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CHAPTER X - Conclusion

The three practical strategies designed by participants in the roundtable present fresh, creative and, yes, innovative approaches to envisioning what the library’s community platform can look like. Using the core concepts of design thinking, the strategies find inspiration in a variety of places. They look at different aspects of the library and build on the strengths and needs of libraries and their communities. Together, they create a holistic vision of library platforms for innovation.

Taking the concept of X-people introduced by Michelle Ha Tucker of IDEO, the right ecosystem for library innovation is situated at the center of the X that is formed by the interaction of human capital and technology. The three strategies are not built around technology, per se, but see technology as necessary and an enabler for the development of human capital.

X = Human Capital + Technology

These strategies also present concrete ways of addressing the local-national value proposition of libraries and the tension that exists between libraries at the local and national levels. As we move into a super-computing society, it is critical to develop ways to bring libraries together if they are to be at the center of the economic, social and educational work that needs to be done to create and sustain healthy and resilient communities. Maintaining tribal boundaries and institutional silos will do nothing to protect libraries and their patrons from the challenges on the “curve of continuous change” world outlined by John Seely Brown of the Deloitte Center for the Edge and University of Southern California, but will further distance libraries and their patrons from the opportunities of this world. Libraries need to engage in collaborations for collective impact—not just with external partners, but with one another.

These ability to connect people together in new ways and develop new relationships addresses another challenge facing libraries: the need to generate and strengthen political support for libraries by drawing in new champions. Each of these proposals is driven by a desire to bring new people into the library. The FCC’s Jonathan Chambers reflected on this aspect of his working group’s deliberations:

We did have a lot of discussions in the first group around what would make libraries compelling to potential patrons who no longer patronize libraries. If libraries become only the place of last refuge, they lose political support. People who can afford it go to Google or Amazon and they don’t go to library. The idea of super-connectivity meant in part a place where nobody can go anywhere except the library. It becomes a place with better connectivity and gadgets, where there is nowhere else you can go to get a really cool experience.

It is worth noting that, while there was much discussion about what public libraries should be doing, could be doing or are doing, there was much less explicit discussion about things that libraries should stop doing. It is unrealistic to expect that libraries can continue to be all things to all people. Identifying priorities for today and tomorrow, and letting outdated services from yesterday fade away, are important -- if difficult -- tasks facing libraries and their communities. Moreover, because the role of technology is so vital to the future of communities and so natural to rising generations of library users, public libraries and the field as a whole need to make fundamental changes in the ways that they think about, use, create, pursue funding for and deploy technology, starting with E-rate. Technology must become a core competency for libraries, not just a service offered to library users.

As libraries do engage with their communities to set these priorities, it is vital that these conversations not only include but are focused on the next generation. Felton Thomas of the Cleveland Public Library mentioned two focus groups with young people on learning and the Internet that he recently observed. “They were very critical and cynical,” said Thomas. “As we talk about the future of libraries, we need to bring young people into the conversation. We can’t design the future without bringing in the people who are living in the future.”

Advancing these and other ideas for transforming libraries and their cultures of innovation will depend on the development of good measurement tools that we currently do not have. Chris Coward, Principal Research Scientist and Director of the Technology & Social Change Group at the University of Washington Information School, said: “What we’ve been talking about is individual measures, but we don’t have good measures for the things the groups presented: community level, impact of the civic square. It is important to work on that for political support. Focusing on what the individual gets when going to the library is important, but not sufficient for the kinds of opportunities we’re talking about.”

Final Thoughts
The roundtable’s exploration of how to design community innovation platforms around public libraries found that innovation is hard work involving complex ecosystems of people, spaces and technologies. It will require the creation of architectures and tools that enable libraries to drive innovation at the edges of the institution and the field overall, creating pathways to move the innovations toward the center and, more importantly, pull the people at the core of the institution closer to the innovative cultures at the edge.
Library innovation is about realizing the agency of, and the development of the human capital in, the community. It asks that library and community leaders not only provide the tangible resources needed to conduct research and experiments, but just as importantly create the permission frameworks and supports to empower staff, patrons and community partners to become agents of change.

Photo Credit: New York Public Library Flickr Account

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