Thursday, February 29, 2024

Absurdities of the Juicero and Libraries

Juicero, circa 2013
Though Julia Glassman is no longer a librarian, her brilliant article, The Innovation Fetish and Slow Librarianship continues to influence the way I view the absurdity of academic libraries during my tenure in this profession.   The article deserves much more attention than I think it gets.   It uses the analogy of a now-defunct and short-lived fad by drawing parallels between the failed Juicero Inc., a Silicon Valley startup producing an expensive and impractical juicing machine, and the pressures faced by academic librarians to constantly innovate in their roles. 

The Juicero, initially marketed as an innovative internet-connected device, was later revealed to be unnecessary as users could achieve the same result by squeezing the juice bags with their hands. The author sees the Juicero as a symptom of late capitalism, emphasizing the pressure for constant innovation in a market saturated with gadgets.

The author relates this to the academic librarian's environment, where career advancement relies on showcasing innovation.  I've certainly experienced this myself, having been caught up in the euphoria of Web 2.0, Library 2.0 and the semantic web just a decade ago -- a sign of the obsession with innovation in academic librarianship, driven by a corporatized academia that prioritizes measurable achievements and publications.  The pressure to constantly innovate, often for its own sake, can lead to impractical projects that consume time and resources without addressing genuine needs.

Glassman recounts a scenario where MLIS students suggested changing a popular reading collection to be less "object-centric" without providing a clear vision for the alternative.  Thus, the rush for constant innovation can result in ideas that lack practicality and fail to meet the actual needs of patrons.   

The author reflects on personal experiences of succumbing to the pressure to innovate, even when existing methods were effective.  The obsession with innovation is deeply ingrained in the academic librarian profession, fueled by the need for immediate and tangible outcomes to justify investments.   I've witnessed this myself, playing a hand in accepting directives while secretly scratching my head at the logic of decisions.

I recall one instance of securing an iPad against the pillar in the middle of the library with no purpose other than it looked "innovative" to do so.   It was stolen the next day and quickly ended the innovative and expensive experiment.   Interestingly, the computer workstations adjacent to the iPad seemed to do just fine the decade before and the decade after the stolen iPad initiative. 

As a solution, the article proposes looking to the Slow Movement for guidance, advocating for a Slow Librarianship approach that prioritizes reflection and meaningful practices over a constant pursuit of impressive achievements. This alternative approach aims to provide deeper, more lasting, and more human services to patrons by rejecting the constant need for innovation and allowing for more thoughtful and responsive practices.  It's something that I'm still trying to integrate into my own work and approach to my life.   It's always a work in progress.   Thankfully, it's not considered innovative.

1 comment:

Jean said...

Interesting... about innovation just for the sake of employee performance on tenure track.

We need another moniker than "slow librarianship". Something akin to "What Works" or Customer-Focused Librarianship. I know. Ir sounds dull but in light of AI and other information literacy challenges right now, there is now a special urgency for the library profession press onward and focus hard. Imagine trying to each very young/yet to be born generations who will increasingly be challenged to distinguish info.created by a human being vs. AI.