Category Archives: GLEAN

3D Printers and Changing My Mind

I went to Philadelphia a couple weeks ago to speak at a library event about makerspaces, maker-culture, and co-working in academic libraries. My presentation was about the design studio we built in the GT Library using very little high-end technology. One of the things I say whenever I’m talking about this space is “I am not a proponent of 3D printers in academic libraries. There are many people who think we ought to have them, and I feel like it’s my duty to be a voice for the opposing view. Please argue with me and change my mind.”

My argument against 3D printers in academic libraries goes a little like this: 3D printers belong in a fabrication lab or an industrial design studio that serves a particular college or discipline for which it is an essential tool. Putting one in the library is a little like building a darkroom in the library: certainly you can make the case for the darkroom as promoting creativity and self-expression and thus being appropriate for a library, but now you’re on the hook for a lot of supplies and technical knowledge that are too niche to justify.

The next presentation was by Megan Lotts of Rutgers, entitled Implementing a Culture of Creativity: Engaging Events and Making in the Academic Library, in which she also disparaged the trend of 3D printers in academic libraries, citing the very untechnical and material joy of art-making and crafting in the library as a cheaper, more engaging alternative to the lathe, CNC router, and 3D printer makerspace.

And in the middle of her presentation, this tweet appeared in the program feed:

I was excited for a chance to follow up with someone who wanted to argue the point. Greg and I connected before the program was over and talked about it, and he convinced me. It was so simple that I felt like an idiot for not getting it before. My only excuse is most of the points for 3D printing at the Georgia Tech Library boiled down to “It’s super-cool technology and the bulk of our students are engineers-in-training who want to use them.” Greg, however, presented the multidisciplinary and forward-thinking argument.

You can use a 3D printer to create objects that embody data, i.e. “A New Way of Representing Data.” And with that, my mind was expanded: 3D printers can be a tool for scholarly communication, for pedagogical experimentation, and for exploring how one can visually display quantitative information in any discipline. It is exactly what should be in the library.

So now I won’t make the anti-3D-printers-in-the-library argument anymore. I need to find a new trend to be grumpy about.

[originally posted on GLEAN]

A Lean, Mean Conference Machine

I almost titled this entry “Why I Am Not Going To ACRL This Year” but then I realized that my point was not that I wasn’t going to ACRL despite having enjoyed several ACRLs in the past and wanting an excuse to go to Portland, and I have no beef with ACRL that would last for more than one sentence, i.e. “It will take a little too much time and money.”

I could have also titled this entry “Newborn Twins Will Change All Your Plans” but that seemed a little on the nose. So here we are with a Stripes reference and an attempt to disentangle my personal and professional reasons for ditching the big conferences this year.

The personal reasons are easy to define:

1) With a smaller amount of travel money my library can provide, I would be paying for part of my conference trip. I could justify this expense if it weren’t for the kids and house and van payment and all my other suburban money complaints.

2) There are only so many miles you can be away and days you can be gone when your spouse is alone at home with a toddler and newborn twins before you start feeling like a rotten person.

So, okay, but let’s be frank: neither of those personal reasons are more important than keeping the job and continuing to flourish in the job so that we can afford a life with the kids and house and van payment. So what are my professional reasons?

1) Despite the energizing effect of a national conference, there is also a numbing anonymous and monolithic quality to being one of thousands and thousands of conference attendees.

2) The grand and vague conference themes can ring hollow and seem to have little to do with the sessions that are presented. “Imagine, Innovate, Inspire” and “A Declaration of Our Interdependence” are (to me) well-meaning but ultimately useless guiding conference themes.

3) In my most cynical, arrogant moments, I think that conference sessions are often just a gloss on what’s really interesting or important. The good stuff of collaboration and communication are lost in our attempts to fit the mold of “conference presentation” and in blandness that is meant to avoid vulnerability, embarrassment, or ridicule.

Last year, I attended THATCamp Southeast 2014 and felt immediately that I’d found the answer to my conference woes. This small, loose unconference started with 40 or 50 people in a room deciding what they want to talk about for two days, scheduling sessions that we were refining as we spoke, and then creating conversations in an almost completely democratic way. Some of the sessions didn’t get off the ground, some were excellent, and all were thought-provoking and challenging.

When a pair of Knoxville librarians discussed The Collective on Lost in the Stacks, Episode 235: “Professional Development” (I wasn’t there that day because I was on paternity leave — “twins, yo”), I decided that I was done with big conferences for a while. Even COMO might be too big for me. I attended The Collective last month and had one of the best conference experiences I’ve ever had. I connected with more people in a serious, collaborative way; had more fun with the social events and the playful side of the conference; and I was locked-in and focused for both days of events, attending a session in every time slot (which never happened at larger conferences).

So now I’m hooked. Small groups, short conferences, playful natures, and narrow focus. The kind of thing you can do yourself, if the conference you really want doesn’t exist yet.

[originally posted on GLEAN]