Being an information innovator

My attention was drawn to Jennifer Rowley’s Being an information innovator (Facet, 2011) by a hostile review by Colin Higgins in the Times Higher. Paradoxical as it may seem, negative reviews sometimes – certainly more often than moderate ones – make me want to read the book in question: I suppose I want to see if it’s that bad.

My attention having been drawn, I was attracted by the opportunity to understand the library sector better – Facet’s publications are generally excellent for that purpose. I was attracted too by the possibility that there may be analogies to be drawn between innovation in libraries and in publishing.

The book consists of five chapters. The first (‘Innovation and entrepreneurship in information organizations’) seeks to make the case for examining innovation and entrepreneurship. I don’t think it entirely succeeds. Rowley argues that these topics are largely absent from the literature of librarianship – but a sufficient motivation requires not merely the identification of a gap in the literature but also an explanation of why it matters. The second part of that equation is argued much less strongly.

The second chapter (‘Innovation’) is co-authored with Anahita Baregheh. It reviews the literature of innovation, introducing numerous concepts and models. The third (‘Entrepreneurship’, co-authored with Siwan Mitchelmore, does the same for the literature of entrepreneurship. For any readers new to the topics, these two chapters provide useful overviews. (I should note that it seems churlish that the two co-authors are acknowledged neither on the imprint page nor the book cover. One would like to hear Professor Rowley’s justification for that.)

The fourth (‘Organizing for innovation’) examines what aspects of organizations make for innovation. The fifth (‘Innovation in practice’) focuses on implementation, with particular attention to (a) the role of users and (b) open innovation.

For the most part, the material is well marshalled. It seems odd, though, that consideration of user innovation and open innovation is left until near the end. This makes it seem as though they are of merely tactical interest – as nothing more than alternative means of implementation  – whereas they are surely of more strategic importance.

What then of Higgins’ review? Though I agree with some of his criticisms, in places it seems harsh – the result, I think, of Higgins imposing his own values. According to Higgins, “the book abounds in dichotomies, yet the most obvious one – between market values and social values – is fudged”. Well, ‘dichotomy’ means ‘binary classification': it implies mutual exclusivity. Does Higgins really believe that market and social values never coincide? That this may seem ‘obvious’ to Higgins, does not make it fact. Rather, I suggest that a moment’s reflection reveals that it is nonsense. Consider, for example, Google – a company with enormous market value that derives largely from the social utility of its products. Higgins criticises Rowley for ignoring Google, yet fails to recognize that the example demolishes his own assertion.

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About Anthony Haynes

Communications Director, FJWilson Creative Director, The Professional and Higher Partnership Ltd - publisher of the Creative Writing Studies imprint.

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