Wednesday, May 6, 2009

27 Things: "Icebergs" and the Ramble Continues

Everybody thinks. They may not know how to think critically, the logic of thinking, but they do know how to think. Everyone knows how to feel. Men are accused of turning off their emotions. It's not true, of course. Men just don't like to admit they are controlled by their emotions. Everyone knows how to act. Some are more forceful while others are timid, but this is still action. Everyone has questions.

Rick Anderson, in the article Away from the “icebergs” suggests Libraries have to eliminate barriers which exist "between patrons and the information they need, so they can spend as little time as possible wrestling with lousy search interfaces and as much time as possible actually reading and learning." Let me be clear: Libraries are not known for being user friendly. We do not make it easy to find information. But I do not think this is the fault of the Library. I think it is more the nature of information, and how that information is organized. Before the Internet, within the last hundred plus years, books were de rigueur. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, indexes compiled and organized specific information. Catalogs, card catalogs (do you remember those) were time and staff intensive but also organized information, where to find the books. Books are arranged by a classification system, like DDC (Dewey Decimal Classification system -- but you'all know that) which are not and will never be perfect. People learned how to use the resource available to find what they were looking for. Librarians helped.

Every method used to organized information is a human invention which takes thought and discipline, which must adhere to a specific logic. The human element is extended because many different people have to apply this developed system to the local collection. And then people have to use it. People have to think. There is nothing intuitive about information or the way it is organized.

Skipping down the Yellow Brick Road came a group called the Internet. A cowardly lion, a heartless tin-man and a brainless straw man all trying to lead someone home who doesn't know how to get home. The person who is going somewhere has to know where they want to go. This is where a trained Librarian can help the patron define their question. But it takes intelligence, and in a lot of cases, disciplined intelligence. They may think, but they have to know how to think specifically, not randomly. They have to know how to test the information to ensure it is valid and authentic and useable. Post modern thinking does not work. They also have to feel, to know when they are going in a direction they want, or don't want. Sometimes, it's impossible to say what is right or wrong, spot on or completely missing the mark. But it also takes decisiveness, also known as will-power or the ability to move in a direction without being side-tracked or road-blocked. Using the Library of the future is going to take the whole person, mind, emotions, and will. Librarians of the future are going to have to be able to think, to feel and to respond appropriately to those they serve.

People who put together the resources used in any Library had to think about what they were doing. People who use these resources have to think about how they can be used. So, who put together the Internet. Al Gore? Who is trying to organize the Internet? Everyone? What ever organizational tools used will have a tremendous amount of thought expended before they are usable. Which means you are going to have to think to use these tools. There will never be a usable tool for getting to the information in the mishmash of user created content that will be simple and intuitive. People will have to learn to think.

Is thinking a barrier to the Library for our patrons?

To Be Continued ...

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