I’ve really enjoyed taking this class, and I feel like I learned a lot – this is not subject material that is covered in many library classes; at least, in my experience, it was all new to me. I think this makes it a unique and valuable experience, especially as developing technologies and evolving community needs continue to make participatory experiences increasingly popular for many modern institutions.
Although I really enjoyed all of our assignments and readings and found them interesting and informative, my favorite assignment was project three, for which we were asked to visit a museum, library or other space with a significant participatory element. Initially I felt reluctant about the idea of having to physically visit the space and write about my experience. On-site observation assignments have never been my favorite, and I’ve done quite a few at SJSU!
I ultimately decided to visit the Johnson Geo Centre, a local science museum. Although the subject matter – primarily geology but also covering topics from various other fields – is not really my cup of tea, I chose to visit the Geo Centre because it is one of the newest (and most expensive!) museums in the city. I also knew that the centre had many exhibits that are non-traditional and it encourages hands-on participation and active learning.
A large part of the reason why I ended up enjoying this observation experience more than others I’ve completed was because I brought “helpers” in the form of three cousins, ages twelve, six, and five. Watching them interact with the space, the exhibits and the staff, really encouraged me to take a new perspective on the science that was on display. Excitement is contagious, and I may have accidentally learned a thing or two! Physically visiting a museum with a prominent hands-on element really drove home the value of alternative, non-traditional programs and services; actively engaging with a space sparked an interest in geology for me – which I didn’t think was possible. Traditional, non-participatory exhibits do not have the same power. There is a place for both traditional and participatory elements within a space. However, when it comes to subject matter that doesn’t naturally grab us, I’ve learned that participatory elements can help us to view a given subject from a different angle, inspiring new interest and facilitating learning.
For this project, I decided to attempt a craft project. Although I’m used to dealing with a two-dimensional canvas with watercolor and acrylic painting, I’ve never had much experience with crafting anything with my hands, and so I thought that this might be a fun experiment. I decided to work with clay, and settled on polymer clay because of its versatility. I used the book Create anything with Clay (2003) by Sherri Haab and Laure Torres to form the basis of my project; I used the basic advice in the book, but did not follow any specific project outline.
Working in such minute detail was somewhat challenging. Each segment of my caterpillar was about the size of a dime, as illustrated below, and adding the level of detail necessary without smushing the whole thing was difficult. This also made me realize that this might not be the type of project that would go over so well as a library program; the actual process would be one that would mostly appeal to younger patrons, who may lack the manual dexterity to work in this type of medium. High quality polymer clay can also be somewhat expensive, which may not make it a popular choice for many libraries.
I think we may need to de-emphasize failure as being a bad thing. Obviously it’s not ideal; we want to be able to do things and do them right, and failure is automatically associated with feelings of disappointment and frustration. But “fetishizing failure” (Martinez & Stager, 2013, p. 70) to this extent makes it seem like an insurmountable obstacle – as if failing on your first attempt means that you cannot do it and should stop trying. But failure is actually an unavoidable part of life. There are very few things in life that you can try and get perfect the first time.
People should take a more positive attitude towards failure. I’m not suggesting that we aspire to fail, just that we change our attitudes to our own failures by viewing them as learning experiences; we can look back at an experience, identify how and why it did not go as planned, and improve on those elements the next time. Failure is not the worst thing that could possibly happen; it is a necessary part of the learning process. We should not be shielding ourselves and other people from failure, but re-contextualizing failure as a catalyst for success.
Martinez, S.L. & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge.
Sticking to the STEM acronym inappropriately compartmentalizes different fields; science, technology, engineering and mathematics all interact with one another on many levels, and viewing each one as a distinct entity is not accurate and may be detrimental. Students need to learn how to apply knowledge and skills gained in one area to another area in order to successfully understand a concept. STEM may be successful in creating “logical thinkers” out of its students, but does it create creative, innovative, or adaptable thinkers?
Likewise, sidelining the arts from the STEM formula potentially has a negative impact on the type of “transferable” knowledge that students should be acquiring. Many studies have been carried out to examine the effect of arts education on a student’s overall progress and success. The University of Florida, which provides a Master’s degree program in Art Education, states that “students who study arts for 4 years in high school score 98 points higher on the SATs compared to those who study the same for half a year or less”. The same website indicates that students who engaged in studies in music “scored 61 points higher on the verbal section and 42 points higher on the math section” on their SATs. This clearly shows a link between success in math and art education.
Re-incorporating the arts to construct the STEAM formula can only improve education, helping to build skills in creativity, innovation and adaptable thinking. Excluding the arts may be highly detrimental to the development of students’ minds.
University of Florida. (n.d.). STEM vs. STEAM. Retrieved from http://education.arts.ufl.edu/resources/stem-vs-steam-girl/.
I think there is a lot of room for creativity, adaptability, and alternative service methods for libraries; adopting new approaches, encouraging community collaboration and focusing on non-traditional services does not automatically indicate that a library has strayed “off message”. The “message” of library service is debatable, but I think we can all agree that its primary purpose is to provide information to users. Libraries cannot adequately serve a changing community if they chain themselves to traditional service. Changes in community demographics and available technology must be accommodated for if the modern library is expected to fulfill its mission. Broadening the type of resources and services offered, in addition to providing non-traditional means of engagement may be a necessary step in serving modern information users.
Change is simply a necessary part of the territory. The amount and quality of information available, as well as the storage media and file formats available, are in a constant state of flux. Libraries work to provide a connection between people and information; if the people the library serves and the materials and resources it provides change, the services offered by the library must follow suit. Modern librarians must be able to understand the needs of their service communities in order to fulfill those needs while maintaining consideration for the institution’s mission and goals. The risk associated with incorporating new services – traditional and non-traditional – should be mediated by careful consideration of the target audience, the potential benefit provided by the new service, and whether it adheres to the organization’s overall goals. Community collaboration is vital to understanding a community and identifying its needs so that services can be tailored to meet patron expectations. In my opinion, strict adherence to outdated methods of providing access to information is a far more risky and damaging approach than shifting a focus to non-traditional services and community collaboration.
I don’t feel that ALA’s overview of trends influencing modern libraries misses anything important; throughout my coursework for the MLIS program, I’ve relied very heavily on ALA resources, documents, etc., and I’ve learned to trust their view of things! They delve into several trends I expected to encounter, including aging advances, connected learning, data everywhere, resilience (particularly in terms of its statements on economic and budgetary factors) digital natives and internet of things. These are issues I’ve encountered in many different courses, and I’ve witnessed and researched their impact on libraries thoroughly.
Although I don’t personally see any “missing pieces” in the ALA’s assessment of library trends, their analysis does present several issues that I have yet to touch on in my MLIS studies; I was particularly interested in the pages describing a “fast casual” approach and the importance of “unplugged” resources and environments.
“Fast casual” was interesting to me primarily in that it frightened me a little; envisioning a transformation of library service to an experience akin to a fast food restaurant – with its in-and-out style and unhealthy choices – was not an appealing idea at all. I value libraries as institutions of education and enlightenment, and don’t want to see them become sources of intellectual junk food. However, I can see how this approach could be retrofitted to library service in a positive way. Applying “fast casual” efforts to libraries is less about instituting an overabundance of low-quality information and rushing patrons in and out as quickly as possible, and more about encouraging patrons to view library visits as social environments and interact on a more active, experiential level.
“Unplugged” opportunities interested me because they appear to be antithetical to many of the concepts I’ve studied throughout my courses in the MLIS program. Discussion of the rapid pace of technological change has generally emphasized the importance of libraries “keeping up” by incorporating new technologies to attract and maintain an audience. I had never really given any thought to the opposite approach of instituting unplugged spaces to provide the opportunity for patrons to avoid cognitive overload and re-focus on what is important. ALA’s discussion of unplugged spaces got me thinking about the advantages of having quiet, device-free “sanctuaries”; Spaces, programs and services encouraging unplugged activities may provide patrons with much-needed opportunities to concentrate on work, studies or other tasks in a much deeper way, improving intellectual and educational growth.
American Library Association. (2015). Trends. Retrieved from: http://www.ala.org/transforminglibraries/future/trends.
One of the major benefits of an audience-centred cultural institution is that the knowledge of being observed in any capacity can compel people to approach their work with a higher level of care and detail than if they had only themselves to perform for. Although this can lead to people become nervous and self-critical in fear of the judgment of others, potentially damaging their performance, it can also be a motivating factor for individuals to work harder at a particular task in order to ensure that only their best possible work is presented to their audience. Receiving feedback is another aspect of the creator-audience relationship that can have a profound impact on performance, providing creators with constructive advice on ways to improve their work and highlighting additional areas in which they might like to focus.
Another major benefit to having audiences view one’s work is the potential that this creates for “repeat customers”. This can be as simple as earning a fanbase – fan loyalty means that fans will always buy the music their favorite artist produces, or always see the movies their favorite actor stars in – or instituting membership programs in service industries such as libraries, museums, and theatres.
Audiences are becoming increasingly important in our modern digital area due to the ease and speed with which we can create, reproduce and share information. Even when we are in our own homes, we spend considerable chunks of time interacting with others through social media and other online platforms, both as creators and as audience members. Debbie Chachra touches on this relationship in her article “Why I Am Not a Maker” (2015), in which she defends the activities of audiences as being just as important – in spite of frequently being less visible – as that of makers. While making things is a valuable and necessary process for the functioning of society, valuing makers over audiences tends to devalue the contribution that audiences make. Chachra suggests that we ought to equally emphasize the role of educators; who, although they are not necessarily the originators of any particular thing, are responsible for analyzing and critiquing things, generally with the end goal of improving upon the original – or, in Chachra’s terminology, “fixing” things.
Engaging with audiences is almost unavoidable, and we need to be able to turn this to our advantage, drawing inspiration and developing skills from those interactions and experiences.