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Foreword: GLAMs and Labs

Published onOct 29, 2019
Foreword: GLAMs and Labs

Innovation Labs are widely discussed in the 21st century in the context of developing them in many different types of organisations. They have been considered as the next ‘big thing’ for companies, organisations and institutions which are embracing innovation, development, experimentation, new ideas through disruptive thinking, and generating opportunities. Can it be the same for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAMs)? The answer of this book, which is itself a product of the innovative process of a Book Sprint (held in September 2019, Doha, Qatar), is ‘yes’!

It describes what an Innovation Lab is in the GLAM context, and, what an Innovation Lab is for. Also, how to make one happen! This book addresses characteristics, aims and objectives, processes and prospects, tools and services, as well as legal, financial and operational issues. Significantly, it addresses how galleries, libraries, archives, museums, heritage institutions and other information centres and organisations can operate and benefit from Innovation Labs. Can Innovation Labs be part of such organisations and institutions, and assist them in their mission, vision, values, aims and objectives? I strongly believe so. This book shows why, how and to what end.

Innovation Labs relate to people, minds, and mentalities, and that are integral to GLAMs' operations in the 21st century. Innovation Labs relate to GLAM missions and visions, and address GLAM concerns, practices and opportunities by exploring staff talents and other in-house capabilities. They do this in various ways: incubating new and innovative ideas and processes, making the most of the data-based and data-driven world, investing in long-term and slow-process development, providing links to external bodies (such as companies, institutions, academia, research centres, startups, individuals), adding to the participatory character of GLAMs and their relation and connection to visitors and users; and offering the space for constructive testing, safe experimenting, and learning from unavoidable but welcomed beneficial failures.

An Innovation Lab can be a physical space, but it does not necessarily have to be so. A gallery, a library, an archive and / or museum may offer rooms, spaces and infrastructure for the development of an Innovation Lab, but, they may also not. Fostering innovation does not inescapably involve a real, physical space to label as a 'Lab’. Innovation relates more to mentalities and practices, and to investing in people, time and tolerance within a work environment. Do not refrain from the Innovation Lab idea in your GLAM, if your first thought points to lack of office space, work rooms and infrastructure. Without underestimating the value of available space and material, a starting point can be an open mentality from the organisation’s decision makers and the willingness of GLAM staff towards devoting time, energy, skills, creativity and effort.

Innovation Labs happen and succeed because of people rather than spaces. Success relates to skills and competences as well as to decision making, empowerment, trust, tolerance, and investment by thinking outside the box. A well-known example is that of Google’s decision to encourage all staff to spend 20% of their work time on side projects that facilitate creativity, collaboration and inclusivity. In a GLAM environment, skills and capabilities are taken for granted. Innovation Labs are investments in the talents, strengths and other in-house capabilities as well as a chance for their further exploration and development of staff. With Innovation Labs, GLAMs develop both the organisation and their people. They also provide attractive incentives for people to stay and thrive, and for more talent, skills and diversity to join.

Innovation Labs identify with the missions, visions, and values of GLAMs. For example, we often see the words information, study, education, enjoyment, community outreach, public engagement, inspiration, inclusivity, technology, and participation in GLAMs' mission and vision statements. Innovation Labs address the above strategically and hands-on in a straightforward way. By fostering innovation, creativity and openness, Innovation Labs can offer links to GLAM with external bodies, such as companies, institutions, universities, research centres, community initiatives, and individuals. This further expands the participatory, inclusive and co-creating culture and character that GLAMs attempt to employ.

Incubating and nurturing original inventive ideas and processes are perhaps the main attributes of Innovation Labs. However, in a GLAM environment, these elements acquire special importance and value. GLAMs today need to be dynamic, adaptive, tolerant and active to the emerging social, political, natural and digital environments. Innovation Labs can spot emerging issues, tackle and address them both in the short and long term. A new development, a sudden and unexpected occurrence, an evolving trend in science, community and society, the environment and / or the world can be approached as inspiration for further thinking. This can lead to action, activities and interventions following reflection and experimentation in the Innovation Lab. And GLAMs need this.

Another important point addresses the relation of GLAMs and the need to operate and exploit opportunities presented by the data-based and data-driven world of the 21st century. Living in the ‘Big Data World’ — where immense quantities and qualities of (mostly digital) data are being generated and disseminated, GLAMs require managing data and data-mining solutions. In this landscape where a multiplicity of both on-site and online information exists, from the physical setting (library room, archive desk, museum and / or gallery exhibition) to websites, e-platforms, mobile apps and social media settings, Innovation Labs in GLAMs can offer beneficial suggestions and solutions.

In short, I believe that Innovation Labs can be especially useful for GLAMs and this book presents some of the ways in which they may be particularly beneficial to them. The development of such Labs in GLAMs can fruitfully support and expand GLAMs’ missions and visions in the 21st century. This can be achieved by incorporating innovation in practices and by investing in staff, visitors, and users. Innovation Labs, I believe, can be the medium to achieving a prosperous future for GLAMs.

Within this GLAM context of data, technology, innovation, new ideas and challenging thinking, University College London in Qatar (UCL Qatar) took the decision to host and support the writing and the publication of this book. Ιt was a long journey from the idea to implementation, and all of us from UCL Qatar who worked to make it happen believe that we need to use every chance for innovation in our own practice. UCL Qatar serves the GLAM world academically by two postgraduate Masters degrees: MA in Library and Information Science, and MA in Museum and Gallery Practice, both accredited by CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals). Thanks to the efforts of Dr Milena Dobreva-McPherson, Associate Professor in Library and Information Studies at UCL Qatar, and Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs (BL Labs), we organised the first ‘Digital Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs Book Sprint’ held in Doha, Qatar, in the last week of September 2019. UCL Qatar, Qatar University Library and Books Sprint Ltd sponsored the event. The goal has been to ‘create a new guide for setting up, running and maintaining a Digital Cultural Heritage Innovation Lab’, contributing to a legacy for the Cultural Heritage sector. The result is this book in your hands! We hope it will help GLAM colleagues around the globe to advance their innovation practice and will strengthen the global innovation community of Labs enthusiasts!

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