Innovation Requires Experimentation

Recently, I read a column in American Libraries that made me cringe. Meredith Farkas wrote a piece called Spare Me the Hype Cycle that takes a harsh stand on libraries that quickly adopt “hot new things” in technology. But, I have to ask, where do you draw the line between adoption and experimentation?

Experimentation fosters innovation. And while experimentation might end in failure, it is a learning experience that will eventually lead to success.  All libraries interested in innovating should be experimenting with technology as it develops. Waiting for another library to succeed will not guarantee success for your library.

Frankly, I see the hype cycle as a crock. Technology evolves over time, as do technology practices. There is no “plateau of productivity.” New uses for old technologies are developed all the time. Is Facebook hype? No. Are blogs hype? No. Is gaming in libraries hype? Definitely no.

From an instructional technology perspective, the illusion of technology hype comes from two areas: 1) failure to understand its pedagogical opportunities, and 2) failure to understand its best practices (i.e. blogs are a good example of this). That doesn’t mean that the technology itself is hype. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that the technology was not a “right fit” for your library if its implementation failed. What it means is that part of the experimentation process should include learning more about the technology. This requires reading the literature outside the library field (e.g. Tech Trends, EDTECH Magazine, EDUCAUSE Review).

I don’t know of any libraries that haphazardly adopt and discard new technologies (in my experience, it’s always been a long and arduous process). I see it as experimentation. But, experimentation is a learning process — and part of that learning process means learning more about the technology. When you do that, you are able to see more clearly how a particular technology might “fit” your library, meet an objective or solve a problem. Sometimes a technology that is a bad fit today will evolve to fit your needs somewhere down the line.

In reality, failure will happen. Do students or patrons care? Probably not. If implementation was a failure than it is likely that few were benefiting from the technology to begin with. And failure today does not mean you can’t re-implement the technology in the future. The real problem is failure to maintain a technology that has achieved success (e.g. Facebook page with large fan-base).

There is a fine line between experimentation and adoption. Sometimes technology can be researched and critically evaluated before a decision is made. And sometimes adoption is part of the experimentation process.

So please don’t stop experimenting. And don’t be afraid to fail. We need experimentation for innovation.




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