New year, new values

Agreeing on values for the group 

On 11th January the Innovation Group met to reflect on the first year of activity, and plan ahead for the coming year. Keen to nail down our core values, we embarked on a process of identifying and then aggregating our personal values, both in relation to the group and for ourselves. This activity was based on Phil Jones’ Ding!. Once we had identified the values common to the group, we spent some time trying to refine and define what we really meant by these words and whether they truly reflected our vision for the group. Out was ‘service’, in was ‘making a positive difference’.

Equality, equity, justice, fairness, inclusive?

The most challenging and interesting part of the discussion was trying to pin what many of us felt was an important value, but few of us used the same word. Was it equality, equity, justice, fairness, inclusive? With an academic lawyer in the room, you can imagine how the conversation went! Inspired in part by Carl Froehle’s much-shared and adapted meme we settled on Equity.


  • Ambition
  • Creativity
  • Making a positive difference
  • Open-mindedness
  • Equity
sketch note showing the values: ambition, creativity, making a difference, open-mindedness and equity

sketch note showing the values: ambition, creativity, making a difference, open-mindedness and equity

Reflecting on what has passed

Group processes

It was useful and enjoyable to take the time to collectively reflect on the first year of the Library Innovation Group. It has certainly been challenging, not only in terms of getting things done (or not, in many cases), but also in terms of working out HOW we operate as a group.

We tackled the weaknesses of our non-hierarchical structure, and having rotating ‘chairperson’ for meetings. There was a lack of continuity, a lack of ownership for actions and perhaps a feeling that we still needed direction and leadership from ‘above’ to some degree.


On the positive side, the Library Innovation Group provided a springboard for the implementation of video-streaming service Kanopy, and helped to progress our ideas to:

  • improve shelf signage
  • develop interactive, integrated maps
  • make records clearer on our discovery tool OneSearch

Planning in enough structure, but not too much

Ideas, not implementation

The defining change going forward for the Library Innovation Group will be a clear focus on ideas generation, rather than implementation.  Obviously there will be a number of us who will be involved in implementing ideas within our own teams, but we felt we would be better employed being a source of ideas for the Library, actively seeking and exploring.

We’re looking forward to developing these ideas into pitches aimed at colleagues, and of course senior managers (yes we exist in a hierarchical structure!).

Nuts and bolts

In order to combat some of our organisational challenges, we’re going to operate with a rolling chairperson and note-taker who needs to commit to chairing 3 consecutive meetings. A simple solution that doesn’t disrupt our non-hierarchical format too much but will allow for continuity.

We also planned our regular meetings to be treated as milestones. While not wishing to be bound by monthly timescales we wanted to build in a rhythm to our meetings that foes something like this:

  • generate ideas
  • develop
  • pitch
  • reflection

handrawn diagram showing a cycle of idea to develop to pitch to reflect

Accepting each other

We didn’t have a group hug, but we did share some laughs and learn a great deal about each others values and perspectives. Having the freedom to challenge each other, and the space to explain why you agree, don’t agree, what you understand and what’s important to you is truly transformative. We have agreed to accept one another, not passively, but with respect for the unique qualities we each bring.

group hug

via Giphy

Involving others

A challenge posed to the group is to involve others more. Of course we can do this in our teams within the Library, but we need to be braver. A great idea from Rebekah was something like an Innovation Station where ideas generated and explored by the group could be shared and built on with colleagues in the Library and wider University. Watch this space.

Explore, Reflect, Communicate, Repeat!

Often when I speak to people about innovation, the first question I get is along the lines of “So how do you do it?. How can we do the same at our institution?”. In my opinion, no one has cracked the mystery of how innovative teams develop this core capability. No matter how many books or articles you read, there will always be a different perspective. This blog post provides my point of view.

When you are starting to embed innovation in a team, there are some factors you should consider to make the environment as conducive to innovative thinking as possible. Mixing up of people from multiple teams bring new perspectives. Breaking the traditional line management hierarchies allow people to speak up and communicate more efficiently. Having a mission, a shared set of values and associated behaviours provide the team with the core ingredients they will need during tough times.

Typically with the introduction of innovation to a group, there are three dimensions people are interested in. These are:

1. Problem solving
People would join in the innovation efforts because they want a resolution to a particular challenge. They may or may not have an idea on the solution to that problem. A shared insight and discussion from different people often bring out an elegant solution to their problem. Reaching an elegant solution is often enough, and their interest in innovative practices can diminish here or continue to grow based on the mission of the group and the advantages they may have seen in being part of the discussion.

2. Horizon scanning
People who are used to problem-solving often want to learn new ways for continuous improvement and better solutions. An approach towards this is to widen the circle of discussions within your group of innovators by bringing external ideas, people and products into the mix. We call this horizon scanning and stealing good ideas. The definition of innovation becomes synonymous with adaptability. A critical skill for any leader here is the capability and capacity development for all to adapt existing solutions in a particular environment.

3. Blue sky thinking
The next natural transition for innovators is towards blue sky thinking. Have you ever been in a brainstorming meeting where people would say, if we have no limits or boundaries, how would you proceed with this? In reality, there are always limits. They might be imposed by the organisation you work in, the environment you work in, the team you work in, or by yourself without realising it. It is not easy to break these limitations, and I would argue that you don’t need to completely. My perspective on blue sky thinking lies somewhere in the middle of advanced horizon scanning skills and open minded thinking. If you can develop thinking that can look at solutions in a different environment and see their potential in an entirely different situation, you are a blue sky thinker. Or more like a grey sky thinker if you live in the North West of England.

Before we talk about how to embed innovation, let us talk about the importance of knowing yourself in the context of innovation.

Knowing yourself

Before you delve into the world of innovation with high spirits, it is critical that you know what kind of innovator you want to be. What drives you and your passion for learning? Do you intend to be an innovator in policy, in practice, in technology, in analysis, a mixture of these or something else entirely? Does success mean that you achieve things yourself or that you do that through others? All of these factors play a role in how you ought to approach innovation regardless of what you do in your day-to-day job.

So what about the title of this blog post? What does “Explore, Reflect, Communicate, Repeat” mean here? In my opinion, this sets the foundations of innovation by introduction a framework that helps people to move away from problem-solving to horizon scanning domain. Let me elaborate on this further.


Exploration consists of three key elements. These are findability, reading, and curiosity.

Findability: Finding relevant, high-quality information is an essential requirement for horizon scanning. Being in a library environment and for some of us to be from a library background is beneficial as we already specialise in finding information. However, not many of us use the same skills for learning about the application of new ideas in our daily practices.

Reading: Finding the relevant information naturally leads to reading and understanding of that material. However, with our busy schedules, it is often not considered a priority to read up content to expand our knowledge outside of our subject domain. This thinking needs to change for innovation to flourish. Reading and reflection also go hand in hand. Often when you are reading other people’s perspectives, you reflect on them and consider their viewpoint for yourself, your team or your environment. You determine the applicability and determine whether you need to think more about something or whether it is a non-starter in the first place. You start the reflective thinking processes.

Curiosity: Curiosity underpins all innovation activities and creates a harmonious and productive team. Being curious, in this context, implies asking meaningful questions. Often we make statements to justify our view on something, whereas genuine questions allow us to listen to other viewpoints, reflect on how they make us feel, how they apply to the problem, and use this newly acquired knowledge to determine the best outcome for the problem. Asking questions requires balancing with sharing of your viewpoint and creating an environment where being inquisitive, curious, accepting and open is a norm.


Reflection is a crucial step of almost everything we do in our lives. It started for me in my early childhood when my mother used to tell me at every naughty thing I would do, “have you considered what you have just done?” Being in a fast-paced task-oriented work environment, especially in a non-leadership role, can curb your reflective instincts. The pace at which we work, often very problem-focussed, mean that we are continuously striving to finish things off without ever taking the time to reflect on what we have achieved, how we achieved it, and most importantly, why we achieved it.

Reflection is not an independent activity; it closely links with exploration activities. For me, reflection is often about letting my mind wander about what has been achieved in the past, who else is working on similar ideas, start reading (a lot) and adjusting my thinking based on what I learn. It is a non-systematic activity, at times, I will spend hours just exploring and at times, hours tweaking my thinking. What helps me is writing my thoughts down, and I will talk a bit more about this in the communicate section.

Reflection is also a key component of developing one’s leadership capabilities. As a leader, it is crucial that you have the ability to reflect on your decisions, how they impact on your team working lives, and beyond that. Reflection also links with curiosity, understanding people’s perspectives and connecting them with our thinking. Leadership is not what you do to people; it is what you do with them. Being a successful leader with an innovative thinking requires you to have qualities of exploration, reflection, communication and emotional intelligence. It also requires you to know yourself well, having shared set of values, and being authentic to yourself and in your leadership capacity.


Lack of communication is the most commonly reported frustration amongst many teams, at all levels of seniority. Most people think of communication as a downstream of information with occasional upstream passed to managers. From my point of view, communication has multiple layers of complexities.

I often associate the challenge of communication with the layers of an onion. The easiest and thinnest layer to peel is the external one, which relates to downstream elements of communication. Academic organisations or teams will create newsletters, mailing lists or websites to handle the complexity associated with this layer. As more layers are peeled off, they get thicker and challenging. Resolution of the more challenging issues requires active empowerment of your staff, for them to have the confidence to share their viewpoint and be heard. As you reach the core of the onion, the real issues are revealed. These are questions of culture, empowerment to not only share but question viewpoints, to exchange ideas openly and to have the confidence to develop those ideas into practical outcomes. A very common mistake here is to start working on the outer layers first, which results in short-term gains. It does not increase staff morale, it does not affect how they feel, it does not give them the confidence and empowerment that they deserve. It is crucial that we resolve the issues with the core first without which long-term success and loyalty are impossible.

So how does this relate to communication with innovation in mind? Thinking differently is crucial to establishing innovation in any organisation. Not having the right culture of communication can significantly hinder the process of shaping this difference of thinking into open discussions which lead to thoughtful and innovative outcomes. Shared values play a crucial role here as they underpin the debates and give everyone a common ground to reflect back upon.


I don’t think I need to say much here but success depends on continuously repeating the process till it becomes routine. Scientifically speaking, it takes 66 days for an average person to adopt a new habit and can range from 18 days to 300 days.

Information Assistants on Tour: UKSG Forum 2016

The UKSG Forum has been up and running for four years now. It’s a dynamic and popular event for those in the world of scholarly communications. Falling just before the festive season, the event supports their mission ‘to connect the knowledge community and encourage the exchange of ideas”. And, I would say that it did that and more. The event was held in the aptly named Grand Connaught Rooms. It was a day jam-packed with the exchange of ideas, networking opportunities and delicious refreshments.

Photograph showing a perfectly proportioned and symmetrical grand stair case with marble balustrades

The Grand Connaught Rooms main staircase. Picture by 2016

Each year the Forum has a particular focus. This year, all eyes were fixed on “The innovation game: breaking the rules”. The organisers (including our own Deputy Director of Services, David Summers) had engaged in a spot of imaginative innovation themselves, choosing to theme the event around a football match in recognition of the venue being the site on which the Football Association was founded in 1863. Delegates were invited to attend regaled in football strips and scarves, and plenary chairs were stylised as ‘referees’ – equipped with whistles, and yellow and red cards; which they weren’t afraid to use when presenters ‘lightning talks’ overran. All in good fun!

During the day there were 8 plenary sessions, each lasting half an hour with no two sessions being held in the same room. This was great, it kept us moving and you could select a pick-n-mix assortment of attending plenaries, taking refreshments, networking and visiting exhibitors. Each plenary grouped three lightening talks together around topics such as Systems and Technology, Data, Library Interaction and at 12:00 the all-important Library, Engagement and impact session (…our’s).

The title of our lightening talk was ‘Inspiring evolution: changing the working culture of the library through innovative practice’. So what did we have to say? Well, we shared our experiences about how we’ve taken a transformative approach towards embedding innovation into our culture and how this has seen us achieve so much more than just solving problems. We spoke about how our group was formed from across all grades and teams and we described how a flat hierarchy has enabled us to foster an inclusive ethos of collaboration. We shared the good and the bad; the initial stumbling blocks we encountered to the wider shift in staff engagement and participation to the positive impact on the users experience.

 Image with the words "the library towards 2020" depicting the central atrium a Lancaster University Library; a light canvases enclosed space with a ficus tree at its centre.

Our talk culminated with a visionary statement:

“Our Innovation story is not techno-centric it’s people-orientated. It is a story about unlocking the creativity and talent within our workforce. It is time to challenge the status quo, to move beyond tradition. It is time to view things through a new looking glass,  to dream,  to experiment,  to take risks, to foster the forward thinking innovative culture that will create the libraries of the future. ”

…. and breathe

There were so many refreshing lightening talks throughout the day. Rebekah and I had three personal favourites. Firstly, Sarah Pittway’s which evaluated the significance placed by hiring managers on whether a candidate for a post holds a library qualification. A case in point; Sarah doesn’t hold a specific library qualification. Alternatively, she holds a PhD, PgCert, MPhill and a BA (Hons) – although modestly, she only mentioned her PhD. As a Team Leader: Academic Services, University of Worcester Library, she brings a wealth of education, practical experience and insight to her role. Her talk demonstrated convincingly that library and information qualifications are, and should be widely respected but hiring managers should also seriously consider the inclusion of the phrase “or equivalent experience” in job advertisements, capturing the atypical but perfectly capable and talented candidates… a phrase, which I’m proud to say, our library already includes.

Secondly, we loved Andy Tattersall’s (University of Sheffield) talk on Research Hacks – a series of short animations which he narrates with a signature sense of humour. They’re aimed at teaching academics how to share their research and work smarter. Topics so far have included Google Drive, Mendeley, Apps for referencing, early morning productivity hacks, and many more. He explained that anybody can replicate his efforts using relatively inexpensive equipment, software and a simple formula; an old idea, reframed in a novel and engaging way.

Last but not least, Wendy Morris (Kingston University) and Leo Appleton (University of the Arts London) delivered a thought provoking and motivating talk. They suggested that we should break the mould and start to view the library and information sector through the lens of the comic book world. We were all asked to consider where we felt we fit in on the ‘Superhero scale of professional pride’; from Ant man, to the Incredible Hulk. They encouraged us all to celebrate our successes – to take pride in our work and the positive difference we make.

Image displaying the speaker and a rising scale of 10 superheros from Ant man to the Incredible Hulk.

Picture by @darylrayner 2016

UKSG Forum, it was a pleasure. Until next time!


Northern Collaboration Conference – Liverpool Hilton – 15 September 2016

Collaboration: delivering innovation, engagement and impact

Attended by Josh Sendall, Callum Pownall and Liz Hartley

There’s information about the conference and a link to the presentations on the Northern Collaboration website .

Photo of Josh and Callum outside the Hilton Hotel

The conference theme drew upon key issues for us in delivering support for teaching, learning and research in the current HE climate. How can collaboration aid us in delivering innovation, impact and engagement?

How do we nurture innovation and deliver new and exciting initiatives and services?

How do we encourage psychological engagement with different stakeholder groups to plan and deliver a successful library experience?

Do we need libraries? What difference do we make to the experience of our users? How do we demonstrate impact?


Three of us attended the conference to present a paper ‘Coffee, Cake and Biscuits: cultivating engagement and inspiring cultural change through innovation.  Rebekah Constable who had done a lot of preparatory work on the paper unfortunately couldn’t attend on the day.

tweet aabout using people and talents of an existing workforce -not all about new technology

We gave some background on why and how we set up the Lancaster University Library Innovation Group.  Our overriding aim is to improve the experience of our users by unlocking our own creativity.  We discussed how we came up with ideas, our achievements to date and the effect of the Group on stimulating innovative working in the library. We finished by reflecting on what comes next.

We didn’t exactly trend on Twitter but our presentation generated a fair bit of interest and received good feedback on the day.

Tweets - lots to follow up back in the office, including staff from all levels makes the innovation group a force for change,Lanc Uni Library has a tree, love non-hierarchical groups

We all enjoyed the keynote addresses, especially Richard Watson’s, the author of Digital vs Human.

Liz’s highlights were Nadine Sunderland’s talk on the University of Cumbria’s great work with their Head Start programme (providing online information skills, academic writing and referencing training to pre-entry students) and Bob Frost talking about the University of Central Lancashire’s pop-up library service – taking the library out of the library. Loved the travel case with the pop-up screen.

Pop-up library transit case and screen

Josh went to a talk by Karen Crinnion and Susan Millican from Newcastle University. They shared the success they’d had in Using games to introduce postgraduate researchers to the Library. In one task they gamified evaluating the quality of resources. Another game involved using large foam jigsaw pieces with bibliographic details on (Title, date of publication, publisher etc. all jumbled up); the aim of the game was to piece them together in the correct order to create a complete Harvard reference. Novel ways of making the mundane more interesting!

As well as seeing the pop-up library presentation from the University of Central Lancashire, Callum enjoyed the talk from Michael Fake and Liz Waller about the White Rose Libraries plan to develop a shared collection to free up study space.

The conference really highlighted the interesting and innovative work going on in northern university libraries.

And there was cake!

Cream cake

Innovation at Lancaster University Library

As part of our commitment to our user experience and ongoing staff development and engagement an Innovation Group was formed from all grades and teams across the library. The aim of this group was to take a fresh approach to innovation in the Library, using a flat hierarchical structure to enable us to foster a truly inclusive ethos of collaboration.


In forming this group we hope not only to implement some great ideas, but also to improve the working culture of the library as a whole – encouraging autonomy, creativity and engagement.

Initial members were selected from volunteers and will be reviewed on an annual basis to allow different people to get involved and ensure that we are always evolving and improving the way that we work.

Details of our membership and a bit about the individual who make up the team can be found on our ‘Who We Are’ page