A Conversation with Author Elisabeth Doucett

What she learned from those outside the library world and how it rejuvenated her passion for the profession

March 30, 2016

Cover of New Routes to Library Success, by Elisabeth Doucett

American Libraries followed up with librarian Elisabeth Doucett, whose recent book New Routes to Library Success: 100+ Ideas from Outside the Stacks (ALA Editions, 2015) was excerpted in our March/April 2016 issue. Doucett is director of Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, Maine, and responded via email to questions about her book, what she’s reading, and upcoming projects. In her responses below, Doucett tells us about what she learned by chatting with professionals outside the library world and how it rejuvenated her own passion for the profession.

What made you want to write this book?

I spend a lot of time scanning the library environment to identify new directions in library services that I can use at my library. Over time I started to notice that truly new ideas popped up occasionally in the library world but that, as a profession, we were not developing transformative products and services as often or as quickly as I thought was necessary to keep libraries relevant and vital in our rapidly changing world.

At the same time I was reaching this realization, I heard Saul Kaplan, author of The Business Model Innovation Factory: How to Stay Relevant When the World Is Changing, speak at Bowdoin College. He made a compelling argument that transformative change can be found in what he calls the “gray space” between professions, meaning neither my world nor yours but a place between where we both can learn from each other. That idea really resonated with me, and I decided to seek out learning and ideas from people outside the library profession. After my first interview with a young entrepreneur I saw so many new ways that my library could benefit from concepts he uses in his business, and I was hooked on the process and wanted to share what I was learning.

Elisabeth Doucett
Elisabeth Doucett

Why would ALA members find your book helpful?

My original title for the book was Learning from Others. I think that’s the most helpful component of the book—it demonstrates how we can find a whole new pool of ideas by opening up and seeking out learning from those outside our profession.

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while working on this book?

I was amazed at how supportive total strangers can be when you ask for their input and how that support grows exponentially when you identify that you are working on a project to help libraries. There is tremendous love, respect, and admiration in our country for libraries, despite all the changes we are struggling to address. Talking to professionals outside the library world did a great deal to rejuvenate my own passion for my profession and is another reason why I so strongly encourage librarians to go out and learn from others.

What are you reading right now?  

I just finished Moo by Jane Smiley for my library book group. My next personal book will be Deep Blue by Randy Wayne White, one of my favorite mystery writers. My next professional book will be Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant.

What is your next project?

I would like to write a book about what libraries can do to improve their customer service and enhance the customer experience. There are so many ways that we can enrich the experience of library-goers—we experiment regularly with these concepts at Curtis Library. I would love to share what we have learned and create a professional dialog from which we can all learn.