What is the innovation space in libraries?

I won’t dwell: most of what has gone before in library systems is rather out-dated. Building on the ideas behind these systems has been a problem, but we’ve done it anyway. Why? While the ideas aren’t good ones, they are simple. I contend that the reason for the “success” of the current crop of library systems is that they are exactly this: simple.

But the simple we’re talking about here isn’t a lack of complexity (good simple), it’s a bad kind of simple, characterised by quick-and-dirty solutions to complicated problems; these result in increasing complexity at a granular level, but an apparently amorphous — and thereby “simple” — lump at the higher level.

And then there’s this thing of thinking that more of the same must be better; actually, more of the same is really the only way to go when you’ve exploited every other avenue of a particularly limited concept.

Unfortunately, increasing the amount of bad simple in your system is not a good idea; it’s very hard to make the bad kind of simple scale. Or at least scale in a way that is meaningful.

I’m not a fan of weak ideas and bad system architecture; these things seem omnipresent in this innovation space. What we need to do to work against this, I’ll come back to later.

I have never been critical of the fact that system vendors are not charities; they provide a service within a profit-driven model. This is no secret. What I have criticised, though, is the lack of imagination shown when developing functionality: I see glitter, not substance.

It is ultimately the responsibility of system vendors to provide compelling reasons to use their system, but lack of differentiation between products — and I really see no difference between any of the current crop of systems, commercial or otherwise — means I see no reason to swap one system for another. I see an argument for onsite/offsite, but it has to do with user privacy, not my convenience as administrator.

The current compelling argument is price or a move to open source (the computational equivalent of generic medicines). When price and convenience is the major issue, there is not going to be much actual innovation.

And here’s the bit where I’m going to claim that the community defines what the innovation space is. I really believe this, but most libraries (and especially academic libraries) are very comfortable not innovating — or at least only innovating in ways that don’t affect anything that might be touched by a real user.

There are ways to work with commercial vendors and open-source communities that lead to innovation, but I’m not seeing anyone really doing this. There is some good work going on, but it seems that it’s also stuck in the rut of doing the same again in a different way.

Innovation is much more than technology.

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2 comments on “What is the innovation space in libraries?
  1. Ole Husby says:

    When looking up “simplexity” in Wikipedia (don’t ask me why), I learned that “Simple interfaces tend to improve the usability of complex systems”. Wow. Now I will look up “complicity”.

    • brinxmat says:

      Ha! Almost sounds absurd. But, I don’t think things are that simple.

      And one can talk all day about “simple”, “easy” and “best”.

      It’s complicated. (!)

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