I have been filling up on the big picture these past few days. Last Thursday and Friday I traveled with my colleagues down to Oklahoma for the, well…Oklahoma Conference. And yesterday I spent the day attending and room hosting a Digital Humanities Summit. Great stuff! I’m hoping my inability to get focused on the practical details of the daily grind this afternoon will be aided by taking the opportunity to debrief some big ideas from these two experiences.
Part of describing ‘What exactly is the Oklahoma Conference?’ is obvious– a library conference hosted in Oklahoma by the University of Oklahoma Libraries. What’s not so obvious is how to describe how it got to be so awesome. I mean how did those Okies get so lucky? The presenters over those two days attribute it to the OU Libraries Dean, Sul Lee and his unique ability to attract great presenters and presentation topics. I’ve only been to this conference twice but can attest to the unusually unique way that it brings the big picture into very tangible takeaways. Nevermind the people that took away worry about their future in the profession. Yes, there were some — ok a lot — of bleak presents and futures laid out for us. But more often it was pitched as a great catalyst for change. Good change. Right? We hope so.
My biggest take away (and validation if I may say) was a concept of allocating for innovation. Jay Jordan of OCLC talked about the ‘cloud‘ and its ability, should we allow it, to reduce our redundant tasks devoted to infrastructure and free that up for innovation. He referenced a statistic of 70% commonly spent on infrastructure and 30% on innovation. He name dropped Google, which might have been a reference to Google’s 70/20/10 receipe. But Jordan posited that cloud computing has the potential to flip that ratio. I think this is the part where people began to worry about their jobs.
I should have been worried because the redundant infrastructure he was talking about in a broad sense was in my area — technical services. A part of me was worried, actually. I mean 70% freed up time is a fundamentally scary concept in this economy. One’s first instinct is to realize that as cost savings rather than allow it to be realized as the luxury of innovation. The reason I was not worried however is because I have put this very concept into practice in my work.
Admittedly it was a more gradual process to make such a flip. The first step I took was to prove I could innovate on the redundant infrastructure that we have always done. I did that for a year. After a year of this innovation and the still persistent inability to make gains in what both I (and my libraries’ strategic plan) wanted done, I figured something had to give. I argued on more than one occasion that in order for me to innovate on better solutions for this stuff we want to advance, I’d have to just stop doing this other thing that we have always done. I had to do the flip. Luckily, I had data that I’d been tracking to back me up and, perhaps more importantly, strong personnel support in my work environment. We’re also talking here about a small unit on which such flip produced just minor people impact. How will such a concept scale is the larger question.
And the whole point of the ‘cloud’ is to scale such a concept. So I thought about another group of folks trying this out on a larger scale. In collection development the goal was trying to rethink the concept of every librarian doing everything (instruction, liaison, selection). There was a proposal to build on each person’s strengths and for example, have those that are good at instruction not have to do selection and various other flips of this sort. But it didn’t it fly when it was proposed. Why? Are people scared of losing their jobs? Or being seen as not having enough to do? Or maybe it’s being seen as not being good at something. I don’t know.
I do think the key is to keep at these ideas, though. As I’ve experienced, it’s not something you can just propose and get to happen the next week, or month or even year, sometimes. As a wise woman once said,
– Theresa Peters, Partner, United Talent Agency
You have to be able to handle rejection in a way where you accept the resistance, pull it into your data, tweak the argument and keep persisting with new proposals over time. This kind of thinking drives my husband nuts, btw, when it comes to suggestions for home decorating, throwing a party, or going on a family vacation.
Ultimately it’s just another take on another catchy phrase — the whole notion of perpetual beta. Continue to present opportunities for people to experiment on the small scale, in their comfort zone, based on their strengths with the hope that you can then challenge them to scale that down the road.
Well I’ve blabbed on a lot about Oklahoma here. Maybe all these big ideas need a few posts to sort out. The Digital Humanities Summit had similar validation for librarians. I saw many ways in which libraries have always supported the new and big concepts that were being presented here. And ways in which we can scale these to new levels. Stay tuned.