EBSLG 2011, HEC Paris: Innovation in Libraries (Part 1)

Graves wine, an endearing robot dog, exploration of the impact of social media and mobile technologies, Pierre Cardin’s priceless art nouveau collection, the Versailles Hall of Mirrors, and a refreshing dip in an inviting hotel pool – just some of my personal highlights of this year’s packed EBSLG (European Business Schools Librarians Group) conference, with the theme of ‘Innovation in Libraries’, which took place at the HEC business school Paris.

Day 1
On Wednesday 22nd June, head librarians and library directors from all over Europe descended on the HEC business school campus at Jouy-en-Josas, just south of Paris.  I ended up travelling with Chris Flegg from Said Business School, Oxford and we made a good team as we journeyed across Paris from Charles De Gaulle Airport by train, with Chris, who was born in France, taking on language duties while I navigated. Arriving late afternoon, there was just time for a quick freshen up and change of clothes before the ‘Welcome cocktail’.

The hotel on the HEC campus

This took place in the hotel (which was connected to the HEC MBA building where all the conference sessions took place) and was fronted by our host Agnes Melot, Library Director of HEC and Veronique Malleret, Faculty Dean. It was great to reconnect with colleagues and meet new ones too, including Matthew Kelleher of IMI, Elena Kosareva of St Petersburg University and Elke Parrez of Gent Management School.

Day 2
The next morning we were welcomed to HEC by Laoucine Kerbache, Associate Dean of HEC Paris who offered a memorable story about a student who left a 50 dollar bill in his thesis for anyone to take if they read it, only to return some 25 years later to find that the bill was still there!

The first keynote speaker was Etienne Krieger, Affiliate Professor at HEC who focused on how entrepreneurs need libraries, drawing on the example of the use of the HEC library by HEC’s Centre of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. It was affirming to hear him recognise the importance of information to the innovation process and describe us librarians as information architects rather than passive custodians.

Bruno Rives and his robot dog

Next up was Bruno Rives of the Tebaldo Observatory, a Paris-based consulting agency specialising in trends and usage of new technologies. There was common agreement that Bruno’s presentation was the most entertaining and engaging of the entire conference due to its often mind-blowing content and an incredibly cute robot dog. The dog was a static prop to begin with, but he later came to life and responded to his owner by stretching and wagging his tail. Take a closer look at the robot dog.

We were also privy to some other prototype devices such as re-usable electronic paper with obvious application in a library setting as signage, maps, or even wallpaper. The paper can also be used to transmit information to user devices. We went on to watch a video which demonstrated ‘augmented reality’ by presenting us with a cartoon boy called Milo who responded intelligently to a person via a television screen, begging the question whether whole swathes of professionals – not just librarians – are required in person any longer? You can watch the 5 minute Milo video, which I discovered post-session to be regarded by some observers as a fake demonstration, below:

Carolina Sanmartin examines the e-paper

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Bruno described all this technology as disruptive and, interestingly, cited twitter as the most important tool of all when it comes to developing disruptive technologies. He also sagely observed that users don’t know what they want until they see it because technology changes, and disruptions occur, too fast.

Thanh Nghiem

Thanh Nghiem, founder and president of the Angenius Institute presented next on the the concept of collective intelligence and social innovation, with particular reference to sustainable lifestyles. I was particularly intrigued by her description of ‘gateway openers’ in this area and the term “Me 2.0″ for those creative people who are socially aware and see connections and solutions to global problems. I also promised myself that I would check out those ‘social business’ models, which she mentioned, that I haven’t come across before: airbnb (a global network of accommodation offered by locals), letsdoit (a movement of people wanting to make real changes in their countries by tackling illegal waste and other issues), zipcar (car sharing as an alternative to car rental or ownership) and couchsurfing (an international network for making connections between travellers and the communities they visit).

In my next post (Part 2): open innovation; the bazaar of member projects/ideas; our private visit to Versailles and the Gala dinner…

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