Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Continuity or Revolution: Choose Your Own Adventure

A little while ago I saw this tweet:
I shared that with a friend who then introduced me to the idea of "Kuhnian Paradigm Shift." Thomas Kuhn was a philosopher who looked at scientific development. He proposed that, unlike what had been conceived previously (and what I mostly learned in k-12, decades after his most important work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was published), that scientific progress is not a steady thing. Rather than being an inevitable march forward, science goes through longer periods of tinkering and refinement, interspersed with major upheaval.

This strikes me as deeply relevant to libraries and librarians. Bringing this idea down to the day-to-day level, I don't think continuity is the worst thing in the world. We librarians are human (well, most of us are) who are supporting the needs of our community, who are also human, and humans tend not to like change. I'm including myself in this category. Unexpected change can bring both sleep and tummy troubles. And yet, I also consider myself an innovator. Practical innovation is a particular passion of mine. Seeing that tweet and subsequently learning about Kuhn has me thinking about change in libraries and higher education, and about how it happens both quickly and slowly. It also has me thinking about how we bring about how we and our communities react to them.

So what am I trying to say here? I guess it's that we need to be mindful of our own practices and preferences, but also recognize that not everyone feels the same. I've heard "because we've always done it that way" used in so many different ways. For some it's, "but I'm open to other ways of doing it." For others it's, "and I'm really afraid of changing because I'm a slow learner and I know how to do it this way." And yet others mean it to say, "and can we please change it yesterday?" Whether you're a stalwart champion of the status quo; or a tinkerer who makes things incrementally better; or are the Galileo of the library world who is going to cause upheaval on an inconceivable level... think about that question up there every once in a while. Think about our preference for continuity - not as a bad thing nor as a good one - before you choose the next step.

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