Category Archives: Innovation

Reboot Your Library…or Die

Strategy + Business Magazine, the publication of consultants Booz & Company, has recently published a fantastic article called “The Library Rebooted.” (Free registration is required to view the entire article.)

It reports on the success of several different libraries surviving in a world where doing your own research is becoming easier and easier. In each case, these libraries have redefined what it means to be a library.


When I was in library school (not that long ago, mind you) the prevailing concern was whether or not libraries should put in a cafe to attract patrons. Seeing the popularity of coffee shops at Barnes & Noble, Borders and other well-liked bookstores made libraries want to follow in their footsteps. In fact, there are several things about these bookstores that libraries considered adopting, including the way they organize their collections, their marketing models and inviting patrons to sit, relax and read in comfy chairs. 

In this age of digitization and Googling for research, libraries have to go even further to adapt to patrons’ needs and become a destination. The S+B article looks at this from a business perspective, and outlines these seven imperatives for library leadership

  • Rethink the Operating Model
  • Understand and Respond to User Needs
  • Embrace the Concept of Continuous Innovation
  • Forge a Digital Identity
  • Connect With Stakeholders in Ways Pure Internet Companies Cannot
  • Expand the Metrics
  • Be Courageous

This last point is probably the most important and the most challenging. It’s so much easier not to change at all and to maintain a sort of pride in “being traditional.” The article leaves the last point open-ended, saying that there are many ways to be courageous, and many paths to follow. And it doesn’t really matter which path it is, as long as there is one, and people are willing to take risks.

Some examples from the article of the ways libraries are “rebooting” are:

  • The Bronx Library Center providing shopping baskets, prominently displaying DVDs, CDs and illustrated novels, and providing programs relevant to the community.
  •  The Stanford University Library creating a virtual presence in Second Life.
  • The British Library digitizing some of their most awe-inspiring items using Turning the Pages software, accompanied by the curator’s commentary.

The article ends with sidebars from NYPL’s Paul LeClerc, who explains how NYPL is implementing changes that will help boost foot traffic in their research branches,  and Stephen Schwartzman, who donated millions of dollars to the NYPL so that they could make some of these changes.

Schwartzman ends his commentary thus:

“One of the extraordinary things about the NYPL — about any public library, really — is that it is free. There isn’t much in life that is free, let alone the services of a great institution. All you have to do is walk in the front door — it’s accessible to anyone. That’s a pretty neat thing.”

It IS neat, Stephen.


Innovation’s Not For Everyone

Like Post Shredded Wheat, who is blatantly shunning innovation, with a campaign that has the tagline, “We Put the ‘No’ in Innovation.”


Although I recently blogged about this and included a New Yorker  article about how Post lost the cereal wars during the Great Depression, innovation’s not for everyone.

 “There’s been a marked change in American values, with a greater desire for honesty, trustworthiness and security during a time of economic and societal uncertainly,” Kelley Peters, director of integrated insights and strategy for Post Foods, tells Marketing Daily. “Post’s marketing messages underscore that Shredded Wheat has always been a simple, honest brand, and one of the healthiest foods on the grocery shelf.”

Maybe there’s something to this – that in an age of uncertainty, people like to know that there’s some stability out there. You Can Rely on Shredded Wheat. When marketing adopts “Depression Chic” and makes everything all dustbowl and newsboy, what else would you keep in your pantry?

If you have a pantry.

If you have a house in which there is a pantry.

Boy, what a RISK!

When New Becomes Normal

Stephen Abram has an interesting article on the Information Outlook web site. It talks about technology and innovation and when something that was once thought of as “new” becomes “normal.”

It reminds me of a recent study from Pew about what people are considering a luxury versus a necessity.

Interesting to see what things people are willing to give up when times get tough. Goodbye, microwave. iPod? I could live without it. Even the TV I could do without.


Fact is that people are changing their minds all the time – adopting new ways of doing things, and letting other things go.

Stephen Abram says that as information professionals in this environment, we have to learn how to be flexible (and, I would submit, open to every new thing).

How open are we? How willing are we to take chances?

Kindl-ing Affection For E-Books

The Wall Street Journal has a thought-provoking article on How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write. (This link will probably expire shortly, considering the WSJ’s policy for selling their archive.)

kindle_booksIn the article, Steven Johnson explains how he believes that the book’s migration to the digital realm will affect the way humans read, write and sell books:

“It will make it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time make it easier to stop reading them. It will expand the universe of books at our fingertips, and transform the solitary act of reading into something far more social. It will give writers and publishers the chance to sell more obscure books, but it may well end up undermining some of the core attributes that we have associated with book reading for more than 500 years.

There is great promise and opportunity in the digital-books revolution. The question is: Will we recognize the book itself when that revolution has run its course?”

The answer to that question is, “probably not,” because, if a digital book were printed out, it would probably look like the original manuscript for On the Road, but with variations. In other words, as the author of the WSJ article continues,

“The Kindle doesn’t even have page numbers — it has an entirely new system called “locations” because the pagination changes constantly based on the type size you choose to read. If you want to write a comment about page 32 of “On Beauty,” what do you link to? The Kindle location? The Google Book Search page? This sounds like a question only a librarian would get excited about, but the truth is, until we figure out a standardized way to link to individual pages — so that all the data associated with a specific passage from “On Beauty” point to the same location — books are going to remain orphans in this new world.”

A colleague points out that chapter numbers don’t change, and paragraph numbers don’t change, so if one wanted to cite a specific passage from an e-book in the future, it might  look like:

Smith, Zadie (2005). On Beauty, (ch 3, somewhere within paragraph 12). New York: Penguin.

Yes, he’s probably right. Only a librarian could get excited about this stuff. But that’s why the world needs librarians. When you migrate information to a system that ostensibly makes that information infinitely more searchable, it only makes sense that the information should also be more findable!

This is where librarians come in – not only developing policy to enable users to find digital information, but also ensuring that the information is properly searchable. It’s not the end of librarianship, it’s the end of librarianship as we know it.

Here’s what we do know: print is in trouble.

For this reason, more publications are going digital.

So, what we can do is join in the dialog and become essential parts of the migration. We can help make things happen. And therefore, ensure our place in the history of the digital migration. Because, as Steven Johnson puts it, this is nothing less than a revolution – something on par with the invention of the printing press, which changed the way we gather, store and process information forever.

This is the “AHA” moment: the digital revolution.

The Global Adspend

Is down!  Down, really down. Down all over the world. eMarketer says we should all care about this because ad spending is a barometer of consumer confidence. But there are other reasons we should care, as this article in The New Yorker shows.

It says that when advertisers hunker down and try to save money by cutting back on marketing and advertising, they grow less-quickly in the years following a recession than companies that spend more freely. Obviously, this isn’t good for the economy in the long run.

It also explains how cereal brand Post lost its market share during the Depression to Kellogg’s because Kellogg’s spent more on advertising, while Post hunkered down. The edge that Kellogg’s gained during this time remains today.

Investing in R&D during tough economic times is also very smart – again and again, we see instances of innovation that really worked during recessions. If you have any doubts about this, remember that the iPod launched in 2001. 

Innovation is important at all times, but especially during the hard ones. This chart from the business web site Innosight shows revenue growth for “disruptive” companies over time – and proves that companies that take chances on technology and innovation have grown in good times and in bad: