Monday, February 13, 2012

When Innovation is not 100% Improvement

Before I am cast as a Luddite, let me first say that I do understand that there are bumps along the way with many new technologies. I also understand that shifts are often gradual, and that people commonly discuss tecchie things in the present tense when realistically they're still 10 years in the future.

Now that's out of the way, is it just at my house that the new eco-friendly light bulbs don't initially switch on as brightly as the old type, particularly when it's cold? We are making progress for the environment, but on the other hand we have a product that does not work as well as its predecessor. I hear similar rumblings about battery-powered cars right now -- and I'm in the category of people who might be willing to buy one. There are environmental gains, but there are sacrifices in user functionality. 

Along the same lines, are we truly improving our libraries as we try to keep up with each new trend in technology? Part of the strength of the library brand is the idea of semi-permanence and the emphasis on the long term. This is something that distinguishes libraries. I would even say that stability and consistency are core values  -- or they should be, because we're good at these things.

Unfortunately, a commitment to stability can be misunderstood as a resistance to change or experiment. I notice that in general there is a lot of hoopla surrounding ideas that become successful projects. There is much less celebration for ideas that are carefully scrutinized and then rejected. I worry that librarians appear ignorant of certain technology trends, when in fact they have scrutinized them and rejected them. Unfortunately, ignorance and enlightened conservatism can result in the same inactivity.

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