ETIG Library Camp: John Fink

Janine Schmidt welcomed us to the day and encouraged us to be innovative, referencing the Seven Imperatives quoted in the recent issue of Library Matters, ending with “be courageous”.  And off we went.

John Fink talks about innovation.  Asserts that many systems people will tell librarians “no” because they don’t want us to have fun.  Because if we’re having fun, and doing all the cool things we think up, we’re going to cause more work for systems people.  His rules:

  • Listen.  Keep your ears to the ground.  Why is RSS adoption so low? It’s baffling, because it’s a great way to constantly listen to the world.
  • Keep it Simple.  Don’t overthink your idea.
  • Keep it Cheap.  We’ve either got flat budgets or decreasing budgets.  Think cheap.
  • Love what you’re doing.  If you don’t love it, you won’t do it well or with energy.
  • Make sure you’re having fun!  Make sure that what you’re doing makes you want to come to work (or you won’t do it well or with energy).


  • Stop buying things! And start selling things.  We are terrible at cost-recovery or profit-making, as a profession.
  • Keep it small.  Watch the cost-benefit and return on investment of having too many people involved in a project.  Agility is key to keeping it simple and not overthinking.
  • Try to avoid complexity.  Things should not be more complex than they must be, because the more pieces there are, the more likelihood something will fail.
  • Do not let projects be neverending.  Shorter is better, but know your timescale.  You can’t maintain energy in a project that never ends.
  • Make sure you’re doing something that’s not immoral.  Follow your values, both personal and institutional.

So, should you do this thing?  Is this the right project?  Take the fun rules, minus the anti-rules, and decide: is it still a good idea?  Yes?  Then DO IT!  (Or think of something else.)

But wait! Managers exist!  So, how do we integrate management structure into this DO IT! attitude?  Management should be something that removes obstacles, not creates them.  Foster those relationships.  Manager Rules:

  • You cannot know everything.  Don’t pretend you do.
  • Don’t be evil.  Don’t do anything that’s purposefully evil or creates fear.  Be transparent and do what you can, but also do what you must.
  • Say Yes!  Don’t think of ways to say no; if the project isn’t going to be dangerous, evil, or a colossal waste of time, say YES.
  • Don’t micromanage, but stay aware of what’s going on in your corner of the world.
  • Don’t create unnecessary obstacles. There’s no need to put purposeful roadblocks in front of projects and people.

In conclusion, if you can: Surround yourself with great people.  People with good energy will generate good ideas.

Question led to assertion that yes, libraries should follow Google’s 20% rule, and spend 20% of their time innovating and messing about with new things.  And stop thinking about “good learning”.  “What’s good learning?”  Just learn.

Q:  What if your IT on campus/in your government structure doesn’t trust you or have a relationship you can work with?  What do you do? It’s very very hard.  Go slowly.  Build trust and respect by proving you don’t suck.  Make one friend, pick one small project, make one good point… and build on it.  Assess their fears and prove them wrong, politely and carefully.

Q: How much tech knowledge do you need to innovate? Show of hands showed that there are very few programmers, and technology skill isn’t required to innovate about technology… just interest, and willingness to move past roadblocks.

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