On Thursday, January 5th the 13th annual VALE (Virtual Academic Library Environment)/NJ ACRL/NJLA CUS Conference was held at the Busch Campus Center here at Rutgers. The theme was “Brave New Librarian- Meeting Challenges and Embracing Change”. Twenty posters were presented by academic librarians from around the state, as well as 24 break-out sessions on topics ranging from coffee shops in academic libraries to cloud computing. The keynote speaker was Brian Mathews, an Associate Dean for Learning and Outreach at the Virginia Tech Libraries. Brian writes the Ubiquitous Librarian Blog for the Chronicle of Higher Education, and has also recently authoredMarketing Today’s Academic Library: A Bold New Approach to Communicating with Students.

The keynote address was “Startup Style: Elements of an Entrepreneurial Librarian”, and was about how academic librarians need to ‘think like a startup’. In these days of budget cuts and reorganization, many librarians are wondering how the academic library will be defined in the future. Brian’s answer is that we will need to be adaptive and innovative; by thinking like a startup we will ‘create something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty.’ Like the first years of a startup, the focus of the library will not be about profit but about building a platform.

Action is the key quality of this kind of thinking; it should come from the top down, in the form of management enabling an entrepreneurial culture, and from the back office out by pushing forward innovation.  Brian referred toThe Lean Startup by Eric Ries, and mentioned some of the important qualities of startup thinking.  A few of these are:

  • Don’t waste time on things that don’t work. If there is no demand for a service you are providing, drop it and find out what your users want.
  • Good enough is good enough to start. When developing an innovative idea, speed is more important than perfection.
  • Feed the feedback loop. Getting feedback through trial and error will move you closer to the desired outcome.
  • Pivot toward success. Be prepared to change course many times. Don’t follow your original plan if it doesn’t work.

At Virginia Tech, discovery teams are being used to focus on aspects of outreach for future development in the library. Each quarter, teams look outside the library to find innovative ways to create positive associations. Ideas can come from anywhere if you approach the problem from a new perspective. Brian recommended using both a ‘microscope and a telescope’ to focus on a problem.

I found Brian’s speech motivational, and feel that his ideas can be applied in every job situation. Who knows where the next big idea will come from? Hopefully a library near you.

~Laura Palumbo

For further reading:
The Lean Startup, Eric Ries
Art of the Start, Guy Kawasaki
Startup Lessons Learned, Eric Ries