SEARCH MORE, PLAN LESS: in defense of 3D printing

January 4, 2013, 3:53 pm

Happy 2013. I’ve been intrigued by William Easterly’s searchers/planners philosophy. Here is a good summary:


The searcher admits that he or she doesn’t have the answer in advance and he or she takes responsibility for decisions that are made. The searcher conforms to local conditions and searches for local solutions. (UUB)


The planner tends to overgeneralize and makes assumptions about how things should be before taking unique conditions into account.


I was struck by a dissenting view on the value of 3D printers in libraries. Anytime someone use phrases like mission creep or mission critical to try and squash new ideas then I know they are stuck in functional fixedness. In this view, the role and operation of libraries fits into a nicely defined box and trying to rearrange (or introduce new) components in the box is a challenge because it doesn’t match (historical) perceptions of excellence.


Local Demand

Let’s use 3D printing as an example. I’ve had several students ask about our library providing 3D printing services. We have several prototyping labs on campus, but not everyone has access to them, or they are too crowded, or too expensive. Some students have assignments in which they are required to design and present three-dimensional artifacts. So do we take the stance of the library as only an information provider or is the library also a knowledge creation space?


For Faculty Too

I’m an assistant director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Innovation in Learning. We have a 3D printer in one of our faculty learning environments. Why? Why not? The intention of this space is to expose faculty to new ideas, new technologies, and new experiences. It doesn’t have to be part of the official instructional agenda, but rather, it is something meant to be serendipitous—a curiosity builder. Faculty have access to numerous technologies for instructional, professional, and personal development. Everything doesn’t have to always be planned, sometimes it should be discovered. Why shouldn’t these same capabilities be available to students or community members?


More than just another gizmo

We don’t need 3D printers is similar to saying we don’t need this “web thing” in 1995. We don’t know how the technology is going to evolve. And we don’t know how user needs are going to change either. But the theme of (academic) libraries as knowledge production studios is one that will likely grow. The question is: what is the outcome of using the library? What is someone able to do today by entering your building or visiting your website? The conversation can’t just be about what should/shouldn’t belong in libraries.


We can’t see all the details right now. We can’t plan everything ahead. All we can do is search for the next steps. All we can do is put ourselves into a position to anticipate and respond to the needs of our constituency.


My New Year’s Resolution: search more and plan less.


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