Don't Blink! The Hazards of Confidence

The New York Times • October 19, 2011

Blind faith. Princeton psychology professor Daniel Kahneman describes his experience many years ago when he was assigned to a team whose job was to evaluate Israeli Army recruits' leadership potential based on their ability to complete a difficult task. Although the team's predictions repeatedly were proven inaccurate, the process continued on as if the results were meaningful. Kahneman relates this mindset, which he terms the "illusion of validity," to the way financial markets work and some organizations operate.

Kahneman defines the "illusion of validity," as when confidence in judgments is not affected by facts. People who face a difficult question often answer an easier one instead, continually maintaining a story about what is going on. To keep that story as coherent as possible, they suppress evidence to the contrary. He says that true intuitive expertise comes from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes. Applying this to the library environment, we could ask: What can we safely assume about the success of an online reference interview? On what do we base the value of special collections? What do we really know about the use of our websites or the efficacy of our social media outreach? As we ask ourselves questions like this, we should try to recognize when we're telling ourselves a comfortable story and when our confidence is based on facts. ( Erway)

Rethinking "Normal" in Technology: Q&A with Justin Hall-Tipping

TED Blog • October 18, 2011

We've always done it this way. This interview focuses on one entrepreneur's efforts to rethink renewable energy strategies, but many of his observations about the constraints of corporate "inside-the-box" thinking reflect the frustrations every organization experiences when attempting innovative problem-solving.

A nice brief interview with Justin Hall-Tipping. He calls for us to question all our preconceptions and embrace change. He gives a couple of easy examples of how preconceptions based on false or dated information have held advancement back. He then goes on to talk about how his work in solar power generation requires rethinking the concept of solar cells. ( LeVan)

SOS—Save Our Serendipity

European Journalism Centre  • October 18, 2011

"Life in the rear view mirror." University of St. Gallen Corporate Communications professor Miriam Meckel makes an impassioned plea for more controls over the increasingly algorithmically-driven personalization of information delivery. Although her argument echoes Eli Pariser's concerns voiced in The Filter Bubble, Meckel's points out the importance of broad exposure to enhance personal relationships and brainpower are worth checking out.

Usually I think articles about the loss of serendipity sound more like nostalgia than real problems. For instance, when the card catalog disappeared many bemoaned the lack of serendipity they used to get flipping through cards. Well, maybe, but I for one was glad to see them go. But as I watch my search results in Google News become so homogenized that they are hardly worth looking at, there really may be problems in the hyper-specialization we are starting to see in some systems. The article probably paints with too broad a brush, but it's certainly worth reading if you are noticing it yourself. ( Hickey)

Bookbinding in the Digital Age: An Interview with Michael Greer

BoingBoing • October 16, 2011

The ultimate vanity press. This interview with die-hard book enthusiast Michael Greer describes how he apprenticed himself to a Moroccan bookbinder and used his newfound skill to create a hard copy binary version of the book of Genesis. Greer's tale will spark the interest of every bibliophile who's ever thrilled to the visual, olfactory and tactile pleasures of a freshly bound leather tome.

Let's get something straight here: I am a Maker and have Maker Faire cred (my husband and I have designed and built a small fleet of whimsical electric vehicles), and I am fully supportive of the employment of one's mind and hands in creating, sharing, and having fun. However, I don’t think this story of conversion and discovery represents a reemergence of bookbinding or book arts. Courses on hand press book arts are available (usually a weeklong intensive program that incorporates aspects of bookbinding, paper making, ink making, typesetting, etc), but are dwindling. I have mixed feelings about Greer's creation—a binary Genesis seems gimmicky but maybe that's what we need—a gimmick to draw people in. Once we have their attention, we can tell the story. Putting hand bound books into people's hands, one at a time, is a costly way to share that story but when you can make that sort of connection it's thrilling and personal. ( Proffitt)

A Prototype of Pivot Searching

IEEE Spectrum • October 17, 2011

Remembrance of things past. New software in beta at the University of Illinois allows users to relocate information they've come across by retracing their digital footsteps using clues based on what else they were doing on their computer at the time. Computer scientist Joshua Hailpern says it works in much the same way the human brain does—through associative memories that help illuminate the path back to a particular moment in time. The concept builds on Microsoft Research's MyLifeBits project started 10 years ago by Gordon Bell and points the way toward one approach toward surviving the information deluge.

A friend who managed a bookstore told me the story of a customer who was looking for a book, but the only thing they could remember about it was that "it had a red cover." Not enough to go on, though directing them to that classic paperback edition of The Catcher in the Rye might be a start. The YouPivot application aims to help fill in some of those blanks for things encountered online. The article notes that "the real challenge YouPivot faces is dealing with privacy." Agreed. There are likely other benefits beyond the "finding your digital car keys" scenario highlighted on the YouPivot site that would derive from this kind of datastore; perhaps those would offset the perceived risks associated with this kind of sharing. But what about people like me, who have learned to enjoy forgetting? ( Washburn)

Above the Fold Quiz

According to an item in this week's News and Views section, what are some steps that academic libraries should take to help align themselves to the mission of their larger institution?

Get the answer.