OCLC Symposium – Gym of the Mind (#ALA2008)

Trying to keep a somewhat flexible schedule today even though I have three “committee” meetings to attend. With that in mind, I decided to sit in on the OCLC Symposium for a while rather than dropping in on the Forum on Education (I should be there!) and I’ll miss part of my ACRL Leadership Council.

The theme of the Symposium is “The Mashed Up Library” and it will be moderated by Andrew Pace. It’s fun to be here on the first day of conference and seeing everyone connecting with each other, meeting new friends, etc. The energy is high as we wait for 1:30. In his introduction, Pace said “mash ups are a full fledged commuting platform and on the verge of replacing the personal computer as the dominant tool.”

The keynote speaker is Michael Schrage is a Research Fellow at MIT Sloan School for Digital Business. He is a columnist for Fortune, CIO Magazine, and MIT Technology Review in addition to author of two books. Michael challenges himself to be useful and usable in today’s talk. His big theme today is managing the challenge of an institution – institutional innovation – how to be innovative within an institution. It isn’t in our culture to be innovation, particularly in the library setting. This may be the case in many organizations, but I feel very fortunate in my college to be very flexible and innovative. I pretty much and try out just about anything, especially if it doesn’t cost a great deal of money. However, I know this is not the case in many places.

What is innovation? The conversion of novelty into value. I like this definition. Take Twitter as an example, it clearly began as a novelty for me 18 months ago and I have now found value in using it with the library and in my online classes.  Schrage further defines innovation as a means to an end. Finally, isn’t what the organization offers, it’s what customers, clients & users adopt.  From “creation of choice” to “value from use” is where we need to move. Don’t make it a novelty. Fantastic. This is certainly something to consider and explore as we try new things in the library settings. Am I focusing to much on the creation of choice? For example, we all assume that RSS is very useful and offers a choice to users. However, is it really being used? Certainly in some circles but I don’t see a widespread adoption in the academic environment.

Now on to the institutional side of the theme. Schrage believes we’re focusing on the wrong aspects of mash ups. Interoperability is the platform but it is not the data sets. On an organizational level, which vendors, people, etc. should we be interoperable with? The most important part of our network is the networker. He then asks us, what is the most important product of the library?

According to Schrage, competition – like innovation – is a means to an end. Years ago people were appalled that librarians would collaborate with Google. Are they a competitor or a partner? Let’s consider three examples. Movie theaters. Used book stores. Newspapers. They don’t know how to compete. A reluctance to creatively compete. What are the implications for the library? Libraries live in the most competitive industry in the world – the business of information – and we have historically been heavily subsidized and been a monopoly. Do we want to be seen as competitors? Are we going to step up? Should we?  Commit to competition or commit to subsidy.

I challenge this assertion. Should libraries be a business or a public good?

Schrage’s Four Assertions

•    Learning from our lead users. Who are the lead users?
•    With whom do we want to collaborate to create value? Why?
•    Marketing our best internal arguments/disagreements. What is our defining disagreement? Publicize it!
•    Establishing “Liberatories” that attract talent and inspire hypotheses.

Nice simple slides with pithy quotes and overarching themes that drive his presentation (with the exception of the mash up definition slide). Good use of the technology.

The keynote was followed by a panel that includes:  David Lee King is Digital Branch & Service Manager at Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library. Mary Beth Sancomb-Moran is Librarian at University of Minnesota-Rochester. Susan Gibbons is Vice-Provost & Dean at the University of Rochester.