The Experimental Library: A Guide to Taking Risks, Failing Forward, and Creating Change

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Using techniques garnered from startups and quickly evolving technology companies, this book will educate information professionals on using experimentation to make evidence-based decisions to advance innovative initiatives. 

The last five years have demonstrated that sticking with the status quo is not an option; instead, as the experiences of many libraries have shown, those that experiment are better positioned to adapt to rapidly changing environments and evolving user needs and behaviors. This guide shows how to draw from new approaches and technologies to harness experimentation as a tool for testing ideas and responding to change. It borrows ideas and inspiration from the startup sector to teach you how to take a human-centered and design thinking-based perspective on problem solving. Inside this book, you will discover

  • why experimentation is possible on any budget and can be undertaken by anyone at an organization;
  • ways to foster a culture of experimentation, which recognizes the importance of incorporating curiosity into work and daily life;
  • the distinctive characteristics of technology companies and startups that make them experimentative, and what libraries can learn from these sectors’ techniques;
  • dozens of examples of experimentation from academic, public, and school libraries as well as non-library governmental settings;
  • the basics of design thinking, which plays a leading role in brainstorming;
  • guidance on employing IDEEA (Ideate, Design, Experiment, Engage, Assess) as a five-part process for trying out ideas by formulating prototypes;
  • how to engage users in testing to identify the pros and cons of a prototype; and
  • a concrete roadmap for bringing the culture and method of experimenting to your library, from understanding how to embrace failures in order to learn from them to acquiring the skills necessary to experiment, creating teams that thrive with experimentation, and communicating successfully around experiments.


Part I        A Culture of Experimentation
Chapter 1    The Power of Curiosity
Chapter 2    What Makes an Experiment? 
Chapter 3    Everything Is an Experiment

Part II        The Experimentation Toolbox 
Chapter 4    Ideate
Chapter 5    Design
Chapter 6    Experiment
Chapter 7    Engage
Chapter 8    Assess

Part III    Mapping Experimentation to Your Organization
Chapter 9    Fail Forward
Chapter 10    Reskilling the Information Professional
Chapter 11    The Experimentation Roadmap


Cathryn M. Copper

Cathryn M. Copper works at the intersection of libraries, architecture, and technology. As the Head of the Eberhard Zeidler Library at the University of Toronto, her current research explores technology and experimentation in libraries. She has spoken on the topic of experimentation at several national and international conferences including the Association of College & Research Libraries and SXSW EDU. Her talk on the use of artificial intelligence and augmented reality in libraries at SXSW EDU was featured as one of the "biggest and most pressing ideas."

"Examples from technology companies and libraries abound and clearly illustrate the process, and a generous bibliography supports the whole. Information professionals and library school students alike will benefit from this fresh approach, which, it is hoped, will result in more effective, efficient, and responsive library services."
— Booklist

"Copper situates the library as an experience: an environment in which to engage and interact with its space, its resources and its human entities, all of which can impact the user. the library, and the umbrella organization. Throughout the book, Copper provides examples of impactful library experimentation as well as thought exercises and supporting images ... Copper writes in an engaging and practical way to inspire special librarians to experiment with their libraries as an impactful change agent."
— Information Outlook

"While many of Copper’s arguments will be familiar to those versed in business and leadership literature, her knowledge of library issues makes this a solid choice for libraries looking to foster sustainable, flexible, and responsive environments ... A user-friendly guide celebrating curiosity and experimentation, recommended for libraries hoping to embrace positive change."
— Library Journal

"Copper provides a clear and useful introduction to experimentation in library spaces, collections, and services in this practical primer. Similar to her approach to experimentation, Copper’s book keeps it simple and is well supported by examples of real-life application to illustrate her process."
— Public Services Quarterly