Erin Dorney

Blogging life & librarianship

Creativity & Appreciative Inquiry @ ACLCP.

with 3 comments

Last Friday (3/27) I attended my first meeting of the Associated College Libraries of Pennsylvania (ACLCP). I realized that I’m starting know/recognize other Pennsylvania librarians after seeing them at various meetings and conferences (The Pennsylvania Library Association 2008 Annual Conference, the ALA Midwinter Meeting, ACRL-Delaware Valley Chapter programs, etc.). I like it, and seeing a few familiar faces makes it much less intimidating to be in a new place. As a new librarian, I am recognizing the importance of networking more and more. Library school students – get to know as many people in the profession as possible! It will help you along the way. If you are reading my blog you already know someone; please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if there’s anything I can help you with or if you just want to chat about librarianship/jobs/life in general!

The first speaker was Kathryn Deiss, Content Strategist (awesome job title!) for the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL). I would have to say that Deiss’s presentation was one of the best I have seen at any library-related conference/meeting/program. Her topic of “everyday creativity” was truly inspirational for me, and I went off to lunch mentally devising ways to convince her to become my mentor. Session notes:

  • “The right answer” is usually a creativity killer
  • We need to become designers of our tasks, service, products and processes
  • The first problem is usually not the real one – we need to dig deeper
  • The Creative Spirit:
    • Precise observation
    • Penetrating questions
    • Absence of judgment
    • Faith in your resources
  • Brainstorming Rules (Alex Osborne)
    • Rapid idea generation
    • No voice of judgment!
    • Quantity over quality
    • The wilder the better
    • Build on the ideas of others
  • Utilize the power of association and metaphor
  • Ask yourself “Am I privileged?”
  • Think about doing a “policy audit” – does the stimulus for this policy still exist?
  • We have to slow down to speed up (in regards to overworking & “no time” for creativity)

One of my favorite parts of Deiss’s talk was the brainstorming discussion and I intend to attempt some real brainstorming as soon as possible in my professional life. I realize now why brainstorming has sometimes seemed so flat, pointless and contrived. We’ve been doing it wrong! My second favorite part of the talk was the discussion regarding the concept of creative tension.


“Creative tension” can be found in Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. Basically, your current reality/situation is in the middle. You want to move forward towards your vision for the future. Creativity is how you travel that path. Moving forward provides creative tension (this type of tension isn’t bad – it helps you visualize what you need to do in order to move your current reality towards your vision for the future). Behind you are your fears, which pull you in the opposite direction of your vision for the future – like a rubber band. Here is another description by Lea Brandenburg. Deiss’s presentation can be found on her wiki, and I encourage everyone to check out her stuff!

The second speaker of the day was Gene Spencer of Gene Spencer Consulting. Spencer introduced the concept of appreciative inquiry, which about half of the audience had previously heard of or encountered in one way or another (not me!). Appreciative inquiry is “the study and exploration of what gives life to human systems when they function at their best. This approach to personal change and organization change is based on the assumption that questions and dialogue about strengths, successes, values, hopes, and dreams are themselves transformational” (taken from The Power of Appreciate Inquiry by Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom). Spencer discussed his experience with appreciate inquiry and I think the whole idea can be summed up by this quote from Albert Einstein:

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Appreciative inquiry is all about the positive – focusing on it and using it to identify and hone organizational or personal strengths. Although at some times the presentation got a little *too* inspirational (kinda hokey), it was beneficial to hear about this alternative to traditional SWOT analysis. Session notes:

  • Appreciative inquiry requires a leadership shift:
    • Old focus: leaders are responsible for finding and solving problems
    • New focus: leaders enable others to find the possibilities, energize the vision and create a new future
  • “Catch them doing something right”
  • Instead of evaluating past performance, what if we did yearly evaluations using appreciative inquiry to move people forward in a positive manner?

Overall, I was very impressed with my first ACLCP meeting and the organizers deserve a big hand for selecting complimentary & interesting speakers. I liked the fact that the issues discussed were at a more philosophical level rather than skills-based practical *library* information.

Also, LovelyCharts is awesome and you should try it out. 🙂


Written by Erin Dorney

April 2, 2009 at 3:59 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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3 Responses

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  1. Great post Erin on all accounts — especially encouraging new librarians to network as widely as possible in the early years which is so important for so many reasons.

    The section on creativity really reached me. Lately I have not been feeling as creative as usual, which is probably evident by lack of in-depth blog posts among other indicators. It is because I have been, too busy. I was just at Computers in Libraries where I actually did find a bit of down time and I realized that I need to slow down a bit and recharge so that I can feel creative once more. This advice is spot on for me and I hope it will help others.


    April 2, 2009 at 4:24 AM

  2. You are getting to see the coolest presentations. I’m jealous! I hope someday, I’ll get to go to a library conference with you 🙂

    I agree with the above post, I really liked the comments you made on being creative. Busy lives often make us feel stifled in terms of our creativity, but what Deiss seems to have done effectively is demonstrated that creativity is actually one of the key parts of the process to moving forward. I’ll have to keep that in mind these last few weeks before graduation!

    I also think that a lot can be said for Spencer’s presentation as well. I feel that our society, overall, has pushed us to become more short-sighted in terms of our goals, and I think it’s part of what’s contributed to the “problem” going on today. Thinking positively and in the frame of long-term growth sounds simple enough, but I think it would do the world a lot of good.

    P.S. I need to start reading your blog more regularly again, you have lots of great stuff to say about the library world. And I miss you.


    April 3, 2009 at 3:00 PM

  3. Janie – Thanks! Computers in Libraries sounds like a really great conference. I hope I make it there some day! I think we all get stuck in the day-to-day deadlines of work… taking a break will help us personally and professionally! 🙂

    Lindsey – I can’t wait until the day we collaborate/present/write/attend together! I am so looking forward to you as a librarian colleague (and most awesome friend!). I miss you too, you would have loved these two sessions. Hang in there and see you at graduation!


    April 4, 2009 at 6:54 PM

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