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Digital disruption driving innovation

05 July 2019  
Posted by: Gus MacDonald
Digital disruption driving innovation


Digital disruption can be a platform for innovation, but if it is not done right it can become a digital distraction - this was the key message for delegates attending the Digital Innovation 'breakout' at CILIP's 2019 Conference.

Olly Hellis, of Somerset Libraries; Val Stevenson, from Liverpool John Moores University; and Sheffield University's Andy Tattersall spoke about three very different incarnations of digital disruption – but they each shared a core message that digital needs to work for users – in a session that looked at software, hardware and virtual services.

Olly Hellis, and his team at Somerset Libraries have been delivering digital services in a brand new way at the county’s Taunton Library. A dedicated area, known as the The Glass Box was created to allow experimentation with digital and virtual tools for users.

With an aim to reach new users and give existing customers new services, The Glass Box has three core principals at its heart – Create, Learn and Grow. Taking the best of makerspace ideas and combining it with education, outreach and business support, The Glass Box has evolved over the last three years to become an important part of the Somerset Libraries services.

“Create” sees typical makerspace kit made available – 3D printers, digital scanners, 3D cameras, coding kits, and robotics are all available allowing creativity to flourish. “Learn” sees the library occupy a third space between home and school – giving children an environment where they can learn and experiment in a less pressured environment. Library staff are not there too “teach”, but offer guidance and encouragement. And the final strand, “Grow”, is aimed at local businesses, offering access to technology, information and knowledge that is tailored to their needs – whether it is one person working from home, an established local business or someone interested in starting something new.

The library also offers access to drones and games consoles, enticing in young people who may not normally go into a library. Olly says staff can then upsell all the other services that are relevant – it is outreach that is happening in the boundaries of the library.

Underpinned by a notion that “It’s better to give it a go than not try” The Glass Box has grown organically. There is no fear of failure – instead staff are encouraged to think about why something failed, learn from it and try again.


Val Stevenson spoke about how Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) Library Service has embraced a digital landscape that is providing new ways of engaging with users. The university has three physical spaces, and it is now developing its fourth space – a digital and virtual area, where students and staff are given a new place within the library. It began with online tutorials, but the benefits were so great that an all encompassing Virtual Vision Document has been created to help the library transform how it delivers services – providing side-by-side, equivalent services in both the digital and physical arenas.

The aim is not just to give users the choice of how they interact with the library and its services, but making that choice seamless. Digital services should be available in physical spaces, and digital spaces should provide an experience that is equivalent (if not identical) to the physical experience. With two major refurbishment projects on the cards and a brand new student commons building due to be completed, the university is in a strong position to create a physical and digital crossover.


Andy Tattersall looked at how software can be a digital disruptor – pointing out that it is often impossible to tell how new platforms and technology will change the way we work. Technology might have all the answers, but only if we are asking the right questions. And while there is a proliferation of tools and software at a library’s disposal, there needs to be a clear reason to adopt it. Care also needs to be taken when choosing what to use, with a considered approach to drawbacks as well as benefits.

Andy highlighted compatibility issues, third-party user agreements, questions about ownership of content, and whether there are limitations to what something can do – especially when using free versions. He also says care needs to be taken to ensure new platforms are intuitive and user-friendly otherwise they simply will not be used.

He believes that a lot can be learnt from learning technologists, who think about why we want to use technology and what we want to achieve. If library and information professionals can think about that, then they are better placed to help choose the right tech for their users – whether software or hardware.

Banner image: Olly Hellis speaking at CILIP Conference in Manchester photographed by Martyn Hicks.


Published:5 July 2019


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