended or feral

They range from advanced career librarians pursuing JDs to better meet user copyright needs to young professionals choosing a career in librarians rather than Silicon Valley.

Impact driven

Citation counts don’t cut it; they want to see their work have meaning in the communities they serve in tangible ways. They believe libraries are curators, creators, and collaborators, not simply service-providers.

Leading from the middle

They are pushing the profession forward by starting programs and initiatives without necessarily being in traditional leadership roles; they create opportunities rather than waiting to be tapped or moved up on the organization chart.

vintage photo of a robot "Librarian 2.0" dispensing books

Future librarian of the past (via Flavorwire)

So, to sum up: next-generation is:

  • An attitude, not an age.
  • A willingness to learn, adapt, and evolve, not a particular skill set.
  • Seeing the librarian’s role as more than service.
  • Asking “How can we try that?” instead of “Why should we do that?”

Given the qualities above, it might seem daunting to attract, develop, and retain next-gen librarians, but it shouldn’t be so. In fact, many of the opportunities that next-gen librarians need and desire are what managers and administrators should be offering anyway if they want to steer a healthy living and learning organization. I would encourage administrators to:

  1. Provide professional development opportunities, internally and externally. It can be expensive, but there are many low cost initiatives, such as THATCamps, Library Juice Academy courses, and subscriptions to….and, whenever possible, create opportunities to attend more expensive options such as HILT, DHSI, etc. Furthermore, use individual skill-building to build towards an overall re-skilling program for the library.
  2. Consider internal working groups or skill-building programs. This is an essential step in cultivating a culture where having a single digital humanities or digital scholarship librarian does not mean others are “off the hook” for using technology to enhance their research and service.
  3. Support from above and below—allow for middle leadership. Create opportunities to lead projects and groups, start initiatives and programs, and build managerial skills through supervising student workers, graduate assistants, and practicum students. Giving leeway with low-level supervision and managing small budgets has the added bonus of grooming a next-generation of qualified managers and administrators who have on-the-job experience.
  4. Acknowledge and reward risk-taking, from good work to good failure. It’s hard to put yourself out there and maintain a next-gen mindset and energy if those individuals feel they will become pariahs for presenting outside-the-box ideas or conducting cutting-edge research.
  5. Create room in your cultural climate for new ideas and viewpoints, including dissent. Sometimes library departments lean towards attracting like-minded, introverted, not rockin’-the-boat types. Remember: civil disagreement and constructive criticism is collegial, too! If there’s no conflict or debate in your faculty meetings, you’re stagnating.
  6. Commit to invisible forms of diversity. We can’t always see difference—be it socio-economic, veteran status, or disabilities. Diversity in thinking and learning styles, thought processes, personality, disposition, and problem-solving is equally an asset to your organization, just like the forms of visible diversity we have come to appreciate and value.

If you’re doing all of the above, I doubt the term next-gen will ruffle any feathers. You’ll have probably already moved on to the next big thing…



[1] See, for instance: Sweeney, Richard T. “Reinventing library buildings and services for the millennial generation.” Library Leadership & Management 19.4 (2005): 165-176.

McDonald, Robert H., and Chuck Thomas. “Disconnects between library culture and millennial generation values.” Educause quarterly 29.4 (2006): 4.

Gardner, Susan, and Susanna Eng. “What students want: Generation Y and the changing function of the academic library.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 5.3 (2005): 405-420.

The confident ask questions to learn what will connect. The insecure just keep talking with the hope something will stick.


Simon Sinek

Photo of three people walking silhouetted by sunset

CC-BY Abhijit Kar Gupta

Libraries exist to provide amazing services and resources to our users.  We are so committed to this vision that we continue to offer these services even after users don’t need them.

As non-profit service-oriented organizations, the motivation to pull the plug on a library service is minimal. If even a single user finds a printed pamphlet valuable, we’ll continue trifolding away. But is that the best use of library time?

Maintaining old services diminishes the innovation capacity of libraries. Our resources (staff time, building space, and money) are finite. In order to do new things, we have to stop doing some old things.

Don’t panic, book loving librarians! I said some old things. Of course we continue well-used old services. The printed word is still going strong.

In order create a makerspace or expand reference hours, however, library leadership would have to examine how every inch of floor space and every hour of staff time is used.

In an environment where we hardly ever give things up, libraries can turn to tech companies for inspiration on how to sunset services. Software reaches the end of its life cycle at the speed of light, and product life-cycle management is an entire discipline.

Here’s four lessons about sunsetting from the tech world that we can apply to libraries:

Choose to Sunset Wisely

Pragmatic Marketing, a software product management firm, offers a guide to retiring products. This errs a little far on the business side for library taste, with a lot of talk about profit margins. This advice on how to decide to sunset, however, rings true for libraries:

“The easiest way to know that a product should be killed or sold off is when it no longer fits the company’s distinctive competence and market strategy. Regardless of the costs, a product that doesn’t make sense in the context of the rest of your products just confuses your customers.”

“Distinctive competence” is an great concept for library leaders to consider. Our distinctive competence in libraries is matching users with resources.

I encountered a library where staff invested significant time at the photocopier duplicating journal pages in order to send printed scans of the table of contents to users. This was in 2014, in a time when most journals offer free table of contents alerts by email. It was time to end the physical copy service and instead point users to the email services direct from publishers.

When we examined this through the lens of distinctive competence, we realized that we don’t want to be known for labor-intensive copy making. We want to connect users with a fast automated service that they can control.

Retire Slowly

Even if the decision is clear, you have to move cautiously when sunsetting a service. In 2013, Google announced the sunset of Reader, their widely used RSS feed product. They gave users several months of advance warning:

“To ensure a smooth transition, we’re providing a three-month sunset period so you have sufficient time to find an alternative feed-reading solution.”

Google gave plenty of time for users to adjust to the idea of the service going away. Libraries could take a page from this example by targeting communication to the few remaining users of an aging service, like typewriters, to let them know gently that there will be other options soon.

Answer ALL the Questions

Geomagic, a suite of tools for transforming 3D scans into CAD models, recently consolidated their software offerings and discontinued some products. Their Q&A page on the sunset covers everything a user might want to know, from basics like “What are we doing?” and “Why are we doing this?” all the way to extreme specifics:

How did you decide which products to move forward with?

What happens to my dongle for a retired product?

I am a non-maintenance customer. Will my retiring product still work after Dec 31, 2015?

The Geomagic example anticipates any question that a user might have and gives them as much information as possible up front.

Communicate Sensitively

Slinger Jansen, a computer science professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, led a research inquiry into the software sunsetting process. The resulting technical paper has a softer side:

“Think, for instance, of the support engineer who knows every nook and cranny of the software product, or the user who has configured the product just to her specifications and is described as the wizard of that product by her colleagues. We advise practitioners to make compromises and be sensitive towards the emotions that surround legacy products, both in their internal and external communication.”

This is a good reminder that every single library service has a champion on staff. Sensitivity to the feelings of those “wizards” in your messaging about sunsetting – even internal communications – will help that devotee let go.