Managing Innovation – Catharina Isberg

This is an extended text based on one of the presentations of the innovation webinar organized by the IFLA Management & Marketing Section in February 2023, “Managing Innovation: No Innovator is an Island”. Full recording from the webinar is available on YouTube.

About the author: Catharina Isberg is working as Director of the Lund Public Library since October 2022. From 2013 until September 2022 she was Library Director in Helsingborg, Sweden. This article is therefor based on experiences and examples on innovation management from both of these organizations. 

Before the webinar, Stephen Woods from the M&M Standing Committee provided the following statement: Innovation is one of the important elements for the library to encourage the utilization of library resources and services. It can be innovation in service delivery, reaching out to our customers, library resources utilization, etc.

Thanks to Stephen Woods for organizing the webinar and asking the questions.

Managing Innovation, a Swedish example

The international standard on Innovation Management System, a Practical Guide ISO 56002:2019 describes innovation as:

Innovation is the successful exploitation of a new idea to realize value. It can relate to a product, a service, a process, a model of any combination of these. Some ideas are small, some are big: but innovative ideas will be novel and will make a difference.”

When it comes to Innovation management it is described as:

“Innovation management is about defining, planning and executing the steps required to progress ideas into innovations. It is a discipline that combines the freedom and creativity of generating ideas with the formality required to manage risks, investments and project implementation.”

I find both descriptions really useful when developing innovation management at the workplace.

What are some examples of innovation in your organization?

First of all we need to ensure that our efforts that we spend on innovation is in line with and supports our mission and our business strategy.

In my view innovations can be really small and also larger initiatives. They can be of different kind and for example a technological innovation, a service innovation or an innovation of how we work, our processes.

As I have been working for a long time (9 years) in Helsingborg and a couple of months in Lund, most of my examples comes from Helsingborg. In Helsingborg we were working a lot with innovation in the entire city. The city were one of the five runner-up in the iCapital 2020.

All departments in the city were working with innovation for several years and had funding to cover some of the costs. The work and results were shown in June 2022 in a large City Expo H22. The aim of our work was to transform Helsingborg into a smarter and sustainable city, a welfare initiative for the future which was all about innovation and reinventing our city governance.

As part of this the library worked with something I really find innovative, the process of the planning of the New Helsingborg City Library. The New City Library will be built and ready in 2026 and the process to get there has been a process of inclusion and really involving the citizens . A Service Designer was recruited to compliment the competences of the library staff. This initiative was also part of the city’s work on increasing involvement.  So that is one example of innovation where the innovation is a process and how you work.

During the pandemic crisis libraries around the world were really working a lot with innovation. Some of these might have been small but important. An example of this was setting up a support computer for digital inclusion. At this station the library staff could help the patron from behind a plexiglass. The computer screen was mirrored so that both the patron and the library staff did see the same thing on their computers. In this way the library could continue to give customers support at the computer in a safe manner. It took some time before we got this solution up and running, but it was really a success. It was also an initiative which was kept after the pandemic.

During the pandemic we also had a lot of new services as well as a lot of digitalization with improved digital services. Another improvement was that we had a much more agile work style. For example. we had corona sprint workshops where our staff could come up with different solutions. One solution from this sprint was a reading hub for young people. This was tested and made a solution where young people could sit and read even though the library was not a meeting place and all ordinary furniture had been removed.

Lund is also a city working a lot on innovation and the vision of the municipality includes being leading on the work of knowledge and innovation.  As a University City Lund is building most of the innovative work on knowledge and research and collaborating within the field.

The library is as all libraries continuously developing our services. In 2009 one of the library branches, the Veberöd Library, developed extended opening hours (Meröppet, in Swedish). This was the first public library in Sweden opening the library building, the collection, and computers for library users, outside staffed opening times. By using your library card, you can open the door and enter the library from 7.00 (7 am) until 22.00 (10 pm). Several student theses as well as a research dissertation has been done on this. Among these Lisa Engström’s dissertation “Att skapa självstyrande individer; effektivitet och motrörelser : Styrningsrationalitet och icke-rationalitet i bibliotek med obemannade öppettider” (English abstract is available).

Catharina with the library mascot Läsius (“Readius”) as a soft toy.

The library constantly works on improving the services both within staffed hours as well as during extended opening hours. One example of an innovation is a project on how to work with children literacy, reading and inspiration during the times when there is no staff, but customers, in the library. This is when the library mascot Läsius was invented (in English you might want to translate Läsius into the name “Readius). Läsius/Readius is available in many different formats like soft toy, dressing up costume, bookmark and paper figure, and you can find it in all 11 libraries in Lund, as well as in the library bus, on social media and in the digital library. The kids love Läsius/Readius and we see how it improves the interest in reading and literature. It might count as a small innovation, but I would say it is a very important one.

What is your approach to encouraging innovation in your organization?

In Sweden the University of Uppsala has in collaboration with some cities worked on an innovation management tool which is useful. The tool is based on the international standard “Innovation Management System” ISO 56002:2019. Helsingborg was one of the cities involved in the work and I was attending some workshops testing the tool during the development phase. The Swedish tool “Heja innovation” includes five different parts to support Innovation Management:

  • Leadership – Strengthen leadership and enable innovation.
  • Culture – Develop the culture, our behaviors, and attitudes.
  • Working methods – Support and require working methods for innovation
  • Collaboration – Collaborate for more benefit, both internally and externally
  • Continue – Create learning and continue to develop.

Based on this an important approach to encourage innovation in my workplace is to implement a culture of that it is okay to make mistakes. In this you should not try to find who did that mistake, instead focus on how to learn from them. 

You also need to have a culture of trial and error so that you’re testing, evaluating, change the way you do it, and test it all over again so that you really work more agile and in loops. 

The third thing for me is “I don’t have the answers, we need to do it together”. Everyone needs to really realize that in a complex world no one has all the answers. The staff need to let go of the expectation that the manager or some specialist will come up with the correct answer. And as a manager this is even more important, to really let go of the control and trust that your staff will come up with solutions and they will solve it together. They will do it in another way than you would have done it. And that’s great. 

What are the challenges in initiating an innovation?

I would say that one of the challenges is to get everyone to embrace change, as well as to find both time and ownership. When you come up with an idea, go through with it, from testing to implementing and move from project to ordinary business. But also, to have the ability to actually realize when the initiative is not anything we’re going to move forward with, to know when to stop and to sometimes “kill your darlings”.

Communication is also of importance. You need to communicate that you are working on innovation and development, communicate externally that it’s okay to make mistakes and that it’s okay to trial and error. Sometimes it is really a challenge to get management, politicians, library users, and media/journalists to accept the fact that we will make mistakes and that we are testing things out.

Why does innovation matter to the library?

First, we have a change of demography, and we need to reach new library users. We need to improve our services and make new services which benefits the potential library users. 

At the same time many libraries have financial challenges and constraints and need to do more with less. We have less money and more people to serve, so we really need to make better use of our competencies and resources and collaborate with others in new ways. The library is part of the development of the society. And we need to really strive the change that is needed. 

Digital development and the challenges of this is another reason for innovating the work on for example digital inclusion, where we also need to work in new ways. Examples from the pandemic crisis showed that when we as a library succeeded with this, our surrounding world got a better understanding of a modern library business and could really see how we can contribute. This makes it possible for others to really know when to make use of our competencies much better so that we can continue to give access to information, literature, and knowledge, because that is really the key.

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