By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

Polaris Library Systems chairman James (Jim) Carrick came to the School of Information Studies (iSchool) 2013 convocation last week to present the keynote speech at the annual faculty/staff fall-semester kickoff event.

However, the guest pitched a collaboration of innovation between the institutions, inviting the School’s technology and library students, faculty and staff to work with his company to launch three “challenge” initiatives he hopes will improve community libraries, and the lot of librarians, everywhere.

Carrick proposed seeking ways to solve three issues he thinks restrict how libraries serve patrons now, which could “make a difference in the communities they serve”:

  • Getting library materials more easily in the hands of those whose access is restricted by their elderly or disabled status;
  • Creating a social media platform, and social strategies and technologies, to help librarians better communicate with their patrons and communities;
  • Developing a database of best practices as a tool for libraries to find workable ideas and the resources to improve their services and boost their community outreach.

Carrick invited students to come forward with their ideas and capabilities, then to use the company’s resources as a platform to help fulfill those needs. “They can work with us to get credit or get paid, or maybe start something themselves. We’re an enabler and a facilitator, and they can use us to create something,” he said. “I have no preconceived notions as much as I’m looking for them to direct us.”

A Win-Win-Win

The collaboration is something Carrick sees as something that’s possible because both institutions embrace and leverage change, he said. “We’re going through tremendous change in the world, and in the library industry, there is tremendous change going on. In the IT industry, what used to look like hardware and software is now becoming the cloud, and people are moving to the cloud very aggressively,” he noted. For Polaris, the company’s integrated system means it can create value and help libraries in communities provide more value than they do today.” Students bringing ideas and inventions to the fore, using Polaris’ resources to develop and circulate product, service and technology innovations would create both economic and social value, he said.

Such efforts could lead not only to “something that would enhance our products,” but to creating jobs for the students, more jobs for others  in the technology and library services sectors, and most importantly, improving the ways libraries are able to interact with and benefit their communities, he said. “The students will benefit, the professions will benefit, and the industry will benefit. We can create jobs and create knowledge,” he added.

The partnership proposal, School Dean Liddy reflected, “is a really nice merger of the IT side of us and the library side of us.”

Partners, Collaborators

Carrick recalls how the company’s relationship with the School developed. He first learned about the iSchool’s top ranking while waiting to board a plane in 2010. At the time, the longtime IBM and IT executive was considering a career change and evaluating investing in the Syracuse company.

At the airport, he picked up a copy of U.S. News and World Report “and saw that the iSchool was one of the top schools in the country in the community where I was about to invest.” That knowledge sparked an idea Carrick soon put into action. “I thought about collaboration, and then thought [regarding the iSchool] ‘We could really do something here’.” When he called iSchool Dean Elizabeth Liddy, he received a welcoming response, he said. “What could have easily happened, many deans could have said, ‘I don’t know’–but Liz embraced it and it went from there. For Polaris, it’s been a great relationship, and we have a lot more road ahead of us.”

“Librarians love to share information and to learn; I just want to create an environment where they can learn faster,” he added. Polaris’ role is that it has the resources and existing network of connections available to be able to turn around and share new ideas and new technology within the profession and the industry, he said.   

Of the three “challenge goals” presented, Carrick believes that “the right technology” can improve how libraries serve and interact with patrons, in ways that they aren’t able to now, and even more so in the future. For instance, having a database of library best practices available would allow librarians to search for ideas based on what is working at other libraries. As an example, a library in Alabama installed a kitchen in its facility when it discovered that was a resource the community truly needed, Carrick said. In the same way, social and sharing technologies may provide ways for libraries to boost access for patrons for whom it is limited.