The Winds of Change

By Teresa Koltzenburg | Zephyr Innovation Incubator ProgramMichael's last post provides a good segue into another nifty program offered through the Metropolitan Library System, which has offices in Burr Ridge and here in ALA-headquarter town, Chicago, IL.

“Are you Dreaming?" is about making room for dreaming—about imaginative ways the library can create and offer user-centered services to those in a community—and in it, he urges his fellow librarians to dream… at work, every month, and even formalize it! “Why?" he asks. “Because we have the potential to bring about the next big thing."

But that “buzz buzz of your routine" that Michael also refers to, a lot of the time, can be a stifling force in many of our overloaded realities, so even if you do get a chance to dream, will you get to see your dream come true?

Well, if you're an MLS member library, and if you take advantage of its new Zephyr Program, it's very possible you will. According to Kathryn Deiss, director of strategic learning and team leader of the Zephyr Innovation Incubator Program, if you can dream it, the creative thinkers at MLS can help it come true. And even if you can't dream it, they can help with that too.

Kathryn Deiss, director of the Zephyr Innovation Incubator Program offered by MLS.Deiss, a librarian with close to thirty years of experience, says the impetus for the new Zephyr Innovation Incubator Program came from years of her interest and career in a continuing-education role while working at Northwestern, the Association of Research Libraries, and Chicago Library System (which is now the MLS entity). With a well-established history of developing CE for libraries, Deiss, at MLS, has concentrated on organizational-development services, specifically organizational-development consulting, “which is different from the other the kind of catalog-services consulting offered by MLS," she explains. "It has to do with how you manage your library, strategic planning, reorganization, that sort of stuff."

This Is Something Different
Deiss says Zephyr, in its current form, was a concept she'd been contemplating for a long period of time as a result of her background and her participation in "Lighting the Fire," an Illinois State Library initiative that encourages creative thinking and innovation for libraries. Then, one day last spring, it began to take tangible form when she sat at her computer and began to write. "I wrote this mission vision, guiding philosophy, and the services down,"she explains. "It just fell out of my head and onto the keyboard. Just like that. I had been thinking about it so long that there it was, full-blown."

After a few more months in the hopper, the Zephyr Innovation Incubator program got the greenlight last fall, and indeed it has a full-blown set of services to dispense to MLS member libraries. They include:
  • Zephyr Spaces—"We have a space here that we've carved out, where we can take groups of people to do brainstorming and creative thinking," Deiss explains. "We had the idea the space wouldn't look like a regular meeting room, so we painted a wall with royal-blue blackboard paint—you can just use the whole wall for ideas. The idea is that we would create a space that would provoke different thinking—that the aesthetics of the space itself would be so different than a normal meeting room that it would actually provoke the ability to have breakthrough thinking."
  • Innovation Guides—"These are the people who will be part of an intervention, basically, people on our staff, who would help the library," says Deiss.
  • The Innovation Curriculum—"We're just kicking that part off now—I'm doing a workshop on creative thinking [this spring], and I'm going to be doing some presentations on the politics of innovation," Deiss reports. "Jenny and I are crafting a little road show on innovation and best practices about some of the things we're seeing out there, a program about these concepts: What is innovation? What are some examples of it? What does it look like in the public sector versus the private sector?"
  • Technologies for Innovation, which is listed as, "cutting-edge tools and concepts and people who know how to use them and how they are being used elsewhere." Says Deiss, "This was a real dream of mine. I felt if we could get some funding to buy some absolute leading-edge stuff for people here to play with and, then, for our members to come in and play with, they would begin to see emerging technologies earlier on than they do." Although Deiss says this part of the program hasn't quite taken off yet, she says this is a valuable service Zephyr will offer.
  • Future Scanning & Research—"trend watching, data gathering, and special research support," according to the Zephyr services' page.
  • Gatherings—"This is a big piece of what's already happened, things like the event you attended. We're putting some events under the Zephyr flag, as opposed to under the ‘CE' flag, so that people understand this is about something different," Deiss explains.
  • Idea Archive—"a holding tank for ideas that others didn't use or that may have been ahead of their time; and archive of successful innovation in the library field," states the site.
Books by Mail
The Elmwood Park Public Library, a public library with about 20,000 registered borrowers, is among the MLS member libraries that's taken advantage of the Zephyr incubator program. Located a few miles west of Chicago in the village of Elmwood Park (pop. 25,000), the library, says director Shawn Strecker, is now offering its patrons "LitClick," a way to get books sent to them through good old snail mail. Adds Strecker, "It's based on the Netflix model," the movie-borrowing service offered by the company of the same name.

“You have to come into the library once to prove you have a valid card and your age—I'm targeting that Netflix-audience age group, 18 to 44 year olds—to be eligible for the program," she continues. "After that, you can just e-mail us the requests of books you'd like to have, and we send them out one at a time. You keep them one week, two weeks, three weeks, whatever. And when you mail the book back, then we mail you the next one on your list. We don't charge for the service and we don't charge for postage."

According to Strecker, the new service was funded through an LSTA (Library Services Technology Act) grant she had put in for, and although she was excited about the service, it wasn't getting much play among her users.

Elmwood Park Public Library's LitClick logo.“That's where Zephyr came in. We brainstormed some ideas about different promotional items," she says. “For example, I just recently received beverage coasters that promote the service, and I'm going to take them to local eating and drinking establishments in Elmwood Park." Strecker adds that the “fine folks at Zephyr" also came up with another “brilliant idea" for promotion—napkins. “I'm taking these to local pizza-delivery places and to the local Chinese-delivery place to try to get them to include them when they do deliveries." Strecker also says, through Zephyr, she was also able to come up with a logo.

In addition to the ideas about the ways to promote the service, Strecker notes that Zephyr helped her develop the service plan for LitClick. “Until I worked with them, I was buying new bestseller type of books. They were the ones that actually suggested, ‘What about pregnancy books?' and ‘What about coaching books for guys?'"

Ousting the Overdue
Strecker says that she'll “basically, buy anything anyone is interested in—I mean, I'm not going to do art-reference books, but anything that's been published in the last couple of years—fiction, non-fiction, some pregnancy books (because those are the kind of books that you'd want to have for a while)," she explains.

And the best part is, with the LitClick program, there are no overdue fines or fees.

According to Strecker, “Most people are keeping items about a month."Yet the LitClick service abolishes the concept of the traditional loan period. “We decided that we'll just give everybody six months, and at six months, we just send you a little postcard that says, ‘Hey, hope you're enjoying your book. Don't forget, if you send it back, you can get more books.'"

More information about Zephyr is available at And if you don't live near Chicago and/or are not served by MLS, but know of other innovative programs, creative-thinking CE offerings, etc., helping libraries innovate and want to share information about such offerings, please comment!
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