Thursday, May 6, 2010

Making it too easy for patrons actually makes it harder

Reply to a private message. Excerpt:

I find the constant drumbeat about accommodating the born-digital generation in not exposing them to anything not "e-" to be utterly destructive to humanistic education. Why are we buying into this? Why is it not exposed as a means of control? Because no matter how agile a person may be with the technical, the electronic, the digital world -- this is not the same as being able to think analytically, to see what really has or has not been done before, and how and why things worked or failed before, to understand what is really different and what is just dressed in a "modern" shell. While at the same time (yes, it *can* be done <snark>!) learning to be flexible in learning how to navigate, anticipate, manipulate all we have and will have in the future to learn. We are enabling a completely controllable society to be put into place, out of fear of being called irrelevant, old school--or just plain "old" for that matter, out of touch, clinging to the past, blah, blah, blah. The stupid generational divides
make me want to pull my hair out with frustration and a very deep boredom. I mean, what are we talking about here, life spans of 50 to 85 years? And whether one is 25, 40, 55, 65 etc. really makes an amazing difference in knowledge, thought processes, world view, mortality, you name it?? It's all variations on the "never trust anyone over 30" idea that one would think information professionals would not buy into. But librarians are among the worst for strata of all sorts, including generational strata.

Thank you so much for your note.

About the rest of your message, I couldn't agree more. For some reason, it seems as if we want to make it "easy" for people today, especially for the students (i.e. the digital generation), but often what it means to make it "easy" just harms them in the long run. These young students aren't stupid, but they don't know how to work. What do I mean by that? Even though they may spend a fabulous amount of time on a paper, and they have exhausted themselves in the process, it often comes to almost nothing. So, I don't think that in many cases, it is lack of effort, (although there is plenty of that!) but somehow, they haven't been given the skills to get tough when they need to and they don't seem to have the skills to work effectively. I think in a lot of cases where students don't even put in the effort, it's that they are realists: they know they don't have the skills, whatever they do will turn out to be a disaster that will make them feel awful anyway, so CARPE DIEM!! It seems as if somebody else, either mommy or daddy or teacher, has always done the hard parts for them, or cut them some slack, or something. (By the way, the ex-soldiers I have worked with are completely different. They know how to deal with it)

For example, I have built some online tools that are incredibly easy to use: I mean, just clicking a mouse button. That's all. And even that proves to be too much for some of these people! If it were just the slobs, OK, but this includes some who are seriously working! When I point this out to them (no, I *don't* tell them that they are worthless, lazy good for nothings, whose parents should disown them out of shame, but I approach them with gentleness and kindness) and they very readily (too readily?) admit that they are wrong, that what I have made is incredibly easy to use and the fault lies with them.

As a result of all of this, I am revising my former assumption that it is our job to make library tools easier to use for our public. While that would appear obvious, I don't know if it's correct, because I can't imagine that what I have built can be made that much easier to use. It can be made better certainly, in 10,000 ways, but if it can be made easier, it can't be by that much. So my thinking is that even if "everything" were fully standardized and under full-authority control and perfectly done, and all the user had to do was click a button.... it would still be too much.

In my normal, long-winded way, I am coming around to your point. I agree that something, somewhere is wrong, but I am less sure that I know what is "wrong" and where it actually is. That's one reason why I came out so strongly against changing the abbreviations: it won't make any difference, and I think everyone knows that. But determining what really *will* make a difference is far more difficult to figure out. I certainly do not have the answer, but my experience tells me that reliable search results and following high-quality standards will be a major part of any solution.

It is a question that must be considered very, very deeply, and I don't think RDA is part of the solution!

Anyway, join the Cooperative Cataloging Rules!!!!

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