Startup Library: Day 1

This past Friday I took the Greyhound out to Guelph, ON for Day 1 of The Startup Library conference. This conference is set-up as 4 Friday afternoons, and throughout the 4 weeks we  participate in different activities designed to get librarians thinking and acting more like startups. Which I assume means: beer fridges for all? Maybe a ping pong table in the acquisitions department? As I learned, it’s a bit more sophisticated than that… Here’s a rundown of what I remember from week 1:

To start, we partnered off to get to “Know Thyself”: List two things that you excel at, and two things that you find challenging. Exchange notes. Converse.The point of the exercise was to recognise what it feels like when you’re doing something you’re good at versus bad at. If you were to plot the good things on a graph like the one below, where would they fall?

Stuff you’re good at will allow for just enough difficulty and require just enough skill that when you do them, you fall into Flow:

the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. (Csikzentmihalyi, 1991)

And THAT… is where we should be throughout our time at the Startup Library.  By stretching ourselves to learn knew things and go outside our comfort zones (maybe even get pushed into the “anxiety” zone a bit), we’re able to focus, get into the groove, and truly learn something new. Excellent introduction to the conference, I say.

Next up: We learned about two key models for thinking and approaching business problems: Managerial Thinking vs. Entrepreneurial Thinking. But this is Startup Library; we didn’t just write down the definitions and move on. To illustrate Managerial Thinking – a skill that requires analytical methods, observation of the environment to move towards predicable conclusions – we put together… a puzzle.

Pupppppies! Also: An experiential learning opportunity to better understand the roll of predictive thinking in problem-solving. By way of… Puppppppies!!

From there though, we were siphoned away from our tables to collaboratively create a “group quilt”… we were given the freedom to put our swatches of fabric wherever we chose. There was no pattern; no instructions; absolutely no expectations of what to do, and no indication of how to do it. This, friends is an illustration of Entrepreneurial Thinking: faced with a situation without a predictable outcome, how do you find your way through?  The situation allowed for “creaction”: Creative reaction (we all hate this buzzy word, but it’s part of the canon now, so we’re stuck with it). This sort of thought process is characterised by gut checks, leaps of logic (no process outlined for you to follow), learning by doing, and just a lot more ambiguity than Managerial Thinking. It requires passion, an ability to bring others on board, and a constant cycle of action, results, and reflection as a way forward. Because entrepreneurs, by definition, are doing stuff that doesn’t have a manual.

Side note: Our facilitator/fearless leader  M.J. noted that when they did this activity at Startup Weekend, participants just put the fabric all over the place, in wonky places and shapes. Our group, on the other hand, carefully placed all our fabric in a single continuous rectangle. Is this an indication that librarians are super-linear thinkers? Maybe… But I think it’s just that there were way more quilters in our crowd. I think we’re just lucky nobody pulled out some paper patterns and a rotary cutter and got down to business.

These lessons help to create context for how we can process through the 4 weeks that comprise Startup Library. Get into the flow – be a bit uncomfortable and push yourself  that’s how we learn best. Remember to balance Managerial Thinking with Entrepreneurial Thinking. Get comfortable with one another!

From there we launched into what was probably my favourite part of the afternoon: In groups, we were asked to write out as many “hot spots” we could think of.

What’s a hot spot?

A cool new restaurant?

A skin condition?


This is what hot spots are: 

Hot Spots

We identified hot spots in life (“I hate commuting with the masses”) and in libraries (“printers”), wrote them on post-it notes, and then toured the room identifying our favourites.

BRIEF ASIDE: “printers” was identified as a hot spot by. Every. Single. Group. Guys, OMG can we please kill the printer drama once and for all?

Post-it Note Nation: Our hot spots up on the wall.


Now that I’ve got my list of favourites, I’m on to the homework portion of week 1: A 60 second pitch on one of them. Eeeeep! I’ll report back on how it goes.

My thoughts about Startup Library, day 1:

  • Guelph is pretty
  • Lots of librarians want to get some positive change going within our profession/industry and are committed to being a part of the solution. I think we’re just not sure where to go.
  • Most libraries – public, academic, etc. – face the exact same problems (See printer rant above).
  • We need to be more user-centred. Some of us are; some of us are not. That has to be the overarching mantra of everyone with the letters “librar” in their job title. This will guide which problems we solve and how we solve them.
  • I hate the way our systems are set up, like ugh. I just want one giant single point of access that is elegant, sufficiently customisable/customised to account for information in all it’s various forms, but also same-look-same-feel and owned by libraries and, and, and, and, and….

2 responses to “Startup Library: Day 1

  1. Your last few points definitely illustrate our need to stop thinking about librarianship and libraries in terms of sectors. We may have different user groups, budget models and staffing structure, but at the end of the day, we’ve all got the same struggles. Power in numbers, folks …