I’m currently reading Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup. Ries talks a great deal about experimenting and validating learning. Often we provide products or create services because we think it is what has an impact or is what our users want. But in a number of examples that Ries provides, adding new features or services does not create any change at all and a lot of what organizations do is superfluous. This leads him to ask “which of our efforts are value creating and which are wasteful?”
To answer this question he says that we need to identify and test our assumptions through a number of small experiments. He also says that we need metrics that can tell us something as opposed to vanity metrics. An example of a vanity metric in libraries would be something like gate count. It says “we have a bunch of people coming in and out of the building,” but it doesn’t go to much farther than that. Why are these people coming in? Does it have something to do with our efforts?
He also talks about “success theater,” (the work we do to make ourselves look successful). It’s good to have charts and graphs that go up and to the right, but do those actually tell us anything? Is it our efforts that our making a difference or something else? Are we accidentally getting it right? Is it a fluke? What happens if the numbers go down?
So this brings me to my question: what are the assumptions we have in libraries and how to we test them?
Assumptions abound in libraries: students need research help from librarians, we need to be on social media, students need to be taught how to use a database. These assumptions might be different from institution to institution, but each place has their own assumptions.
We also have a variety of metrics and numbers that we can pay attention to in libraries: gate count, database statistics, circulation numbers, reference statistics, number of classes taught, assessment data, student surveys, etc. Which numbers are really valuable for testing assumptions and which are just noise?
What are some of our assumptions in libraries? What assumptions do you test at your library? What assumptions would you like to test? What metrics do or could you use to validate your learning?
From SXSW Ogilvy notes
I love this visual note from a Howard Rheingold presentation at SXSW. He was launching his new book called Net Smart: How To Thrive Online. From just looking at the note, these seem like things librarians can or should be teaching and discussing (curation, crap detection, triangulation, consumption v. creation).
I also just finished reading David Weinberger’s new book Too Big To Know. It’s about how “knowledge and expertise are becoming networks, and are taking on the properties of networks” in this age of abundant and hyperlinked information. In the book he touches on things like echo chambers, the changing nature of authority, the unsettled nature of knowledge, and information overload. I know that this book is definitely going to change the way that I discuss research and information literacy concepts with students.
In his final chapter he makes several recommendations about how we can best move forward now that knowledge is changing and becoming networked. Among them is teaching young people and students “how to use the Net, how to evaluate knowledge claims, and how to love difference (pg. 192).”
These types of literacies that Rheingold and Weinberger mention are important, but I don’t know if they get discussed many places. Librarians address some of them such as evaluating information and crap detection, but we don’t teach a lot about consumption vs. creation, loving and seeking out difference, curating/filtering information, or attention/distraction.
I agree with Rheingold and Weinberger that these are skills that our students as citizens of the web should have, but I’m not sure where they should be discussed. We often get trapped into thinking that we’re simply helping students with their research. But we’re not just trying to teach students to become successful academic researchers. We are trying to help them become sophisticated consumers and creators of information. This is a much bigger view that encompasses student’s critical thinking skills, lifelong learning and the future of the web.
Are there lessons or ways that you address some of these skills in your information literacy instruction? How do you talk about curation, loving difference, or distraction? Are there places or instances in which you see these conversations taking place? Are these topics we should be talking about with students?
There have been several really great posts recently about the philosophies and thinking behind librarianship. I wanted to briefly highlight them here and make sure that folks didn’t miss them. They’re all pretty short. I know they all made me stop and think.
A Stealth Librarian Manifesto:
This first Manifesto is from John Dupuis at York University in Toronto. He argues that in order to
“thrive and survive in a challenging environment, we must subtly and not-so-subtly insinuate ourselves into the lives of our patrons. We must concentrate on becoming part of their world, part of their landscape.”
He focuses on academic librarians insinuating themselves in the world of professors. He suggests instead of always going to library conferences, go to academic or teaching conferences. Give presentations with other faculty members, not other librarians. Some of the things he says may be more controversial like “we must stop writing the formal library literature.” He says instead that we should get our ideas out there in the literature of our users. It seems like his ideas would not just insinuate us with our users but also help us get out of the echo chamber and gain a fresh perspective.
Common Sense Librarianship: An Ordered List Manifesto:
This second manifesto is by the ever thoughtful David Rothman. His very short post doesn’t propose anything radically new, but he outlines what librarianship should be about in a very succinct and powerful way. My favorite one is probably #4:
“Whenever possible, obstacles between users and the information they seek should be removed. Among these obstacles are academic jargon and expecting users to care about cataloging minutia (it is minutia to them, get over it). Information professionals should be champions of clarity and concision who find accessible ways to describe complex topics.”
In Praise of Ideas:
This last one isn’t a manifesto, but it is a great guest post on ACRLog by Emily Drabinski a librarian at Long Island University. She talks about the ideas we bring to librarianship. She discusses how our personal philosophies and understanding of the world influence how we teach or conduct a reference interview or interact with patrons.
“What it’s possible to know, or even conceive as a question, depends on the context–what has come to count as knowledge over the course of time. It may not be a set of how-tos, but the notion of kairos does provide me a frame through which I work, every day, in my office, at the reference desk, and in the classroom.
Here’s an example: If knowledge is contingent, then I’m never looking for right answers. Instead, I’m looking for ways to engage students in their own active knowledge pursuits, pursuits that happen in time and are never final.”
Go check out these thought provoking posts.