Mutant superheroes, contained chaos, and smelly pets: Library innovation through imaginary anarchy
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Libraries have a history of innovation, from their inception to the advent of open stacks, interlibrary loan, electronic cataloging, learning commons, and maker spaces. The information environment outside of libraries has also changed rapidly, especially in the last two decades. Quality information sources are available to the public instantly and in an à la carte fashion. This has happened at the same time that costs for academic journal subscriptions within the library have increased. In response to these changes, the pressure for the academic library to innovate and redefine itself as valuable resource to the academic community, rather than a cost center, has grown. Many academic libraries have evolved to operate in a culture of consensus building, detailed organization, and preservation. These values are useful and worthy of continuation, but without other strong values, the typical academic library may not have the cultural structure necessary to encourage the desired innovation to occur rapidly and on a regular basis. This paper suggests alternative, supplemental values that would foster innovation and creativity within academic library settings, and proposes a way to begin integration of those values into the library, without compromising traditional values. A model for innovation is proposed by describing a job design that is ideal for encouraging creativity and productivity, and then daring libraries to offer these model jobs to enthusiastic employees. Aspects of the job design will be supported by anecdotes and research from psychology, sociology, business, and libraries. While the job design is meant to be holistic, less adventurous libraries will have an opportunity to implement some of the suggestions independently of others. Encouraging innovation in libraries is a popular topic, but this approach is unique for two reasons. First, it suggests that pockets of innovation can be encouraged in the library immediately, without disruptive, painful, and protracted upheaval of the entire library culture and staff. Second, the job design proposal and the cultural suggestions presented have not originated from library human resource professionals or those in management. These suggestions come from non-managerial employees charged with innovation. Their insights are based on intuition and experience, and compose an alternate viewpoint worthy of consideration. Here are some of the cultural ideas that are likely to spark discussion and controversy because of their variance from traditional academic library practices: The one line job description Meeting only monthly Innovation through isolation Death to deadlines Single-tasking Elimination of yearly reviews Shifting from flexible schedules to un-schedules A central theme is that in order to encourage library innovation, there should be librarians and staff that are self-directed and self motivated. Employees who are happily working on the set of projects that they wish to work on, in the way that want to work on them, will be more creative and more productive. Library workers should develop these traits, while management should shift from planning, organizing, and controlling functions to advocacy, forecasting, simplifying, and building external relationships.