Moving Ideas To Practice

We’re constantly bombarded with ideas for creating better solutions in our libraries and in our professional lives. We hear them at conferences, we read them in professional journals, we come across them in our discussion lists, and they turn up in your feed reader. ACRLog readers are certainly no strangers to some of our ideas for solutions to improve academic libraries – or our thoughts about what those solutions might mean for our user communities.

But a challenge we all face is moving from idea to practice. How doe we take that idea we hear or read, and then put it into place in our professional practice? Often, when we read or hear that idea we are quick to deny the solution on the grounds it is too complex, too costly, innappropriate to our institutional culture or any of a multitude of other reasons why it won’t work in our own unique environment. How can hearing about someone else’s experience change your practice?

I thought this was a question worth delving further into which is why I took some time (17 minutes) to listen to a podcast produced by the folks at the Green Room. That would be Susan Manning and Dan Balzar. Susan and Dan were recent guests for a webcast at the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community on “A Question of Relevance: Repositioning the Academic Library for a New Information Age.” (archive is available for your viewing/listening pleasure but you must be a Learning Times subscriber – no fee to join). In this podcast they interview a K-6 teacher who is actively integrating technology into the classroom, much of it inspired by ideas acquired elsewhere. So the discussion focuses on those ways in which the instructor moves from hearing an idea to putting it into practice. See episode #8 – Inspiration to Action.

Now, if you immediately concluded that this podcast is a waste of your time because you have nothing in common with an elementary school teacher, that’s exactly why you need to listen. As Dan says in the podcast, too often we are focused only on the solution – or we hear the solution – but not the underlying problem. While it may seem the solution is beyond our grasp, it may be more important to understand what the problem is, and how that particular solution is a good match for the problem. It’s more likely we share the problem, even if the solution seems beyond the scope of our own setting. But once we understand that a solution to the problem is possible – and the ideas that helped to build that solution – we can use that solution or develop one modeled on it that fits the scale of our organization and its resources. So even though my library and my work is different from the teacher, I heard some ideas for ways to approach problems that may be of help to me in moving from idea to practice. One thing we should all commit to is avoiding the trap of identifying solutions first, and then looking for problems that might possibly match that particular solution.

Posted by StevenB

One thought on “Moving Ideas To Practice

  1. The blog (by StevenB) on “Moving Ideas to Practice” raises some very important questions. I would like to extend the reasoning in StevenB’s blog and focus on the issue of not moving ideas to practice based on the issue (or rationale) of inappropriateness in an academic library setting. I do so because I often observe good ideas not even being tried, when experimenting with such ideas involves no additional cost or allocation of scarce library resources. Some, in this situation, will say that the solution simply will not work so why try it or it is too difficult or that so and so will not agree to it. When I hear this reasoning, I believe that such educators are falling into the same trap that we are asking our information literacy students not to fall into: writing papers that present conclusions without sufficient evidence or all the necessary evidence, or looking at an issue from only point of view and not equally considering the other points of view (which we cal bias).

    The error is further compounded when library administrators and instructors know that there are some serious problems with currently-used techniques and policies (for example, not motivating or more positively influencing student-educational outcomes in our classrooms) and still stick with these tried and, sometimes, untrue methods because that’s the way we’ve been doing it or what other way could we possibly do it.

    To further extend StevenB’s thinking, we should avoid the trap of identifying problems first and then not looking for solutions that might possibly match the particular problems.
    My thinking is that ideas are often not tried, modeled and tested because the idea may, at first, appear to run counter to accepted notions of political correctness in terms of academic-library culture or accepted information literacy and bibliographic-instruction teaching methods existing in the academic-library culture. I think that this is bad educational policy because (to even further extend StevenB’s reasoning) we are falling into the trap of failing to derive and implement good solutions because of unwillingness to carefully model and test these solutions because they initially may appear to be unsuitable.

    If a librarian or librarian-instructor (or non-librarian instructor) proposes an idea or solution, the ideal response should be to model and test it, as is often the case in such fields as statistics, medicine, and business. I often wonder why educators and educational administrators, who profess clear and rigorous thinking, often apply a superficial and politically-expedient analysis to a complex problem that really demands a systematic and more scientific approach. I understand that decision-makers are often constrained by political and institutional-cultural factors, but should this be the most important determining variable in almost every case?

    I conclude by further extending StevenB’s reasoning to raise this question: while everyone should want to avoid a solution that will not work, should librarians or library administrators try to avoid solutions that may work (if modeled and legitimately tested) and that do not require additional money or resources?

    Posted by Robert Kayton

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