Working With Innovators

By: Mary Ellen Bates, Thu Apr 29 2021

How Information Centers Can Support Internal Transformation

Mary Ellen Bates

Author: Mary Ellen Bates

I recently interviewed author and consultant Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino about how librarians and information professionals can support a culture of innovation within their organizations. The following is a condensed version of our conversation.

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In your book, Creating a Culture of Innovation: design an optimal environment to create and execute new ideas, you see one of the roles of in-house evangelists and change agents as monitoring the external environment and bringing that perspective to internal communities. How can information centers partner with these innovators to enable better monitoring and curating of external information sources?

I think that everybody has to be in selling mode all the time. You can't do your job managing an internal information resource if you aren't actively championing it to the rest of the organization. Remember, every organization is made up of people who are, broadly speaking, very time- and attention-poor. They're always looking for shortcuts, and the shortcut is going to come in the form of a social media platform they happen to be glancing at, or that special event that was organized by the marketing department, or a conference that they've just attended.

You can't rely on people just organically coming up to you, especially if they've never been properly introduced to your department. Information has been so diversified that a younger generation of employees won't have actually set foot in any library before, never mind a corporate library. Those are the people you're going to have to attract.

There's a great history of space being taken over and used for lots of different reasons, and libraries can embrace that approach as well. Here in the UK, libraries are taking on the attitude of what else can happen in our spaces? Whose meet-up can we host? Who could we talk to in marketing to host a series of events? How can we tie our content to what's happening outside in the world? How can we curate our content to make sure that it ties into work that are currently being done? It comes down to making the library space – the membrane between the library and the rest of the organization – much more permeable.

You have talked about the challenge of measuring the ROI of an innovation space. Any thoughts on finding an appropriate metric that connects the library budget and operations to the success of the organization?

The tyranny of metrics has hurt many types of institutions, from health care to education, so be careful about what metrics you put in front of a manager.  Looking at utilization is not the only metric; it's not necessarily the number of people through the door. Rather, it has to include a metric of engagement – the number of events held, the number of requests made for special content, the number of people attend a digital event. Libraries can learn from makerspaces by seeing what they've done to measure their usefulness.

One of the challenges of libraries within enterprises has been understanding and infiltrating the information workflow. When people find their own ways of gathering information, the library may never enter their mind. Any thoughts on how information centers can position themselves better, particularly with respect to innovation communities within an organization?

First, make sure that the onboarding process of any new employee includes a deep introduction to the library and its resources, in order to get them started with good information-seeking habits. Talk to the innovation areas to say we absolutely need to be in the grand tour for a new employee; here are our digital resources and here's three short videos to learn how to use the resources. And ask to have a call with any new employees to say hi and find out what they expect to be working on, so you can start to cater to them directly and do a lot more push rather than pull.

By default, I think libraries generally have a pull model – people contact the library to ask for what they need. But I think the libraries have to go towards people; if you know that a person works in a particular department, then get them to sign up for the newsletter you produce that covers their area. Libraries need to show that they are a dynamic resource and available to respond to the needs of innovators and influencers.

Creating a Culture of Innovation

If you enjoyed reading this interview with Alexandra, have a look at her books Creating a Culture of Innovation and Smarter Homes.

Mary Ellen Bates

Author: Mary Ellen Bates

Mary Ellen Bates is principal of Bates Information Services, based near Boulder, Colorado. She provides research and analysis for strategic decisionmakers and consulting services to the information industry.

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