Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Innovation and Deep Pockets

I read an article last week that had me steaming by the time I was halfway through it. The article could be boiled down to one idea: academic libraries should look to public libraries for inspiration so we don't become relics. The author went on to point out what a lot of big schools (and just big schools) have been doing in this vein.

Me, after reading this article. (source)

I'm not going to name names, because this isn't the first (or second, or twentieth) time I've seen this phenomenon. "Look at this cool new thing," from someone at a big school is inevitably something either I or a colleague at another small school, or both, have been doing for a decade. And I'm getting tired of it. So tired that I had a mini Twitter rant after reading it:

original rant here

Let me toot my own horn for a bit here and tell you about things I've done that were inspired in part or in whole by public libraries:
  • Graphic novel collections (built two on my own and am building a third with help from my staff right now) and other popular reading materials collections;
  • Live action role playing gaming in the library; 
  • Therapy dogs for comfort during final exams;
  • A circulating board game collection (I haven't written a post about this yet, but I should.).

One other thing that I've done that I consider innovative was a cultural literacy talk series which featured topics like the biblical/literary/scientific origins of modern zombies and perspectives on abortion as seen through teen movies.

Further, I'm not the only librarian at a small academic library who is doing these kinds of things. Not by a lot. Graphic novel collections are widespread now, and board games collections are gaining traction. I've seen maker spaces in academic libraries. Arts & crafts nights. Dance parties. Video game tournaments. I could go on and on, but I won't.

Even all of that wouldn't bother me, though, if not for the cherry on the poop sundae of this phenomenon. The thing that bothers me the most is that people think I have no imagination because I can't spend a lot of money on things. Or, as Barbara Fister put it (so much better than I ever could):

Other small academic library people, share some things you've done in the comments!


  1. I work at a small public library, and I feel like we experience this too! A lot of the recent big trends in public libraries that big academic libraries are jumping on are ones that require a big capital investment that we just can't afford (think makerspaces, the library of things, etc.).

    However, if either the big public library where I work at my other part-time job or the big academic library where I used to work had the customer service standard of my small public library, they would be much better places for it. I think smaller institutions have some benefits that bigger institutions could learn from as well. They just don't make as splashy of a Library Journal article, so they get overlooked.

  2. It's not even just about resources. Small schools have the advantage of agility -- you have fewer levels of bureaucracy and "no" to get through before you can implement a change or try something new. Of course you'd be first! Change at a big university happens at an absolutely glacial pace.

  3. I would also say that time is a resource as well. People in my library have been frustrated lately due to lack of innovation. But due to circumstances beyond my control, we have hit a time ceiling. People are too busy helping patrons to spend a ton of time on special projects. Then, people get frustrated because they "don't have anything to do" in between patrons. Because caring for patrons and their needs takes it out of them, and there aren't enough small things that can keep them busy in between, so they start thinking about innovation again, and the cycle just keeps turning, to everyone's frustration.