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Today was the 3rd Annual Staff Development Day at the Fayetteville Free Library, where staff gathered to share their thoughts around a central theme. This year’s topic was “What’s the Big (or small) Idea?” and for the past few months, staff members were asked to collect any ideas they had, big or small, and write them down in a notebook. Although the theme was “Ideas” the implied buzzword central to that theme was innovation, something we talk a lot about at the iSchool. In fact, some of the readings and activities could have come from 601 (albeit stripped of the strong IM bias and orientated more clearly towards libraries). This was interesting to me because it raised a question that we have asked before, in IST511 and elsewhere: how do you make innovation a regular part of the business process?

Now, that may sound like an oxymoron; if innovation is “a change made” or “something newly introduced” than how can it become a regular part of operation? The answer is lies in the cyclical nature of the process. One must innovate to create better processes and services, implement those new ideas and than evaluate them, and continue to come up with new ones. Libraries (and businesses) can’t afford to be complacent. This is where we get the somewhat intimidating phrase “relentless innovation.”

So this is all well and good in theory, but how do you actually implement innovative solutions? This is another question that was raised in our class, but which I have yet to find a satisfying answer to. We agreed as a group that a framework for the testing and implementation of ideas was essential,but we did not agree on or create any such framework. One librarian had the idea that perhaps librarians should be the ones to write that manual, which I thought was an interesting idea. So here’s my best shot a at a 5 step innovation process (we only got through the first three steps today).

1. Create a culture where new ideas are valued and shared. (Encourage staff members to think about how things are done and how they could be done better. Be observant: sometimes there are great ideas already floating out there that are can be repurposed and transformed.)

2. Get the group together to share and discuss said ideas. (It’s always amazing to me how well collective brainstorming can work. People build off one another and suddenly an idea springs to life and takes on a direction that no one person could have predicted or assumed alone).

3. Capture and save these ideas. (On paper, online, but somewhere accessible by the entire group.)

4. Have a transparent process for vetting the ideas. (This may include research, team voting, or the boss’s vote on which ideas will be implemented. One important concept that was raised in an article we read for IST601 where the author argued that it was better that the Director choose a single idea or a few ideas in front of the group and explain why he/she thought those might work well. This transparency helps the staff understand what considerations they might think about next time and is encouraging because they know their ideas are actually important and will not be left to collect dust in the Director’s filing cabinet.)

5. Incubate the idea. (Do more research, and possibly get more input from stakeholders, but don’t be afraid to take a risk. I feel like this is the stage where ideas a most likely to be aborted or modified until they are a watered down, more ‘safe’ version and more boring version. So do your research and be smart, but also stay strong and believe in your idea.)

6. Implementation. (Put it to practice. Try more than once!)

7. Evaluation! (How did it work? Could it be tweaked to make it better? Was it an altogether failure that should be scrapped or is it something to keep?)

So what do you think? Have I missed steps? Am I vastly oversimplifying the process? Have you heard this all before?

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Stephanie C. Prato

is the Director of Play to Learn Services at the Fayetteville Free Library in New York. 

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