From Adaptability To Elasticity

With the American Library Association’s Annual Conference just about to begin, today I’m thinking about the Midwinter Conference that was held back in January 2008. At that event I attended a thoughtful program that featured a speaker talking about mastering the art of adaption, something librarians were advised to do – individually and organizationally – to thrive in the 21st Century. I thought of this program just the other day as I read a short but interesting essay titled “Design and the Elastic Mind.” I came across this article when a colleague of mine gave me a copy of a magazine called Seed. I had never heard of it. I guess I’d describe it as a popular science publication. This particular issue, the March/April 2008, was “The Design Issue”. My colleagues know I’m interested in design. In this essay by Paola Antonelli, which leads off the design articles, she writes:

 “As science and technology accelerate the pace of society, design has become more and more integral to our ability to adapt to change. Indeed, in the past few decades people have coped with dramatic changes in several long-standing relationships—with time, space, information, and individuality, to name a few. Designers are translating these “disruptive” scientific and technological innovations by providing thoughtful guidance and a collaborative approach. In order to step boldly into the future, we need design.”

I’m glad to hear that we need design. But what caught my attention is that Antonelli says that while being adaptable is good, the rapidly accelerating pace of change requires more than adaptability. What we really need is elasticity. According to her that means:

“being able to negotiate change and innovation without letting them interfere excessively with one’s own rhythms and goals. It means being able to embrace progress, understanding how to make it our own. One of design’s most fundamental tasks is to help people deal with change. Designers have the ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and social mores and to convert them into objects and ideas that people can understand and use. Without designers, instead of a virtual city of home pages with windows, doors, buttons, and links, the internet would still be a series of obscure strings of code, and appliances would be reduced to standardized skeletons of functions.”

So it may be that we need to shift from mere adaptability to an elastic mind. Just exactly how we do that is discussed further in the article, but it involves shifting our temporal rhythms. And of course, new design principles that go beyond human-centered design will help us achieve this elasticity in ourselves and our objects. Take a look at this essay, and if you can obtain a copy of the Design Issue, you may find more there worth exploring. I did.

Author: StevenB

Steven Bell is currently Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, and was previously Director of the Library at Philadelphia University. Steven is the author of two regular columns published by Library Journal, From the Bell Tower and Leading From the Library. With John Shank he is co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. Bell and Shank are also authors of the book Academic Librarianship by Design. Bell's latest book is Crucible Moments: Inspiring Library Leadership. More information is found at his website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *