Magazine article American Libraries

Not Just Angels on a Pin: Defining Technological Innovation

Magazine article American Libraries

Not Just Angels on a Pin: Defining Technological Innovation

Article excerpt

In its Most Innovative Companies 2012 report that analyzes survey data from more than 1,500 senior executives, the Boston Consulting Group noted: "Innovation is rapidly moving up the CEO agenda across regions and industries. Seventy-six percent of respondents ranked innovation as a 'top-three' strategic priority--the highest level in our survey's history." Innovate on Purpose blog-ger Jeffrey Phillips observed: "I'm sure we could spend hours debating the definition of innovation, much like ancient scholars argued about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Unlike the angels on a pin, however, the definition of innovation matters. ... A definition signals intention, commitment, direction, and importance. ... If innovation is poorly defined, innovation is like discovering a new continent without a map, without a compass, and without knowing what's important when you discover it."

"Innovation" is a broad, amorphous concept. In today's volatile higher education environment, the day is long past where the word does not crop up--whether in library meetings, memos, coffee conversations, or annual conference themes. To gain further insight, I explored several avenues that extend the conversation, and shed more light on the library community's use of the word. This included a look at library job advertisements, strategic plans, and awards (both in the library community and the corporate world). I also examined technology trends mentioned in a variety of outlets: Library Technology Reports the Horizon Report, Library Information and Technology Association (LITA) National Forum topics, and LITA Top Technology Trends presented at ALA annual. conferences.

But I still needed a better sense of what the academic and research library community means when it uses the word "innovation." So in early 2013. I surveyed library directors--members of the Association of Research Libraries--on the concept of technological innovation, a subset of the extremely broad, overarching concept of innovation (that might or might not involve technology). …

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