Monday, November 05, 2012

Dealing with Disruptive Innovation

Last month I participated in two concurrent conferences held in Monterey, California: The 16th annual Internet Librarian and the 2nd Library Director’s Digital Strategy Summit. Both sponsored by Information Today, Inc.

They both focused on trends in digital information and best practices for online library resources and services. We looked at ways to stay ahead of these trends in order to serve the ever challenging information and research needs of our communities.

Disruptive innovation is probably a good term to describe what we are dealing with. “Innovation” implies improvement but this kind of improvement affects our communities in unexpected ways, making it disruptive. The technologies alone can certainly be “disruptive” by forcing us to change our behavior to accommodate the new improved way of doing things. We have all learned to use new technologies that promise to improve our productivity or enjoyment of life. Sometimes we go into it full speed ahead like it was, “About time!” Whereas other times we go kicking and screaming, protesting because the old way was working just fine, thank you very much!

(Those of you over thirty, don't think the younger generation doesn't experienced this. My 22-year-old daughter confesses that she's holding on to her old iPod because she doesn't want to give up the click wheel or have to go through the trouble to re-sync all of her music. And just pay attention to the posts of your younger friends next time Facebook changes something!)

Disruptive technology is one thing. But disruptive innovation affects the whole society—the way we take in information, communicate with each other, work, and play. The "haves" and "have-nots" are defined in terms of the new societal improvements as economies and markets change.

The popularity of e-books is a relatively simple case in point. The newer e-reader technologies that appeal to consumers in terms of usability, convenience, cost, and flexibility together with publisher restructuring and brilliant marketing, has had an unexpected affect on our culture. Many bookstores have closed their brick and mortar stores but libraries continue to thrive... just in different and remarkable ways. Because, as the Internet Librarian conference reminds us, libraries are not about books, they are about connecting our communities to the information resources and research services they need. That will include books (both print and electronic) for a long time to come but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Robin Hartman is Director of Library Services at Hope International University. She is curious about how the organization and communication of information shapes society and is committed to equipping students to impact the world for Christ.

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