Reflection 1: Librarians as Entrepreneurs

When I heard @michael describe his encounter with a library administrator during his first few days on the job (lecture in Module 3), I was absolutely stunned. How could a person say to a new employee, “don’t disturb me” when you were merely passing this administrator in the hall? What a way to greet a person at the beginning of their career! This story triggered a memory of a similar moment I encountered at the dawn of the Internet. At that time (circa 1995) I was working for a large database company — an intermediary that sold news content to corporate and academic libraries  connecting to our content via a modem.  (For a view on how it worked see The Internet before Search Engines).

A group of us in customer relations had visited Sun Microsystems to see what they were doing with a cool program called Java and how it would radically change text based Internet content. For months we kept going to our management pleading with them to at least look at what Sun was doing and consider the implications of this new technology. We were told to
manage our expectations (another way of saying “don’t disturb me?) and that the Internet was a flash in the pan that would never amount to anything. Their fixed mindset ultimately led to the company’s demise.

Fast forward twenty years and stagnation in my workplace is happening all over again, but now my organization wants to do something about it. We want to change, but we are stymied by indecision. Brian Mathews’ article  Think Like a Startup  gives me hope. Do we start innovating now or wait for the renovation?  We want to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit, but we are afraid of the effect it will have on our current services and the disruption it will cause our students.  Mathews states that libraries need disruption and instead of a strategic plan, libraries need a strategic culture, and instead of being afraid to fail,  embrace the failure and then “pivot to success”. We need telescopes to see into the future, and we need microscopes to get us through the day to day management of our facility.

Art of the Start book jacket

When telescopes work, everyone is an astronomer, and the world is full of stars. When they don’t, everyone whips out their microscopes, and the world is full of flaws. The reality is that you need both microscopes and telescopes to achieve success.

– Guy Kawasaki, The Art of the Start

So what are we so afraid of? There are many libraries who have gone through the same process and have become model academic libraries. Mathews cites a few in the article. What is needed is the willpower to beta test, learn, measure, beta test again, and so on and so forth.  The cycle of entrepreneurship never stops and we musn’t either.