Tuesday, October 21, 2008

If with each step you close half the distance to your goal

- you will never reach it. This simple fact, I always found compelling and a bit discouraging, and as a child I tried to test it by bringing my fingertips closer, closer, closer - and they'd bump. I was incapable of the calibration, and knew it.

In seeking to render research perfectly rigorous, our decisions error- or bias-free, we will never reach that state. How far are we, though? How close might we come, and is the exercise of calibration worth making new tools? In a practice setting, is such an exercise more an expensive waste of time? Don't answer that, or any of these questions.

Or rather, don't answer them generically - do so with each decision, then tell me. I look back, I confess, to 20 years of gut-driven decision making, to marketing in a public library without any knowledge of marketing, surveys conducted with no real idea of what I was doing. In one, a survey about what music patrons might like to see in the circulating collection of a public library, a patron gently pointed out that I'd completely skipped over country music. When I did such things, that I did them at all was viewed as sufficient. No one had time to spend on a more stepwise approach. Everything I learned (or most of it) in library management, supervision, patron services, education - all of it, I learned by trial and error.

I hear older voices, a little amused, whispering: We drank unpasteurized milk/went shoeless/found our own amusements, for years. We drove with not the slightest thought of carseats or seatbelts. This new stuff! and with it, the impression's given that 'new stuff' is unnecessary, extraneous, foolish, even wasteful.

I don't have an answer to that (usually) unvoiced opinion, either. I think I used to have one, but as I find I tend to do over time (must be that maturity thing), I came to a realization that soapbox-standing is not my metier. There is a certain aspect to EBL that is evangelical, so that a proportion of research articles and editorials about EBL are about persuasion ('for years editors of leading LIS journals have deplored the quality of practitioner research...') Shouldn't our discourse be about those questions, about our existing practices, about our perceived needs? Otherwise it's selling - not ice in Alaska - but ice someplace where there is no use for it.

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