A virtual community for product development and more

Librarians weigh in on why they participate in Innovation Explorers, Elsevier's online community for research professionals.

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Editor’s note

From time to time, Elsevier Connect will feature insights from discussions on Innovation Explorers – always getting permission from members before using their comments.This story has been adapted from Elizabeth Zwaaf’s article in the March 2012 Library Connect Newsletter.

There is knowledge that comes from a book, article or online tutorial. Then there is knowledge that comes from a lively group of peers interacting on a regular and often instantaneous basis to help solve problems.

Elsevier hosts three such communities, dubbed Innovation Explorers. These private online communities are composed of up to 500 researchers, scientists and engineers; 150 librarians and 150 research administrators, along with Elsevier colleagues that moderate the discussions. Managed by Communispace, this platform enables members to meet in a protected environment where they participate in discussions, initiate their own queries, and provide feedback via surveys, polls and interviews on tools and topics pertinent to their profession. They also gain insight into planned products and services long before they’re introduced to the general public and, more important, help shape them into the best tools to meet their needs.

[note color="#f1f9fc" position="right" width=400 margin=10]Elizabeth ZwaafThe Author

Elizabeth Zwaaf is a Marketing Communications Specialist at Elsevier. In this role she helps to promote the work of the Innovation Explorers community to a wider audience at Elsevier and in the research community. She is currently heading up an internal campaign that focuses on where Elsevier gets customer feedback and how it’s used.
Meanwhile, the communities give Elsevier colleagues the chance to interact with customers in a straightforward and timely way, gaining into what they value and how Elsevier can improve.

Since it was formed nearly four years ago, the community has explored a wide array of initiatives and topics, including product testing, concept development, decision-making patterns, industry trends and hot topics related to social media, publishing ethics and open access.

Why librarians take part

In a recently online survey on Innovation Explorers, librarians said connecting with peers outside their institution — and often outside of national boundaries — has proven to be beneficial in various ways.Karen Vagts

“One of my primary motivations is to keep abreast of developments in my field, as well as to obtain new perspectives on the issues that academic librarians currently deal with,” said Karen Vagts, Engineering/Business/Math Librarian at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “The community is especially appealing because of its international focus — many of my other communities tend to be very US-centric. I have learned a great deal, for example, of the challenges that countries with less resources face.”David Ofili

“My involvement in the community has helped me better the way I source information for, and attend to library patrons,” said David Ofili, Assistant Librarian at the University of Benin in Nigeria. “It has also taught me ways of working smarter.”

Early adopters in the group say the ability to get a first glimpse of what’s coming next in product development can be tantalizing. Others say they see their participation as giving back to the global community.John Meier

“One benefit is providing service to the industry, which is a facet of tenure for librarians at my university,” said John J. Meier, Science Librarian at Penn State University. “I also have seen new products and apps early. I really enjoyed working with a few other librarians on a tutorial project for Elsevier which resulted from contacts I made in the community.”

Participation also enables librarians to gauge where their institutions stand compared to others.

“My involvement in the community has helped me see that I’m not alone in some of the financial and institutional challenges we face, and that we’re about in the middle,” said Amanda Izenstark, Reference and Instructional Design Librarian at the University of Rhode Island.

Finally, Innovation Explorers has inspired some participants to create similar activities at their own libraries. “Although we haven’t ‘cloned’ the Explorers community approach per se, the program has prompted me to use some of the discussion techniques and specific examples of survey design to collect feedback from our users,” said Vagts of Tufts University. “These complement our other methods, such as focus groups, web design feedback, card sorting and wire-frame designs … and many of the Explorer activities have been helpful in this regard as well.”Derrick Duncombe

Becoming an Innovation Explorer

As a member of Innovation Explorers, you will be able to liaise with Elsevier on product development, network with your peers and add your voice to the discussion of issues that concern you. Innovation Explorers receive complimentary access to ScienceDirect and Scopus during their tenure.

To apply, contact Derrick Duncombe, Customer Outreach Manager for Elsevier, at d.duncombe@elsevier.com. Because enrollment in each community is capped, there may not be openings at any given time. Currently, there are openings in the community for research administrators. Those who express interest in the others will be added to a wait list.

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1 Archived Comment

Alison Bert September 14, 2012 at 12:09 am

After we received this article, my colleagues and I used Innovation Explorers to get feedback on the Elsevier Connect website, and I was impressed by how much thought people gave to the survey questions. Professionals in a wide range of roles gave us some great ideas, which we're looking in to. Thank you, Explorers!