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If we challenge each other; we all win February 18, 2010

Posted by michaelpawlus in Uncategorized.
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Those that read my last post know that I recently attended a lecture where the speaker more or less told me that my question was not important.  This obviously did not make me happy and I came home and quickly sent an email to this individual as well as making a post that addressed the issue.  I then wrestled with whether or not it was politically a good idea to call someone out by name when disagreeing with their position on an issue.  After some time for reflection, I decided that while I thought it was clear that I was not engaging in any sort of personal attacks it was just a better decision to leave names out and focus solely on the content of my argument.

I just want to provide some additional details that may have lead to this speaker dismissing my question.  I am doing this to create a segue to another point so please do not feel that this is just going to be a continuation of the topic I discussed last time.  That being said, the additional details have to do with a lecturer beforehand asking us to think up really tough questions because apparently this speaker liked tough questions.  So, I went out and read like crazy and found a book where this speaker is quoted saying that new names for libraries are fine and then a few chapters later saying that libraries need to hold on to the name ‘library’ because it is a strong brand.  As a result, I presented the speaker with what seemed like a contradiction and asked if he could clarify which position best reflected his actual belief.  If that seems like a hard question, it’s meant to be; partially because that was what we were asked to do and partly because this speaker said that there is no such thing as maintaining a neutral position and anyone who tried to do so actually had no position.

Afterward, I wondered if I would have been better served lobbing up a softball about government bureaucracy’s affect on the public library agenda.  Then, I remembered this speaker’s call to action.  This individual asked us to rise up to the level of other professions.  The speaker continued by saying that students of medicine, law, and business come into school with big aspirations but library students, relatively speaking, do not.  If you look at the world of medicine, law, and business it is full of people asking each other the hard questions because when they challenge each other then everybody becomes stronger; everybody wins.

Here is the problem that I have with this speaker telling me that my question on library branding is not important.  In my case, I am challenging this person’s position (or, in this case, lack of one) but in the case of the speaker, this individual is simply devaluing the topic that I brought up.  To take this a step further, I have taken a clear position on the Amazon Kindle as well as e-readers place in libraries.  If someone disagrees with me, I would welcome a discussion where we could both present evidence to back up our opposing views and see if we can change the opinion of the other person.  What I am getting at is that because I have decided to publish my opinion then I feel that I have an obligation to back that up.  In the world of social science, where librarianship sits, there are no absolute correct answers and everything is debatable so all we have is the data, research and evidence to try and show that an idea is relatively better than another idea for a given situation.  It is really the best that we can hope for.  Therefore, if we are going to get to the best solutions to problems that we face then we have to be willing to ask the hard questions of each other and we have to equally be ready to back up our positions.  To finish with my example, what I don’t feel is an option for me now is to just say e-readers aren’t important, there are more important issues, don’t ask me about the Amazon Kindle, don’t challenge my position.  At the end of the day, we all really just have opinions backed up with varying degrees of evidence.  If we challenge each other and look at evidence that supports another point of view it adds to our knowledge base even if it doesn’t change our opinion.  In short, we gain from these types of debates, we are more able to add content to the general knowledge base that benefits from being more clear and robust, we all win.  However, when we just dismiss each others questions, we contribute to the stagnation of the knowledge base and perpetuate the peddling of stale, tired ideas.

Compare the novel, cutting-edge research that comes out of the medical and business sectors with the mostly safe, uninspiring reports being issued from the library sector.  (I’m speaking relatively of course, I know there is some extremely cutting edge ideas coming out of the library world.)  I don’t think this is because there is a lack of new and interesting ideas in the library sector but I think it is because we are not challenging each other enough.  If we follow this speaker’s words, and not his actions, we can aim our sights higher and aggressively pursue new ideas that will benefit our users, and then we can all win, not just those of us who work in the library sector but those who could benefit from libraries, and that includes everyone.

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