RE: information organization, systems, and terrorists

Reply to Shawne Miksa on NGC4LIB;TPbbUg;20100103110732-0600


These are some thought-provoking comments. I think there is another consideration that must be included: general expectations.

People expect much more than ever before, and a lot of these expectations are simply unrealistic. In your example, an argument could be made that the populace expects and demands 100% security. Of course, this is an impossibility, but nevertheless, when something untoward happens, as it always will, people believe that “something has gone wrong.” Many times, it isn’t that something has gone wrong; it’s not that anyone has made a mistake; it’s that no one has ever achieved 100% security. This means that things happen sooner or later, and that wil always have things to learn. I think this is something that people outside of the US understand somewhat better. For example, just a couple of days ago there was a bombing at a police station in southern Italy, most probably by the Mafia (, but while people are angry and concerned, there has been nothing about: who made the mistakes that allowed this to happen in the first place, and so on. There have been bombings in the UK, Spain and many other European countries, but their reactions are quite different from what seems to be going on in the US. I think we can also keep in mind the problem of relying on 100% economic security as well.

In these cases, I think there is a lot society can do, but there will still be a lot of risk left over.

Relating this to libraries, what are our patrons’ expectations? I have not looked to see if there is any research in this area per se, but it is my professional experience that people’s expectations for what they can get through information search and retrieval has changed a lot. For example, if a library doesn’t have a book, the public can get a copy through ILL or through some sort of arrangement where your patrons can go to another library where they can get the book. 20 years ago, that was considered a success. Today, I think such an option is considered more as a failure in the eyes of our patrons, and are becoming more and more of a failure all the time. People want *everything* and they want it *now* ( so if they have to go somewhere else, or have to wait a few days or weeks to get the information they want, or as I have seen more and more, if something is not available in an electronic version where they can search the full-text, they see it as a failure of the information search and retrieval system. I am not saying that this is a good thing that is happening, but happening it is and I don’t have any idea how this can be stopped. Attached to this is the idea of Marcia Bates’ “Principle of Least Effort” which I discussed on a list somewhere and I placed a copy on my blog at:
“Probably the single most frequently discovered finding on information seeking behavior is that people use the principle of least effort in their information seeking. This may seem reasonable and obvious, but the full significance of this finding must be understood. People do not just use information that is easy to find; they even use information they know to be of poor quality and less reliable–so long as it requires little effort to find–rather than using information they know to be of high quality and reliable, though harder to find.”

This has profound consequences for what we are doing, both in terms of systems development and perhaps more crucially, on user education.

This is why I keep harping on the FRBR user tasks, which necessarily are very closely related to user expectations: people want and expect something substantially different today from before. The FRBR user tasks are simply obsolete and the sooner we accept this, the better for our entire field. In fact, it is my experience that the rise of full-text searching has brought a consequent loss of the very concept of authority control (which was poorly understood to begin with), and as a result, even the *idea* of being able to find, for example “all of the works” of Mark Twain (within the traditional parameters of the rule of three etc.) no matter the form of the name on the item, is becoming less and less known among patrons and perhaps less and less appreciated. Once they understand the purpose and power of authority control, which is definitely not something that can be explained in sixty seconds, (for example, see the BBC article “Turning into digital goldfish” This goes equally for all the European, US and UK students I have worked with.

We need to make tools that will berelevant to our users’ needs , but before that we need to find out what their needs are, otherwise we are making tools relevant to the world before the 1990s but not to the world of today, let alone the world 20 years from now.