Whenever I hear the word “innovation”–and it gets thrown around pretty frequently in libraries these days–it’s often used in a way that makes it seem interchangeable with “technology.” And that’s really missing the point. So, for this edition of Innovation Action News, I think it would be useful to revisit the denotative meaning, to go a little old-school in order to discover new ways to accomplish those things we want to do, and to do them better (more efficiently, more cost-effectively, on a larger scale, you name it). I know that sounds contradictory, but stay with me, folks.
I’m a big believer in outreach as a form of innovation, regardless of the medium or the type of library. And, for the record, we librarians have a STRONG outreach game. One great example at my university is the work that the Eccles and Marriott librarians do in the Bench to Bedside program, in which librarians are embedded into the infrastructure of the program in order to support students with their research needs. Such a good fit, right? It just makes sense.
Another successful example of outreach is Personal Librarian programs that are cropping up in academic libraries all over the country–Yale, Chapel Hill, Barnard, and Drexel are particularly notable. This year at the University of Utah, I’m coordinating with The MUSE Scholars Program to provide each student involved in the program with a personal librarian. Since many haven’t selected a major, I don’t assign librarians according to their areas of expertise; it’s more like luck of the draw. And so far, we’ve been fairly lucky. This year, twenty librarians are participating in the program and connecting with approximately 200 undergraduates, reaching out to them at anticipated points of need, such as mid-terms and finals (actually a couple weeks beforehand). This is the first time we’re working with this particular group, but it sure seems to be a good fit for those who are seeking a signature experience.
One last example, and this one is very old-school-meets-new-school: At my library, we serve on College and Interdisciplinary Teams to carry out our collection development duties. So, rather than each subject selector approaching his/her department independently with a small pot of money that’s designated to that specific department, teams of librarians collectively address the research needs of the colleges and with bigger, shared pots of money. (I like to visualize actual pots of money when I talk about this concept. Yes, as if we’re leprechauns.) And that goes for outreach, too. While each librarian is assigned to one (or two) departments and meets and communicates with those faculty members and students, we also come together to offer interdisciplinary support (e.g. offering workshops like “Advanced Research in the Humanities”).
What I’m getting at is that innovation doesn’t have to be driven by technology, just by a perceived need and an appropriate response. And that response can include technology if it fulfills the need better. But we can be creative, and thoughtful, and try new things without relying on gadgetry to make it sexy. That’s not to suggest that technology doesn’t have a place in libraries because it very clearly does. I just don’t think we have to force it.
The grand takeaway: If anybody would like to gift me an iPhone 6, that would be awfully nice. Because outreach.
By: Adriana Parker, Instruction Librarian, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah