Mission Creep? Libraries and 3D Printers? What?
In response to a recent blog post I read by Hugh Rundle .(http://hughrundle.net/2013/01/02/mission-creep-a-3d-printer-will-not-save-your-library/ )
I get the urge to provide modern powerful tools that help our patrons/students to learn. Emphasizing the phase of creation/production to the information inquiry cycle makes sense in 2013. Developing a learning commons in a high school makes sense but like embracing 3D printers, iPads or other high tech innovations the risk is we lose our fundamental core virtues. A new Learning Commons without a trained teacher-librarian is like the open pool without an instructor or life guard.
Hugh Rundle’s thesis of mission creep;the frenzy to embrace technologies as the savior for library programs, may be a valid concern. Public, academic or school libraries all have unique missions and contexts as they strive to adapt and improve in this information age, but they all have a common obstacle- leadership that fails to discover and focus the decisions that hold sustainable purpose. The recent BC Libraries Summit ( http://commons.bclibraries.ca/inspiringlibraries2012/ )explored these issues.
Embracing technologies for its own trendy value is indeed a distraction, if not a major barrier. Rundle calls it ‘technolust’! Although my emphasis is a high school library, we do tend to model, lead and/or persuade our community with technology innovation. It has been a natural evolution of digital information realities; however, one truth is users/patrons have always come to the library as a reliable station for content, resources and advice whether it be a rare book, thesis support or 16mm film. The computing reality has been a natural progression of this service and is part of our culture. Our ‘technolust’, although present, is abated because of budgetary realities and policies but education in general suffers the same malady.
Change in libraries and in schools in general has occurred by two means. There is the determined targeted practice of leaders and practitioners who build programs and initiatives on the ground floor and there is just the inevitable absorption from wider social technological change. I believe strong library programs must seek out option one. A team of leaders who can collaborate and assess many views, options, and virtues of technologies that match sound program purpose. An inspiring colleague of mine, Nicola at RSS, once encouraged me to embrace change with my site teammates to evaluate our mission. It may sound cliche but it is necessary to avoid the creep Rundle argues against.
Grasping state of the art trends, like 3D printing is rather absurd when we may not be doing the fundamental needs effectively. I saw the one-to-one computing initiative come and go with very little advantage and certainly debatable sustaining education value. There is notable benefits- always is – but the cost/benefit ratio, training practivalities, pedagogical goals, cultural values and sustainability need to all be part of change. I offer colour printing to my students, by request, yet the demand has been far less than I originally anticipated. It’s convenience, no harm no foul, but the investment may not always match your aspirations. 3D printing output can illustrate concepts in very creative and informative ways. It’s mazing stuff but… soon Staples or Costco will do it for our kids- dare I say from their phones?! . ( Engadget ) Watching Neri Oxman of MIT can give you the inspiration and rationale for 3D printing projects (YouTube ) but there are institutions and agents whose function it is to deliver more appropriate than a library. She synthesized iconic designs of mythology, story telling and architecture at the MIT MediaLab to produce ‘Mythologies of the Not Yet’ showcasing the potential of 3D printing from a design perspective. I see the library’s role in her process as nurturing capacity of all three elements. The story. The image. The technology. We should bring the climber to the mountain. Librarians should be the sherpa and assist the inspiration and the means not bring the mountain to the climber.
Re-assessing your mission is required before you thoughtfully decide which tools and practice you need to strengthen your program for the long term.