Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

More on Dan Ariely

I’ve been to more than a few ACRL President’s Programs. These programs take place at the ALA Annual Conference. Many of them I really do not remember. But one that I remember well is the 2008 program at which Dan Ariely was the speaker. Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and the presentation was based on his book Predictably Irrational. I enjoyed the presentation so much that I wrote a post about it. Since then I’ve taken note of Ariely who seems to be showing up all over the place these days. Since the ACRL program I’ve found myself enjoying most of what Ariely has to say, and it’s a good reminder about how irrational we humans can be when it comes to decision making. So I was pleased to come across his blog and promptly subscribed. You may want to as well.

Does Access To Social Networks Lead To Greater Narcissism – Not Us

So Generation Me – that’s our current crop of traditional 18-22 year olds – finally admits that it is most narcissistic generation of all times. Maybe this news doesn’t surprise you. This news comes from a survey of 1,068 students concerning their use of social networks by the organization YPulse. The study reports that 92% of the respondents said they used MySpace or Facebook regularly. Two-thirds said their generation was more self-promoting, narcissistic, overconfident and attention-seeking than others.

So if using social networks leads to more self-promoting, and narcissistic and attention-seeking behavior, how come I haven’t seen any evidence of that among our profession. After all, we are pretty heavy users of all of these social netwwork technologies. I guess we just must be immune to that sort of thing, being humble librarian types and all that sort of thing. Nope, no evidence of greater narcissism here.

More On The Real-Time Web

If you enjoyed my post on Real-Time Libraries and would like to explore the Real-Time Web concept in more detail, take a look at series of articles on the Real-Time Web published at ReadWriteWeb. At the time of this writing only parts one and two are available, but you can keep an eye open for part three to come soon. Interesting that the author says there is no one definition for the Real-Time Web and that there is even still some question of what to call the trend, but he identifies five characteristics of the Real-Time Web:

1. is a new form of communication,
2. creates a new body of content,
3. is real time,
4. is public and has an explicit social graph associated with it,
5. carries an implicit model of federation.

This is worthwhile reading, and offers more insight into how the academic library should be re-imagining itself for the Real-Time Web.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

What Are the Top Academic Librarianship Strories in 2008?

We’d like to know what you think are the top news stories in academic librarianship for 2008. You can help us develop a post about 2008’s top news by taking our brief survey. There are just three questions. We’d also like to know what your crystal ball is showing for 2009.What are you hoping will happen or what would you like to see? Like all of our other surveys it’s totally anonymous, and there are no incentives or prizes. We hope you’ll complete the survey because you like us.

Any Point In Giving Directions?

Planned a library program lately in your city or region? If so, did you think it necessary to give directions to the program location? It just seems sort of pointless to give anyone directions these days – especially to librarians who ought to be super skilled at finding information on the Web. For one thing, most academic institutions – just about any organization or business these days – provides directions to their location – by car or public transportation. Even if there were no directions, you can create your own using any of several map services available on the web. And then again, GPS navigation is become more and more commonplace. Many of us have GPS on a phone or a portable device (my GPS is my favorite e-device). One scenario for when advance directions could be useful is if the program is in a hard to locate building on a large campus. For example, if I’ve never been to the Columbia University campus before, knowing how to get to the right building can be useful. Then again, is there a higher education institution without a campus map on their Website?

Did ACRL Know?

ACRL apparently showed good foresight in choosing Dan Ariely as the speaker for their President’s Program at ALA 2008. Did they know that Fortune Magazine would name Ariely as one of their “10 New Gurus You Should Know?” Ariely’s big idea is that people are predictably irrational. Thanks to ACRL we academic librarians already knew that.

Gadgetary Hopelessness

Just got my latest Time Magazine – the “List” issue – after all lists are now the great American pasttime. They are impossible to resist. I am sorry to report that I don’t own a single gadget on the top 10 gadget list. Unfortunately no GPS device made the list. Guess GPS is either too mainstream or no longer cool. And there’s no way I’m going for the 65-in. television. If I had one of those I’d probably sit in front of it and never stop watching. I’d probably never write another blog post again – no time. I know that may sound tempting to some of you, but try to resist the effort to take up a collection to get me that big screen TV.

Good Reasons For Those Bad Decisions

One of the most important responsibilities of any library leader is to make the right decisions. When our decisions have minor consequences the long-term impact of deciding poorly will likely be minor or non-existent. But decisions involving people’s positions, large-scale automation or significant resource allocations can have long-term and profound implications for our libraries and institutions. A leader able to make good judgment calls is an asset to his or her academic library. But according to the speaker we heard at ACRL’s President’s Program at the ALA Conference, most of us are going to make plenty of bad decisions. Why? Because not only are we irrational, but we are so irrational that our bad decisions can practically be predicted.

Our speaker, Dr. Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” gave an insightful and entertaining talk about the forces of irrationality behind our decision making. Ariely is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics, MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Media Laboratory. He provided many good examples and colorful stories to prove his points, and most of them are based on experiments that support his premise that people are easily influenced and fail to know their own preferences. There are more ideas from Ariely’s talk than I can share here so if it sounds interesting to you, read the book. But I’ll share what I consider the two most important take away thoughts from the talk.

First, pay attention to how decision questions are framed. Ariely demonstrated that simply changing a question from a positive (accepting something) to a negative (rejecting something) could make a significant difference in how people responded to a decision – even if the outcome of the decision was the same in each situation. Ariely told us that humans are susceptible to visual illusions, decoys and being overwhelmed by more than a few options, and that our intuitions can be dangerous to follow. Just being aware of these basic failings should cause us carefully assess the decision situation so we truly understand the potential consequences of the decision outcome. Second, as organizations that have services and products to market it may benefit academic librarians to better understand how our users are predictably irrational so that we can better frame the decisions we give them to make. Google or a library database? Properly framed, a student may judge that the right decision involves consulting a library research guide or getting personalized help from a librarian. Telling students the library has 400 or 500 databases may sound impressive but it may actually cause them seek out web sites with far few choices – like one resource option and a single search box.

Ariely is not the first to bring to our attention that we lack the ability to make good decisions. Kahneman and Tversky were two behavioral scientists who researched human bias and risk handling. Their research showed that most people would make decisions based on loss aversion, avoiding a loss rather than making a gain. They did this by using the same technique that Ariely uses in his experiments – reframing the same situation to offer both a loss and gain proposition. In their experiments Kahneman and Tversky found people were far more likely to make decisions based on avoiding a loss, even when it was irrational. Like Ariely, Kahneman and Tversky found that our decisions could be manipulated depending on how the decision question was framed. It also reminds us that we can make bad decisions simply in trying to avoid taking a risk.

And the latest cognitive decision-making research shows that we may have even less control over our own decision making then previously thought. The Wall Street Journal reported just recently that the human brain has the capacity to make up its mind for us ten seconds before we even become conscious of a decision. A series of interesting experiments suggests that the brain uses our perceptions and experiences to plan ahead for us and to act on incomplete information to help predetermine our choices. If this is true then it may be best to base decisions on gut reactions and avoid overthinking things. But given the research of Ariely and others, our perceptive and intuitive abilities have so many flaws that it is no surprise the brain would lead us to bad decisions in any number of situations, especially those whose circumstances are so new or unpredictable that good judgment calls are difficult. So if you readers still think you have all the makings of a totally rational decision maker, better think again.

Just prior to Ariely’s presentation ACRL handed out four of its major awards. These included the winners of the doctoral reseach award and the Excellence in Academic Libraries awards. ACRL saved the presentation of its most prestigous award, ACRL Academic/Research Librarian of the Year for last. This year’s winner is Peter Hernon, professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College. Hernon is shown below with the award certificate. Oh yeah, the award winner also gets $5,000. Congratulations to Peter Hernon on being named ACRL Academic/Research Librarian of the Year.

Peter Hernon with his ACRL Academic/Research Librarian of the Year Award