Disruptive influence

Posted on November 27th, 2010 by Paul Stainthorp

This week we launched our long-awaited strategic review of the Library’s ICT systems, with a day’s discussion and planning with library-technology consultant Ken Chad.

Anti-cuts protest in GloucesterJoss Winn (who was there on the day) has already blogged about the love he thinks we can build between us and our users if we get beyond the impersonal ‘survey’ mentality and build a lasting, resilient and genuine relationship out of shared activity…

“By creating a library system that learns from every person who uses it and adapts over time to the environment it is part of, we create a resilient and therefore a sustainable library system that its users fall in love with.”

I’m not very good at self-reflection (see what I did there?), so I’m not here to respond to Joss’s post. Instead, knowing where our systems and processes are at, I’ve been contemplating Ken’s ideas about disruptive technologies in HE libraries, and where we are on the cycle of accepting that our existing model has already been disrupted.

Here are a few reasons why Lincoln is perfectly poised for a bit of disruption:

  • Because we don’t have too much history. Lincoln is a young institution (in its current incarnation, at least), and we’ve been through a lot of changes. (We must have opened—and sadly, closed—more libraries than some institutions have had hot dinners.) We’re pretty good at coping with change; change is our only constant, etc.
  • Because, if we’re being honest, we probably don’t have as much at stake as some older, richer, universities. We’re more than used to doing things on a shoestring and looking for free solutions to our problems, ideally to supplement, but as often as not instead of investment in commercial systems (poverty breeding experimentation). As a result, our systems are not too overdeveloped, and we should be able to make quick changes of direction without too much pain.
  • Because we have the Student as Producer agenda; we have a Library Innovation Group; we have projects such as Jerome, Nucleus, Total ReCal, and so on. In short, we’re surrounded by the academic theory, the administrative machinery, and the working examples to justify an actively disruptive approach to systems development.
  • Because of where we are: I’m convinced there’s a benefit to living on the periphery.
  • Because (like the countryside, ho ho) the Library staff structure is relatively ‘flat’. No-one’s going to be strung up for speaking out of turn; nobody’s ideas are beyond the Pale; there’s not too much store placed in hierarchy. I sincerely hope this to be true.
  • Finally, because of our vice-chancellor’s attitude. Professor Mary Stuart has mentioned (at least twice, in presentations I’ve attended) the imperative to—for want of a better phrase—mash things up. Assuming she really means it—and I’ve no reason to doubt that she does—we’re much better off than if we had to work under the disapproving gaze of a University executive unhappy with experimentation. There are perhaps fewer techno-reactionary voices in the Lincoln establishment than at some other, older universities.

I’m intrigued now by the idea of disruptive technologies in the library, so I’m going to see if I can dig out a few of Clayton Christensen’s books and have a read. Thanks, Ken. (I’ve been following the Disruptive Library Technology Jester for a while now, but I hadn’t realised it was anything other than a clever name.)

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2 Responses to “Disruptive influence”

  1. Peter Murray says:

    Good posting. It prompted me to take a look at the bibliography I had on my blog, and I noticed that with the exception of two articles that this Zotero shared library on Christensen in Higher Education was more comprehensive than this web page. Your readers might be interested in the contents of that library.

  2. Thank you. I’m genuinely new to disruptive technology theory; I can see that it’s key to understanding the last 5 years!

    I’m going to do some reading. Your blog has been an extremely valuable resource, btw.