Scarce and abundant resources

I was recently reminded of the article, “Tech is too Cheap to Meter: It’s Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity” by Chris Anderson and published in Wired Magazine. Even though it was written in 2009, it still has merit. Anderson puts forth an interesting discussion on how we perceive the abundance or scarcity of technology resources and how this influences our ability to leverage it in different and unique ways. The examples he uses in the article are computer storage space and streaming video. Both no longer are an expensive or scare resource yet both are often viewed as such. The key question he asks is “when an organization views an abundant resource as scare, what impact does that have on the organization’s ability to meet customer needs and continued goodwill?”

As I read this article I of course began thinking about academic libraries and how we view certain technologies/resources along with the policies we implement based on those views. The No food and Drink policy is a good example of a policy based on the perception that items such as computer keyboards, mice, and all print sources are scare or irreplaceable. Yet, as computer hardware costs continue to decrease, peripherals like keyboards or mice are no longer a scare commodity; particularly since many institutions often buy these in bulk for a fraction of the off-the-shelf retail cost. With print-based resources, really only a small percentage of these within a typical academic library are truly scare or irreplaceable. As more materials are digitally born or converted, document delivery systems become more robust, and consortia or shared library systems are more common, any print items that do not fall into that rare and irreplaceable category are more easily replaced or accessed should they become damaged. A more important policy for an academic library becomes one focused on good stewardship of resources and methods in which to meet the unique needs of their community.

Anderson also asks the opposite question as well. What are the implications for an organization that views a scare resource as an abundant one?

Many instructional initiatives within academic libraries use a variety of technologies including those that are part of Web 2.0. While these technologies are abundant, how they are used in connection with student learning vary significantly among librarians. Some approach utilization of these within teaching environments as the scattered shot approach — try everything and anything so maybe something will stick/work. Those that take this approach view time, students and their own, as an abundant resource. We of course all know (even those teaching in a scattered shot way) that time is not an abundant resource and teaching as if it were is not effective. Why do people do it, then? There are many potential answers to that question. However, in my experience, those who are new to teaching are more likely to take the scattered shot approach more so as a lack of experience rather then ill intent.

As someone who views technology as a conduit and support mechanism for learning outcomes, I am not one who is prone to take a scattered shot approach. Although, I do not necessarily take a wait and see approach either. For me the important questions to ask are ‘what is the impact on student learning when using X technology and how does it connect to established learning outcomes?’ Student time and our time is a scare resource; we need to be cognizant of that. Being enthusiastic to try what’s cool and new, won’t necessarily put us at risk of losing students’ goodwill and in turn potential lifelong supporters. However, having a bad learning experience can often translate into a student not asking for help when needed, perpetuate attitudes of “I already know how to do this so I don’t need to participate,” or even establish a lack of respect for the expertise a library science professional does have.

In his closing remarks Anderson talks about a hybrid model evolving in our society using YouTube and Hulu as an example. Both resources provide free access to streaming video but one, YouTube, takes the scattered shop approach — open to all for viewing and uploading, no criteria for content or quality (certain exceptions apply), and no commercials. It should be noted, since Google purchased YouTube, a Google Ads overlay appears on most videos. The other, Hulu, which has a more focused content type, provides high quality streaming video, is restricted to who can upload, and requires viewers to watch short commercials. Even though both are free, each has a different model and perspective on abundance and scarcity. Both of these services are doing extremely well and in the foreseeable future neither is in danger of having fading use or activity.

For a complex organization like an academic library choosing one model over the other (scare or abundant) is not necessarily appropriate. As academic libraries reevaluate today’s learning environments and focus on student learning, we will need to consider how we engage students and what we consider to be scarce and abundant resources. In my view, my time and student time is scare and therefore valuable — the learning opportunities we provide should take this into consideration. We should try to avoid the scatter shot approach with technology. However, with today’s environment of abundant web-based technology and applications, we have multiple choices for creating interesting learning environments with different types of technology.

I am continually amazed at the creativity of my fellow librarians. Teaching strategies to watch will be the flipped classroom, blended learning, and strictly online learning. While all of these methods have been around for many years, what will be important is the movement away from generic, one-size fits all to a personalized learning experience. How the personalization occurs can be multifaceted and should be connected with the goals of the program or institution. Take, for instance, the flipped classroom methodology. This strategy can allow for use of various technologies and at the same time provide a powerfully positive learning experience for students. In the past year, more discussion has popped up regarding academic libraries using this model. Here are three articles discussing interesting initiatives.

Arnold-Garza, Sara. 2014. “The flipped classroom: Assessing an innovative teaching model for effective and engaging library instruction.” College & Research Libraries News 75, no. 1: 10.

Datig, Ilka, and Claire Ruswick. 2013. “Four quick flips: Activities for the information literacy classroom.” College & Research Libraries News 74, no. 5: 249.

Lemmer, Catherine A. 2013. “A View from the Flip Side: Using the ‘Inverted Classroom’ to Enhance the Legal Information Literacy of the International LL.M. Student.” Law Library Journal 105, no. 4: 461-491.

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