Monday, October 13, 2008

Why bother?

Why should we bother providing evidence, examining the basis for our ideas - when decisions in the workplace (as elsewhere) are usually made from the gut?

Is evidence-based librarianship, as an initiative, a Sisyphean, pointless labor intended only to amplify the egos of those who champion it (and belittle the voices of the experts against which, it might be claimed, it is arrayed)?

Yesterday my blood pressure was raised, and raised again. No problem - one must get exercise.

Recently, I read the JESSE listserv, and found (yet another) diatribe by an LIS educator against Second Life (SL). Let it be said that I am biased here, because I have been employed there, paid by a grant (the most recent of four) from the National Library of Medicine. The ongoing debate has been between those who claim SL is an important area for exploration, and those who argue it's a waste of time.

This person, who is presumably educating students, displayed a breathtaking arrogance in attacking librarians' activities in SL. First, the valid argument is made that data is lacking. This is fine and warranted (though I must say it would be difficult to provide much demographic data when you cannot even collect IP addresses) but unfortunately, the attack continues.

If this person had left it there, it would have retained a precarious stance as critical inquiry, but unfortunately, this is not what happened. Instead, they continued, writing about how they, in their professional and personal life, are doing real things of 'real' value, and find no need to engage in playacting. The implication is very clearly that those who are active in virtual worlds are not doing such things. Their attack ends by saying they doubt these things could be better done in a virtual world.

The argument described above is not made within the framework of formal rhetoric. It is not presented as the end result of academic inquiry. Instead, it is presented from the stance of expert, essentially an informally published editorial comment shared with peers in JESSE, a forum for educators in information science:

jESSE is a listserv discussion group that, since 1994, promotes discussion of library and information science education issues in a world-wide context. It addresses issues of curricula, administration, research, and education theory and practice as they relate to information science issues in general, and in general academia as the membership feels so moved. It is one of the primary outlets for faculty position announcements in LIS. Specific queries on lost resources and other minutia are welcome, as are broader questions for general discussion (from the listserv description, found here).

It is presented and then signed using the author's full signature block, and is available to any person who cares to view it, including students, press, and others, who take the time to search the archives. At the very least, then, it's the public statement of someone acting in their public, professional persona, issuing an expert opinion about the topic in a forum designated for professional discussion.

I find myself as a doctoral student feeling some pressure to be circumspect in writing about this. It is not my intention to position myself as expert, or to even attempt to stifle free expression. I am frustrated and a little appalled at the level of this discourse.

I draw parallels, perhaps unfair ones, to the level of discourse surrounding the presidential candidates. That was my second blood pressure-riser yesterday. Opinion in this public debate is accorded the status of fact (whatever that is!) - and thus the argument becomes one of innuendo against half-baked assertion. There is no countering such personalized claims, in the case of the current political atmosphere, so that the entire discussion becomes empty sputtering, name calling, baseless animus, replicated caricature.

I am fairly certain this is not the way to move ahead. We can debate about what will benefit our profession, and argue over direction, but placed upon a table for examination, such practices find no credence in the profession.


karen w said...

Hi Carol, I was exploring HealthInfoIsland page and found your are not alone in your frustrations with many things in the profession, and as a former doctoral student I know how you feel about many of the same issues. Hopefully a new generation can bring new changes ahead. nice blog btw!, Karen

Carol Perryman said...

Hi Karen, I recognize your name, and welcome! I hope you're right. I appreciate comments you have made.

In a discipline whose research is perhaps best mixed-method, with much owed to sociology, communication, education, and other fields of study, it really does astonish me that we can read and value Chatman's 'Life in the Round,' find space for Rosaldo's ethnography, - and (apparently) close the door on spaces like Second Life. I'm not doing what I think of as 'big R' research right now in SL - too much else on my plate! - but I do feel as if we are laying experiential groundwork in a number of ways. One of them is simply by connecting there, even just across library types. The setting is there for new discourses - and they are happening!

Karen W said...

I can remember taking some of the first distance learning classes circa 1998 at SUNY and many people had similar reactions to this too way back when, and many still do in our profession, as strange at that may sound, so I'm learning too it is a lot to do with keeping it all in some perspective at times, which I know only too well is very frustrating to deal with many times but it still exists very much so. We know what land mines our in the field so we have to learn to walk past them. :-)
Best, Karen