Re: RIP Yahoo

Posting to Autocat

On 19/07/2013 02:03, john g marr wrote:

It seems that the only choices are: other people will do [the traditional clerical duties].

This shows a telling editorial change. My original statement was:
“… if librarians are busy teaching people how to think, who is going to do the traditional jobs the librarians have always done? I.e. selecting, acquiring, describing, arranging, and helping people find the materials they want. It seems that the only choices are: other people will do it …”
meaning “selecting, acquiring, describing, arranging, and helping people find the materials they want”. Are you relating this to “traditional clerical duties”? To me, clerks (non-professional staff, support staff, etc.) are very important in a library, but they help the librarians do those jobs, e.g. clerks change the headings as directed by catalogers, they actually check the books in and out and put them back on the shelves; they might get books for the reference librarians to use; they do searching for selectors. Clerks may have to deal with overdue notices to patrons or claims to publishers. You have to have clerks. But the jobs of “selecting, acquiring, describing, arranging, and helping people find the materials they want” have always been jobs for professionals. I realize this is changing, especially in the area of cataloging. Still, it bothers me to think that those very high levels of service can be considered as “clerical duties”.

But to continue this idea that librarians should teach people to “think critically”, while it may make sense in theory, appears to fall apart in reality. Let’s imagine that I am interested in a topic, the “fall of communism in present-day Russia” and I currently know nothing about it.

I just now searched for it in Google and got 2,260,000 hits. In Bing, I get 813,000. I cannot see actual numbers in DuckDuckGo and others such as Blekko, Hakia and Exalead, but they look like a lot. Anyway, how do I weigh each of these critically? First would be to determine why the results are so different in Google vs. Bing. Perhaps Bing is a much smaller database; perhaps Google is including lots of garbage. It would be very difficult to determine which reason, if either, is correct, so I ignore that question.

So, I choose Google (or Bing or Exalead or whatever) and look at the first hit. I consider what I read there “critically”. I read another one, and then another one. Each one says something quite different. Or they may say exactly the same thing. Remember, I know nothing about the topic. I know nothing about the author(s) or the websites that put out the information so I do what I learned in the information literacy workshops and try to find out information about the authors and the websites.

Each thing I read may make sense to me or not make any sense at all. At the end, I may end-up looking at–let’s be generous–the top 50 or so sites with the associated background checks that I have been told I must do. That takes a massive amount of time, but it represents only the tiniest fraction of what was retrieved. What kind of a cross-section did I examine? Was it right-wing or left-wing or bizarre crackpot? Who knows? What sort of materials have risen to the top? It may be the cream–as the search engines want us to believe–but popular knowledge provides another answer about what rises to the top. 🙂

What do we call this state of affairs? Information overload, and individuals experience it constantly. In the aggregate, probably billions of times every day. Critical thinking is of little help if you are barraged with all and sundry. It’s like taking the greatest baseball hitter in history and pitching a hundred baseballs at him at once. It doesn’t matter how good he is–he can’t handle it.

So goes critical thinking. It is of little help when dealing with information overload. And yet the skills of librarians have always been focused on that problem. Once librarians/experts/ knowledgeable persons have “selected, described, arranged and helped people find what they need” (and they need lots of help doing that), this is when critical thinking can be of immense value.

There is such a need for librarianship.