Innovative Organizational Design in Academic Libraries

Academic library leaders seek new organizational models to support the agility and experimentation needed to respond to an environment characterized by disruptive technological change. While some libraries have created new departments or units within their organizations to focus on digital library development or scholarly publishing, these new endeavors remain situated in traditional 19th century hierarchical organizations.

What organizational structures and processes can provide capacity for innovation, including generation of ideas, launching prototypes and experiments, and evaluating those experiments to decide what new products or services should be implemented? Design thinking–methodologies for generating and implementing new products and services based on user needs–is one framework to explore.

Companies that devote themselves to incubating innovation such as IDEO are able to operate using a fluid organizational structure. IDEO, for example, is organized into “studios” with teams that form and disband as projects come and go.

While this type of organizational structure does not seem feasible for an academic library, which must still engage in running standards-based production operations and services (e.g. metadata creation, digitization, stack maintenance), some libraries are experimenting with bringing design thinking into their organizations in other ways.

The University of Rochester Libraries have led the way in the application of design thinking to service development as well as systems design. While responsibility for this perspective seems to be situated in the Libraries’ usability lab, many people in all departments of a rather traditionally organized library have been involved in design projects.

The Virginia Tech Libraries, under Tyler Walters’ leadership have launched a set of initiatives to encourage innovation, including a library-based hub to build capacity for new systems and services. Although they have not applied the design thinking label to this endeavor, the concept seems to be aligned with design thinking principles.

Based on anecdotal evidence, design thinking may be catching on in academic libraries, albeit slowly. The dominant model for bringing design thinking into the library seems to be through an innovation incubator (working group, council, or hub) or a usability group. Is this a viable model? What are the advantages/disadvantages?

Is it important to introduce design thinking throughout the organization?┬áIs there an innovative organizational design that would enable this? How would a hybrid model of “studios” with self-organizing team alongside a traditional departmental structure organized along functional lines work?

I would love to collect more data about various organizational models libraries have used to foster innovation, and how those models have worked, so post your stories here, or send me an email.

 

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2 thoughts on “Innovative Organizational Design in Academic Libraries

  1. Do you have a favorite article(s) that you could recommend on design thinking in or outside of libraries? Monica McCormick and I just wrote an article for Journal of Library Administration about supporting digital scholarship in libraries. The second part provides suggestions for leadership and includes a section on situating new services within the existing organization and staffing options. (http://hdl.handle.net/2451/31698) But I think that design thinking might have helped us think about this aspect of service development. Would be very happy for your suggestions.

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