A librarian’s take on innovation

February 17, 2021

Name: Erin Riley

Title: Library Adult Services Coordinator

City: Scottsale, Ariz.

For Erin Riley and her colleagues at the Scottsdale library, “innovation has been the watchword of the past year.” To adapt to the pandemic, they’ve launched curbside service, developed online library card registrations, formed a “virtual library” branch, and more.

Riley has been particularly focused on moving face-to-face adult programming online, a process she says was glitchy at first but now is hitting its stride. For example, 55 people showed up for a  computer literacy class offered online last week—about five times more than could have come previously when the class was offered in person. “We were able to run the class smoothly, people could ask questions, show slides, and share information,” Riley said. “It’s taken a lot of discussion and a lot of figuring out how we take what we know and open it up.”

Now, Riley is advancing her innovation skills through a Bloomberg Philanthropies training program in human-centered design. She and teammates from across Scottsdale local government are working together to find ways to reduce the number of non-emergency health-related calls jamming up the city’s 911 system. Through in-depth interviews with residents, emergency services personnel, call dispatchers, and others, they found that many of these calls are coming in from seniors and their caregivers. The reason: They’re socially isolated and don’t know where else to turn for help.

The Scottsdale team has been working with residents to come up with potential solutions and soon will begin prototyping them. While there’s much more to learn, Riley says she’s already bringing lessons back into her library work. “Part of it is taking the time to hear multiple voices,” Riley said. “It’s about thinking: What do patrons need, and how can we offer that?”

Pro tip: “There are problems rooted in things you can change, and there are problems rooted in circumstances you can’t. It’s important to recognize the difference between them.”