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Engaging in professional communities: Librarians exchange knowledge as Innovation Explorers

Elizabeth Zwaaf, Elsevier | Mar 13, 2012

There is knowledge that comes from a book, article or online tutorial — these are resources we turn to time and again. Then there is knowledge that comes from a lively group of peers interacting on a regular and often instantaneous basis to help solve problems. This knowledge is, as the advertisement goes, priceless!

Elsevier hosts several such communities, dubbed Innovation Explorers, including the 150-member librarian section. This closed and moderated community allows librarians to meet virtually in a protected environment where they participate in discussions, initiate their own queries, and provide feedback via surveys, polls and interviews on tools and topics pertinent to their profession. They are also able to gain insight into planned products and services long before they hit the general public and, more important, to help shape them into the very best tools to meet their needs.

I have participated for several years. One of my primary motivations is to keep abreast of developments in my field, as well as to obtain new perspectives on the issues that academic librarians currently deal with. The community is especially appealing because of its international focus — many of my other communities tend to be very US-centric. I have learned a great deal, for example, of the challenges that countries with less resources face.”

Karen Vagts, Engineering/Business/Math Librarian, Tufts University, Massachusetts

Connecting with a group of peers outside the institution, and indeed outside national boundaries, has proven to be extremely beneficial to participants.


“My involvement in the community has helped me better the way I source information for, and attend to library patrons. It has also taught me ways  of working smarter.”

David Ofili, Assistant Librarian, University of Benin, Nigeria


The ability to get a first glimpse of what’s coming next in terms of product development is tantalizing for early adopters in the group. Others see their participation as giving back to the global community.

“One benefit [of participation] is providing service to the industry, which is a facet of tenure for librarians at my university. I also have seen new products and apps early. I really enjoyed working with a few other librarians on a tutorial project for Elsevier which resulted from  contacts I made in the community.”

John J. Meier, Science Librarian, Pennsylvania State University


Community involvement is also a great way for librarians to gauge where their institutions lie within a broader spectrum.


“My involvement in the community has helped me see that I’m not alone in some of the financial and institutional challenges we face,  and that we’re about in the middle!”

Amanda Izenstark, Reference and Instructional Design Librarian, University of Rhode Island


Innovation Explorers has also inspired some participants into similar activities at libraries. “Although we haven’t ‘cloned’ the Explorers community approach per se, the program has prompted me to use some of the discussion techniques and specific examples of survey design to collect feedback from our users,” says Vagts. “These complement our other methods such as focus groups, web design feedback such as card sorting and wire-frame designs, and so forth, and many of the Explorer activities have been helpful in this regard as well.”