The Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference takes place February 28-March 2 in Austin, Texas, and I’m SO honored to be a keynote speaker! I’m gathering my thoughts to start putting together my slides and presentation, and wanted to stop for reflection and sharing. I’m not going to spoil it by sharing everything I’m going to talk about, but I do want to give you a sneak peak of some of the concepts I’m exploring and topics I hope to weave in—and get your thoughts! If you share feedback or examples that make their way, I’ll certainly give you credit.

The keynote will focus on “Libraries: The Oldest New Frontier for Innovation”

Libraries, whether associated with a school, government, agencies, or geography, serve a community. And then the community changes, there’s an opportunity for the institution and the service to change or not to change. Nonprofit organizations, local and federal governments, campaigners and even businesses are trying to innovate at the speed of communities. Libraries can and should be doing the same. We are, all of us, part of many communities and it is within these spaces that we build our lives and the world. Libraries have access to information, engagement, and opportunity—it’s just a matter of setting sail.

When it comes to innovation in civil society, there is nothing that can match the speed and ingenuity of communities that come together to make a change, develop a tool, or feed a need. “Innovating at the speed of communities” is a big goal, but something organizations and civic institutions can learn a lot from as a model.

Communities As A Model

What’s so unique about communities that let them innovate rapidly and differently than organizations?

There are a few core attributes of communities that I think contribute to the ability to identify opportunities, propose solutions, and effectively make change in a very different way than organizations, including:

Communities are flexible. “Membership” isn’t official and moderated (beyond basic rules of engagement) and as such can change all the time, but so can the focus and the operations.

Leadership and decision making come from adoption not from executive authority. If there’s an idea that the community is behind, and a project or plan that’s adopted (whether it’s a new way of operating or a new tool), then it moves forward, regardless of “who” thought it up or campaigned for it.

Instead of grant deliverables or profit, passion and impact are the bottom line motivators for change. Obviously “profit” is a slippery slope, but in most scenarios, it isn’t the community at large that would financially benefit off of change.

Communities share, pass on, and constantly expand a collective wisdom and knowledge from experiences, events, movements and legacy. In an organization, when someone leaves, that knowledge is lost, but with a community it is shared so consistently and constantly that it is harder for information to disappear.

What’s the community-driven model that supports innovating at the speed of communities?

Just as those core elements of communities help them operate in an agile, flexible way; there are core elements of the community-driven model that institutions can employ, including:

Let the community drive: As the organization/institution, you can provide the map, the gas, and even the car, but the community needs to be the driver. That will ensure passion and impact can go into steering, knowledge can help guide the way, and if no one wants to drive you have a pretty clear answer to adoption!

Stay in the sweet spot: There’s an area that I like to call the “sweet spot” that is where the institution’s goals and the community’s goals overlap. That’s where you can collaborate, harness the most passion and energy from each group and operate flexibly knowing you care about the same things.

Share the spotlight: Remember, you’re not driving. Your staff shouldn’t be in all the leadership positions nor should all the responsibility for moving a project (or program or service or tool) forward with development fall only on your shoulders. This is an opportunity, again, to gain adoption, harness passion, and ensure longevity.

Operate in loops: With community-driven design, there’s no linear path, instead the cycle is really that: a loop! Once you come up with a plan, and you test it, you then evaluate it and rethink it, and then iterate on the plan, test it, and come back around to evaluating it. Anytime in there you can make changes in direction or function and it’s okay, because you will get to plan, try and evaluate as you go.

Think big: Not just big, but bigger than you. Think of plans and services that are larger than your organization or your reach. The community is, inevitably, larger than your staff, your target audience, etc. So, if you want to be community-driven and operate nimbly, keep your goals big enough to guide you there!

The Impact on Institutions

So, why am I talking about the way communities operate when I’m getting ready for my keynote to libraries?

Normally, I make sure to clarify definitions when I start. But this time I wanted to wait until we got this far into the conversation. If we re-examine the points above, but replace “innovation” (which sounds very inflated and buzz-word-y) with “evolve” (because hey, who doesn’t want to stick around and be relevant?) and we replace “institutions” (boring!) with “libraries” (see, I was getting to it!) then I think we can really start a conversation about the role of technology in libraries and resources.

Who’s with me?

Like I said, I don’t want to share the whole talk ahead of time, but I’m really looking forward to exploring what possibilities can look like for libraries using community-driven models to stay relevant, evolve, and use technology in the process!