Librarians like to talk about innovation. We want to be innovative, we believe innovation will lead to a better library future, and we even have a journal dedicated to it so we can write more articles about innovation. Despite all of our talking and writing about innovation, we may be overlooking a more obvious way to create an innovative library work environment. How about creating a physical workplace that is all about facilitating innovation.
What would such a workplace look like? Probably a lot like the Idea Lab at the Stanford University d.school. The Idea Lab is profiled in the June 2010 issue of FastCompany. Perhaps most of what you need to know about the lab is found in this statement by David Kelley, who is a founder of IDEO and d.school, “We’re looking for better ideas – not keep your feet off the furniture.” Can the right environment really contribute to more innovation? According to d.school director George Kembel, “Creativity follows context. If I want an organization to behave in a certain way, I need to design for that.” The article explains how the idea lab, with its open spaces, walls that double as note and sketch pads, its easy-to-rearrange layout, and students are encouraged to add to others’ work, or invite others to collaborate on their own.
I doubt there is any library that has already created an idea lab for its staff. If I’m wrong about that and your library has put together something along the lines of the Stanford d. school Idea Lab, please let me know. Since we have few models for how it might work in a library, I’m taking a shot at it here with a sketch of what it could look like.
I imagine it having walls/panels that are transparent and could double as space for drawings, notes, ideas, etc. that could be shared and commented on by others. It is easily accessible to the user community; it reduces or eliminates barriers between the librarian and the user – and should promote open innovation with the public. The core of the lab space is a hub that features collaborative furniture where librarians can interact with members of the user community. I’ve been in many libraries where the librarians are tucked away in offices spread throughout the building. A more communal space such as this one where the offices circle the collaborative hub could lead to more group problem sharing and solving – and then more innovation. A variety of technology devices/gadgets could be easily accessible to the staff in the idea lab and it facilitates experimentation. A wall-mounted panel display could serve as a space for presentations, demonstrations and even for librarians to share electronic messages. Maybe there are even some toys and games for visitors to play with – or for the staff whenever they might need a diversion (some of you best thinking comes when you are thinking about something else or nothing at all).
There just might be something to the Idea Lab concept as demonstrated by the folks at the Stanford d. school. Providing the right setting to library workers could indeed promote their innovative spirit, and in the long run contribute to a better library experience for the user community.