Fostering a creative culture, but not trying too hard...

Reblogged from Lib-Innovation

In the Relationship Management Team at the University of York Library we work on several projects across the year. Some of them recur year on year, some of them are one-offs. An example of a one-off project was three of us being tasked with looking into creativity: how could we be more creative and allow ideas to flourish in the team?

As part of this process I spoke to a few librarians, both in this country and abroad, who I considered to work in creative environments. I wanted advice and ideas and experiences around creativity not just as an individual but for an entire team. Some of those I spoke to I knew well, some of them I'd not interacted with before.

I'm not going to quote the individuals directly (because the conversations happened before this blog existed, so I didn't mention to the participants that I'd be writing them up) but I can point to several key themes which came out of more than one chat.

Before we get to the list, a summary of the consensus across all the conversations: the culture that encourages people to try things is usually more creative than the culture where 'creativity' is a specific goal or something that happens at assigned times. Talking about it too much makes it awkward. So it's easier to work towards a goal in a manner which allows for flexibility and new ideas, than to introduce creativity as an end in itself.

How can you encourage a culture of creativity in your team?

  1. You can't force it. As soon as you create any constructs around creativity (like having 'creative Tuesday' or whatever, where people are encouraged to spend the morning doing creative things) it prohibits the very creativity you're attempting to instigate.
  2. So it's more about a culture of trust, and of allowing experimentation. Rather than making a big deal of creativity, the most productive way forward is to foster an environment where people feel able to be creative. This means encouraging people to try new things, and trusting them to go off on their own path. It also means bringing back fresh and new ideas to the team, and cultivating an environment where new and innovative practices are shared. 
  3. Flexibility is essential. If you work a 40 hour week and all 40 of those hours are fully assigned before the week begins, then of course there will be no room for creativity. You HAVE to build some give into the working week, or month. The capacity for chaos. Allow people to be creative in a way which suits them.
  4. Start small. Make a change in the way you approach a smaller project. If it works, be more experimental with something a little larger, and so on. You get more confident as you go - even if the experiments don't always work. Which brings us to...
  5. Celebrate success, give permission to fail. This came up time and time again. People need to feel they can take a punt on something and not be embarrassed or told off if it doesn't work. And examples where things DO work need to be celebrated, to encourage others. Both success and failure should be a source of discussion so everyone can learn from both. And success shouldn't be the same for everyone - you have to be realistic about what the different personalities in the team can achieve, and set different people different goals.
  6. Think beyond the sector. We can learn so much from looking outside libraries, but we need to do this proactively rather than just hope it happens...

If you've got any more tips on fostering a creative culture, let me know in the comments.

What is UX and how can it help your organisation?

User Experience - UX - is still relatively new to libraries. I've been writing about it a lot on here of late: there's now been 4 posts in the Embedding Ethnography series about what we're doing at York.

I thought it would be useful take a step back and create a slide-deck to introduce UX - ethngraphy and design - in this context. Here it is:

One of the most popular pages on this site is the Structured Introduction to UX and Ethnography and I wanted something to go on there, and also for a new blog from the University of York.

Introducing Lib-Innovation

The Lib-Innovation blog is an attempt to capture some of the more creative stuff we do at York, and especially as a channel to disseminate ideas and results around our UX activities.  I'm reposting my own articles from Lib-Innovation on here, but not those written by my colleagues: if you're interested in the results of the UX studies I've written about on here so far, the Head of Relationship Management at York, Michelle Blake, has written about the projects on Lib-Innovation. What we learned what absolutely fascinating and we've already started to make the changes to help both students and staff.

More on UX

Here is a (continually updated) list of the latest posts on this blog that feature User Experience in some way.

Libraries! Let's stop underestimating simplicity. (Simplicity is user-friendly)

Simple image of a display on a bare wall I think one excellent way forward for most libraries would be to adopt an aggressively pro-simplicity stance. We often make decisions about services or models based on the need to accommodate everyone - the need not to put anyone out, rather than the need to really inspire people to use what we have. It's very difficult, perhaps impossible, to be both inspirational and compromising at the same time. Look at loan periods as a really basic example. Most libraries have a lot of them - this is an attempt to make sure everyone is catered for. But sometimes it's so complicated as to be detrimental to the users.

Simplicity is great for many reasons.  It allows focus. It allows us to market with clear messages about what we do. It helps the user feel like they know where they are. It stops the model being too diluted by attempts not to offend. And - and this is the key point I want to make in this post - people can often prefer simplicity even to desirable options.

Think about your own experiences. Let's take a mundane example - sometimes it's nice to go to a coffee shop and have a choice between an Americano, an Espresso and a Latte, in two sizes. Even if you really like cinnamon lattes or whatever, you might prefer the simplicity of options to 7 different types of coffee, in three different sizes, with syrup options ago-go.

There's all sorts of retail experiences like that - booking hotel rooms or flights, for instance, or choosing a sandwich in Subway... - where options that are designed to personalise the experience to suit you actually just get in the way of some sort of essential process.

So I think (and I'm thinking about all this because I suggested it at a work meeting the other day) that all new processes and models and services should be designed to be simple and to make an impact, rather than to cover all the bases. (I realise librarians often feel a sort of moral obligation to make sure we're not disadvantaging anyone, and I'm definitely in favour of that as long as it doesn't come at the expense of our actual future.) And I think any services we re-design should be re-designed at least partly with the question 'What would users who'd NEVER EXPERIENCED THE OLD SYSTEM really want her?e' uppermost in our minds, as well as the need not to offend existing users. Chances are, they'd want something efficient, non-complicated, and easy to understand.

- thewikiman

p.s some of the themes in this post are also covered in my previous one



Spoon feed them, then give them the spoon, then chuck away the spoon

I seem to have a different view to a lot of information professionals in that I'm all for spoon-feeding. It's a loaded term - I'm actually all for the process it involves, rather than the philosophy it evokes. Above all, I think libraries are there to provide information and we should do this in as straightforward a manner as possible. Crucially, I think we can spoon-feed the students AND give them the skills they need to ditch the spoon entirely over time. Big old spoon

(There's an on-going debate in academic librarianship about spoon-feeding - should we give students all the help they need and make things as easy as possible, or should we be looking to educate them so they can fend for themselves? For example, providing digitised materials via the VLE - many people object to this, because if the reading is put on a plate for them, how will the students learn to find good quality literature? Etc. Simon Barron wrote a very thoughtful post on the subject yesterday, and linked in the comments are other bloggers' views on the same subject: Jo Alcock, Georgina Hardy and Sian Blake.)

Ideally, though, spoon-feeding should be the first step in a structured approach to helping students navigate their way through a degree, with the library embedded and responsive at all stages. I'm all too aware of where the phrase derives from because I have a 17-month-old daughter (or "17 month-yearold" as I always seem to call her) - we feed her with a spoon. We also give her a spoon of her own so she can feed herself. We're just starting to get rid of the spoon, and let her loose on a fork. The point being, spoon-feeding isn't a directive or a philosophy or an way-of-life, it's a stage - just as it should be with information in education.

She absolutely had to be spoon-fed at first because she couldn't feed herself - it was spoon-feed or no food at all. This is analogous for undergrads, for me - I think we underestimate how stark the change is from school and Further Education to Higher Education, and they have a LOT to adjust to in their first term without the library contributing to their problems as part of some misguided belief that it's for 'their own good'. If possible, we should be digitising all the core readings for undergrad modules, and putting them in the VLE, so that the students definitely get to read what they need to read. This allows them to participate fully in their lectures and seminars, which is more important than their level of information literacy at this stage. I used to run a digitisation service that did this, and the lecturers loved it because it allowed them to teach in the knowledge that EVERYONE had done the reading - without it, there were always people who couldn't get hold of the book in the library in time.

One department had a pedagogical objection to the digitisation programme and didn't use it - they said this wasn't preparing the students for real life because they didn't have to come to the library, learn to use the catalogue, find books on the shelves etc. But of course, real life isn't like that - real life is using Google because in 99% of cases that's perfectly adequate. I liked this quote from Georgina Hardy:

We must be very careful not to value process above principles.  Because, let’s face it, the skills of getting good results from a Library Catalogue, remembering to reserve books over a month in advance in order to photocopy a single chapter, and negotiating a complicated, publisher-specific, multi-stage login procedure to access journals from off-campus are skills only useful to those students who wish to go on to become Librarians.

Or, indeed, researchers / academics...

Once students get past the crazyness of their first couple of terms, that's when we can start trying to help them develop the skills to find stuff for themselves. I'm currently looking after English at my institution, and I really like the approach of one of the lecturers - she's requested that the core readings be digitised, but she's got me in to do a workshop (or 7 workshops, actually...) in the second term all about how to find secondary readings, via e-journals, Google Scholar and so on. This is just right, for me - give the students what they need to function, AND teach them how to get stuff for themselves. It doesn't have to be one or the other - spoon-feed whilst teaching them to use the spoon is surely the way forward?

Ideally the library shouldn't be only involved in teaching at the start and the end of the degree. This is often how it works - we do loads of stuff during induction (literally week 1 of their academic lives!) and then get parachuted in at the end to provide much needed aid on the eve of exams or dissertations. Ideally, we'd do some stuff in the 2nd year - guiding their hand as they use the spoon themselves - and again at the start of their 3rd year - getting rid of the spoon and giving them the skills they need to find food for themselves from any number of sources. This 2nd and 3rd year intervention should be based on the level the students have reached, and the needs they have then.

This way, we get to be helpful in the way students actually want (and in the way that will ensure good NSS scores which is, of course, The Only Thing That Matters In HE) and will expect for their 9k a year, and we get to teach them to help themselves in the way they actually need in the long-term. Quite apart from anything else, if the students are getting what they perceive as a good service from us (i.e. we have the provision they need to help them study, so they spend their time studying rather than searching for materials) they'll be more receptive to our instruction about info/digital/all-the-other literacies later.

Spoon-feeding is a useful service to provide, at the beginning of the student lifecycle; we shouldn't eschew it entirely just because we want to teach them to fend for themselves later on.

- thewikiman


How to build 5 libraries in 2 weeks

Last week I gave a 20:20, or Pecha Kucha, presentation. Basically this means 20 slides, set to run automatically for 20 seconds each - it makes for quick and punchy presentations with none of the filler that can make PowerPoint sessions drag on. We use them at York to keep each other up to date within the Information Directorate (our converged Library and IT service) with what's going on and what we're interested in. I really recommend this, it's a great way to bring people together across an organisation and communicate ideas. Anyway, normally I'd choose something more relevant to my work but this time I decided to do something different, and present on the Buy India a Library Project, which ran at the start of this year. Here are the slides:

View more presentations from Ned Potter
It was really fun to revisit this, and reflect on what an extraordinary thing it was that Buyalib was able to crowd-source nearly $4000 from librarians, in two weeks, for a charitable cause! Everyone who donated or spread the word - you are amazing. We have literally created something out of nothing.
I had a letter from GoodGifts the other day, saying that work had started on building the library in India and would likely be completed by April next year. Justin, Jan, Andromeda and I were invited to the opening but, frankly, if we had enough cash knocking around to afford those air-fares, we wouldn't have needed to crowd-source the cash to begin with. :)
For people who think Twitter is 'just people talking about what they had for lunch', this kind of project - which would have been all but impossible to achieve pre-Twitter, certainly in that amount of time - is the ultimate riposte, I think. If you're new to this story, you can catch up via the Buyalib blog.
- thewikiman
p.s Did I mention that 5 libraries now exist or are being created in impoverished areas with no other access to books - libraries which otherwise wouldn't have existed? That's absolutely amazing!