Posted by: Elizabeth A. (Betty) Thomas | July 19, 2016

11th Annual Metrolina Library Association Conference Recap

Heading for Announcement

One of the strengths of the Metrolina Library Association’s Annual Conference is the variety of the presentations. The two that I most appreciated this year were extremely different. Cal Shepard, State Librarian of North Carolina, gave a big picture presentation about the Libraries of the Future. In contrast, Tracy Pizzi gave an excellent presentation on the details of RDA (Resource Description and Access) cataloging. Both provided excellent insight into very different areas of librarianship. In this post, we start with the big picture. In a follow-up post will come the details of cataloging for the 21st century.

Disruptive Innovation

Cal Shepard started out her keynote speech by defining disruptive innovation as “innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network.” As an example she talked about the telephone, where what were initially clunky mobile phones have eventually replaced land lines.

Libraries are experiencing disruptive innovation and have been for some time.  We have all heard the question about the continued existence of libraries in the age of Google with everything online. While some libraries and librarians are “hunkering down”, other library staff realize that disruption is an opportunity. One example is the development of open source software like Evergreen which would provide opportunities for new skill development for librarians and increase control over more of our systems.

Host Systems

How do you “find” those opportunities? Libraries exist as parts of a larger system. For a law school library, the law school is the host system. Understanding the host system is vital to taking advantage of the disruption. Librarians need to know the answers to these questions about the host system:

Why does it exist?

What is its mission?

What does it mean to be good or effective within that system?

What does the system value?

Who controls resource allocation in the library’s host system?

What influences them?


Libraries have to scan the environment and host institutions to find opportunities FOR the library to contribute to the success of the host.


5 Suggestions for Navigating Change

  1. Focus on relationships, not transactions. Interactions accumulate and build mutual understanding and collaboration. You have to know your community and your community has to know you.
  2. Specialize – at least not try to be all things to all people. Focus on the priorities.
  3. Get OUT of the library. Engage with your community. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Figure out what you can do to help them the most. Insure the library’s goals are aligned with the community’s needs.
  4. Build alliances or partnerships. Librarians have to go beyond providing a service to being a team partner. It is a different mindset.
  5. Pay attention. Read trade journals, watch the local news, and talk with colleagues about the changing landscape. Figure out a new role for the library.

As a result of aligning with the goals of the host system and helping to achieve those goals rather than just providing services, the library becomes a valued and visible member of the organization. The goal is to be essential and indispensable. The opportunity of disruptive innovation is here.


Cal Shepard, State Librarian with Rebecca Freeman, President, Metrolina Library Association


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