When I started in libraries a couple of years ago (ahem) I thought we were pretty stretched budget wise. It turns out I started in a period of relative plenty for NHS libraries with a relative flood of cash coming into the system. Despite that we were always trying to see how to make the money go further while dealing with the expanding possibilities from all things tech.
And here we are now – pressure on the money we have, not a lot of money in prospect, ever growing demands and possibilities. So what to do?
I saw a positive review of “Frugal Innovation – how to do better with less” (2016) Radjou, N. & Prabhu, J. so thought it might be worth a read (you can check out the brief version and watch the TED Talk if you like).
The book is heavily based in the corporate world but is useful for all that. There are a wealth of case studies included which help illustrate successes (but not much talk of failures that I recall). The authors identify six principles for frugal innovation that I will consider in a library context.
Principle 1 – engage and iterate
I think there is a lot of potential for libraries here. A big part is how we can become more agile. Smaller NHS libraries have a real advantage here. A small team working in a manageable sized organisation can rapidly take an idea from light bulb moment to launch (provided it doesn’t cost too much money!). I loved working like this and always enjoy seeing people doing things like this in the Sally Hernando awards. My experience is that this kind of agility is definitely harder to drive in the much larger services found in a university environment.
We are increasingly active in seeking (and gaining) engagement with the users of our services. This can only be to the benefit of the service. We are not our users and the more we can understand their motivations, needs and world the stronger the chance of us innovating towards them. UX work is making great progress with understanding the library in the life of the user.
Principle 2 – flex your assets
A lot of the examples in this chapter are from manufacturing. Sharing resources is a path libraries have long pursued and there may be yet more mileage to go. We could consider also how we can improve our supply chain. Big academic services still buy a lot of stuff so there must be potential to work better with suppliers to direct this.
In many cases libraries have a significant amount of prime space and there have been some good initiatives aimed at bringing related activities into that space to drive better uptake of evidence resources and services. How might we package our services differently to bring them closer to the people who need them?
Principle 3 – develop sustainable solutions
Improving our sustainability can have positive impacts. For manufacturers they can turn waste products into other products or find others who need to buy them. There are markets for our used books (though most things are only fit for pulp when we have finished with them). Encouraging reduced use of plastic can have an impact on our waste bills. Sustainability is also a big driver for many of our staff and can create real engagement around thinking about how we might encourage reduced use of paper for example.
Principle 4 – shape customer behaviour
There are some interesting ideas here about gamification and visualisation. These cna be used to encourage positive behaviours. Currently peoples data is quite locked up in our systems – could we provide ways for people to understand the pattern of research they carried out with our tools? Another area where we might find interesting lessons is around the use of social pressure. With pressure on study space at peak times we might explore ways to encourage good citizenship.
Principle 5 – co create value with prosumers
This should be a great one for libraries as once you strip away the awful prosumers term you are talking about building relationships with engaged library users to create champions. NICE Evidence champions have been an effective means to support peer to peer teaching and building expertise in the user base has the potential to greatly extend our reach. Perhaps there is the scope to bring more people into our teams in loose ways? Can we power up the PDNs or rope in the pharmacists?
Principle 6 – make innovative friends
We could all do with more friends. It would be great to see a more systematic approach to using the good stuff in the Sally Hernando Awards. We should also look at working our way into the Academy of Fab Stuff (I know some are already there) as this will put us in touch with people who are moving things forward and looking to improve. Working through networks is the norm for NHS libraries in particular and I would argue that this is the base for hyper collaboration options. It would be good to see us getting more interesting people involved with improving library interfaces.
All in all this was an interesting book. The business orientation is a bit of a barrier but the ideas shine through. Time to do more with less again!