Innovation – through the eyes of a mercenary librarian

I instantly got the impression that Corinne Hill, director of Chattanooga Public Library in Tennessee, is one of life’s eternal ‘can do’ people. She is truly inspirational – a full on whirlwind in your face (‘breathe of fresh air’ doesn’t even come close!)

I had the opportunity to listen to Corinne speak at the Constant Evolution event in Exeter Library yesterday evening. There were so many things that struck a cord:

“Our current world is volatile, uncertain, complex, chaotic, and ambiguous.”
Since what Corinne calls ‘the Great Recession of 2008’ libraries across the world have seen their budgets cut and their existence challenged. Chattanooga Public Library was no different, but has been forging ahead.

Corinne Hill is director of Chattanooga, and has been winning awards for her forward thinking and groundbreaking service. Although she took on, what she calls a ‘failing service’, it now hosts a 12,000 square foot makerspace (previously a library store room) – where top notch design software and technology sits beside a traditional loom, where innovative concepts are worked on alongside the creation of wedding dresses! They’ve got their own brand of coffee too – ‘Shush’.

“Innovation gets old quick”
“Libraries have survived for 3000 years because we have adapted. There is no time more critical for adaptation than now.” Corinne believes libraries need to be constantly innovating as what’s new today is old tomorrow.

Whilst she asserts that we can’t know what is in the future, she does say the future is on the edges of what we are doing now and recommends keeping an eye on the horizon – “you should know what Samsung are developing next”.

“We need to stop being missionaries and start being mercenaries”
In a time when funding is being slashed from library budgets, Corinne notes that accounting for every Dime is crucial. She questions the need to spend money on stationary, when small savings across the board can finance the next big software purchase.

She also says we must concentrate on our core aims and stop trying to defend services simply because we are the only ones on the high street offering them.

The vision is the plan, and since for Corinne innovation is the vision you can’t plan what will develop next. She questions why libraries get ‘obsessive’ about the plan, becoming rutted in the planning cycle – missing opportunities to innovate as a result.

People power
One strand that flowed through Corinne’s revelations was the importance of embracing a diverse and challenging group of people.

She believes there is no shame in finding the staff role you want and borrowing the job description – Corinne found her perfect role match when visiting a well known tech support ‘bar’.

Corinne talked about ‘collaborative leadership’ where staff from all levels are encouraged to shine – this has created a culture of entrepreneurial-ship. You can see how excited one person was to get a job with Corinne at his blog Justin the Librarian.

But collaboration goes much further than this, with the local community being welcomed through open doors. The 4th Floor Makerspace is an adaptable public space and is often rearranged and changed by the users to meet their needs.

Corinne believes we shouldn’t be afraid to lose control – collaboration gives back to the library in spades – a new library brand, courses and events led by users, innovation that is user driven.

Lastly, Corinne challenges us all, asking us why we bracket events and services in to age ranges. “Why not do something interesting and just see who turns up?” There is real value in having a mix of age groups collaborating.

There is a whole other blog about the event Constant Evolution where Corinne Hill spoke. This will come later, but I just had to get this down on ‘virtual’ paper.

Find out more about Corinne Hill.

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