The Perception Filter

Right now, I’m reading The Science of Fear by Daniel Gardner. One of my coping techniques for anxiety is to rationalize the actual danger, so in reading this book I’m trying to take a peek behind the cerebral curtain. It’s certainly not a cure for all the irrational fun that is our minds, but I am enjoying getting a better sense of how the internal process can warp or skew risks and threats. It’s been a good companion in the bath even as I sit there and imagine all the potential dangers that lurk around me that never cross my mind compared to the remote ones that do. (A slip and fall is certainly more likely than, say, a nuclear accident. I swear it’s not adding to my anxiety.)

One of the chapters I was reading talks about the importance of perception and the difference between what we think and the reality of a situation. At the conclusion of reading this chapter, I started to think if what kind of gaps exist within the public library world. There is the ever popular statement “We are more than just books”, a silly little toss-away line that gets dragged out when a non-librarian associated the library with books. Yet, our most recent controversies revolve around books (mainly the e-version), book discussion groups continue to be a staple library program offering, and librarians themselves will brag and compare how many books they can grab up at a conference. I’d reckon that books (physical or digital) still dominate the material purchasing budget as well for the majority of public libraries which begs the question as to whether the statement should actually say, “We are more than just books, but not by much.” In our attempts to cast off the book stereotype, we have still tethered ourselves to them.

I myself fall into the trap of dismissing Google by saying that it doesn’t have all the answers when there is so much that is not online or hidden by paywalls. But when someone asks me a reference question, that’s where my fingers first go for the initial search. It’s only when it is determined to not be on Google that I start looking at the other potential offline sources. On the basis of the my experience over the years, I’d say that any question is most likely to have some kind of answer on Google than not; it’s only when it gets to be a hyper-local or extremely niched topic that it comes up truly empty. It seems odd now to disparage a first tier tool simply because it doesn’t have all of the answers, something that is an impossibility of the highest order.

I’m not sure if anyone will agree with me publically on this point, but I feel that there is a perception skew when it comes to professional awards and recognition. In recognizing outstanding efforts, activities, and activism, there feels like an additional underlying question as to whether the individual Deserves it or not. The capitalization in that last sentence is not an accident but to draw attention on the emphasis that some librarians place on the worthiness of award recipients. From talking with others and comparing notes, it’s the notions of “paid their dues”, “being the right sort of person to promote”, and “it’s their turn” all rolled up into one unstated criteria for professional praise*. The profession wants to showcase people doing good work, but woe to the awardee if they fail in any of these categories. I’d say it’s probably the main reason why we have so few librarians who actually break out to national recognition compared to other fields. Given all the talk about championing the library in the eyes of the public, the profession takes great lengths to prevent anyone from rising above the rest.

(As to this last point, I’ve been wanting to write more on that point based on my own experiences and the anecdotes I’ve heard from other librarians.)

So, do you think these are gaps or not? Or are there other gaps that I didn’t mention? (I’m sure there are, so I’m relying on you to share them.)

7 thoughts on “The Perception Filter

  1. The big gap, to me, is the dearth of librarians who really understand, use, and can teach technology in a library that’s supposed to be about technology. The younger ones are presumed to know it — which tends to preclude real learning or teaching — and the older ones are presumed to be unable to learn it — which tends to convince them that learning is impossible. For a field dedicated to lifelong learning and being able to support what we provide (which includes a lot of technology), it seems to me that technophiles are few on the ground.

  2. Interesting post. Re: award recipients. A 20-year colleague told me that it also has a lot to do with who you know. You may do outstanding work, get published, present, etc. but if you are not active nationally, and don’t pay your dues, you’ll likely not get noticed.

    I also agree with Mike: There is a technology disconnect.

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  4. I like what you’ve said about perception. There are still people who seemingly think that libraries should be about books exclusively as they complain about people just checking out DVDs. I was walking around my public library branch the other day noticing how many kids were studying, how many older patrons were reading newspapers and magazines. I see every day how people use study rooms, to, well, study.
    Amongst all that we realize we are more than books. But I would hope that at the core we should acknowledge reading is our gravitational pull. Books are changing, but the importance of reading isn’t. Even if its informational reading on-line.
    The recent foray of the ALA branding @yourlibrary missed the mark. While it acknowledged our recognition and response to technological change it left behind the core value. I agree with your assessment of a library’s book stereotype but I would like to look at it as not a tether but a slingshot.

  5. About awards. I think the development of leaders is important and I think recognition is a big part of that. Although, I do want selection criteria to be made more transparent and I think the sheer number of awards available is too many. Too many awards kind of downplays the recognition factor especially when you have to explain to EVERYONE what the award was for.

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