November 24, 2015

Creativity, Diversity, Simplicity | The Digital Shift

Denise JacobsDenise Jacobs is a web design and development industry veteran of 17 years and has written and coauthored several web design books and articles. She’s now a speaker, author, and consultant on creativity and innovation, as well as one of the keynote presenters at LJ’s free virtual event, The Digital Shift: Libraries Connecting Communities, to be held on October 14. LJ caught up with her in the middle of a three-city tour to ask about key thematics attendees will discover.

How can librarians unlock their creativity?

I feel I have a good [understanding of] librarians, having hung out with so many of them. They really like information, the acquisition of information, and being able to access information easily. Within that there’s probably a lot of perfectionist tendencies, wanting to get it right, the right system, and the easiest way to access. One of the major barriers to creativity for librarians is not giving yourself permission to explore. Having seen myself with a lot of perfectionist tendencies I [know] how limiting that can be and how that can keep you stuck, if [your project] was fine however many iterations ago and people could actually have iterated upon that. That vision you had, someone else can take that forward. Librarians potentially can suffer from the tyranny of the expert: I know things and I know where to find things instead of being open to something new, allowing more of a beginner’s mind.

Most of the time the problem is bad funding, no recognition: Why would you want to work extra hard to do something that nobody’s going to appreciate or that they’re going to talk about like you’re a burden on the system? It is hard to be creative when you’ve got ideas and there’s no system in place to support them and you don’t get anything for it. I do think one of the ways libraries can start getting more recognition and support is to exercise creativity and start coming up with more innovative ideas, outreach programs, and potentially marketing campaigns.

How can libraries enable patrons’ creativity?

There’s going to be the people who seek out help and that’s great, but it is important to be more proactive in getting people involved who wouldn’t have gotten involved. How many kids want to read really bad? It’s such a complex issue. If the parents don’t read, then the kids won’t read. Or if they want to read but that’s not the social norm and then they’re made fun of. Or we want you to read, but we don’t want you to read all these things because they’re on the banned books list. If there are programs where there are kids who just don’t understand or know that this is such a resource and that its available, let them know and try to make a personal connection. It was the fact that the librarians knew me and seemed to care about me that made a huge difference. Having that personal connection can transform the experience and transform a person’s life.

Through Rawk the Web, you work to increase diversity in technology by encouraging the visibility of more diverse experts. What can libraries do to help increase diversity in tech?

It is sometimes hard to break through to folks where they’re disenfranchised. But if the connection can be made, show these kids, this is how you get information and information is power. Libraries should be partnering with things like Girls Who Code; there’s an organization in Miami called Code Fever so kids of color can stop being tech consumers and become tech producers. [To connect with adult role models] there might be meet-up groups for people of color in tech. Make it known within the tech community that the library space is open for events.

Would any of your ideas for diversifying tech help diversify librarianship?

It’s a hard one. It’s such a chicken and egg kind thing because you need the visibility, people seeing themselves, but how do they see themselves if the numbers are low? I can’t think of anything offhand other than for…folks of color to do outreach, go and talk at schools, go and make themselves available as mentors for students.

Library websites might have to juggle integrating many resources, municipal templates, and a lack of design staff. Do you have suggestions?

The most important is to keep it simple. Focus on the experience. Is it an easy experience for people to find what they need to find? If it isn’t, then you have to rethink how you’re going about that and simplify. [Try] usability testing. Have people come in and use the stuff.

Are there good books on these topics?

Steve Krug’s two great books [Don’t Make Me Think; Rocket Surgery Made Easy] on creating your own DIY user testing lab. I’m reading Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit right now. Next on my list is Mastering Creative Anxiety. My book, when it comes out: Banish Your Inner Critic.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you think is important to share?

Stay on top of things and look to see what other people get inspired by, what other people are doing in other spaces. If it is interesting to you, there is probably some kernel in there that you can use and expand upon.

Hear more from Denise Jacobs and other tech-inflected programs at The Digital Shift virtual event. Register for free at

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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