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“And it was here, in this blighted place, that he learned to live again.”
Mad Max 2

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought to light many institutional deficiencies, some of which have to do with not properly placing the authority for decision-making with the most knowledgeable people, while others illustrate our over-reliance on historical precedents in not taking full advantage of available technology. Due to a policy change by my administration, I am now telecommuting full time. Several online content providers are lifting their paywalls. …

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“Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.”
—Mary Elizabeth Frye

One of these days, hopefully a long time from now, the sun will rise, but I won’t be around to see it. And at some point, most likely, even the sun will set for its final time. As much as I’ve started to ruminate on such inevitabilities, as someone well in to middle age, I don’t think anyone, or at least anyone all that healthy, truly understands the significance of our mortality.

Death is part of life. Our eventual demise impacts everyone’s behavior in many ways, although we may not always be conscious of those influences. Some psychological models, especially the terror management theory, go so far as to identify our eventual non-existence as a source for many of our core beliefs. Perhaps that’s an oversimplification of people’s actions, yet then again, we do have a propensity for overthinking things as well. …

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Photo by Jerry Zhang

“If you’re still using an OPAC, I’m sorry.”
—Andrew Pace, LITA 2014 Forum

Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-two hour marathon is not recognized as a world record because, among other things, he grabbed water bottles from a pace scooter rather than marginally slowing down to pick them up from a non-moving source. Compare to how the cycling “hour record” stood unchanged for decades, until in 2014 the governing body revised its regulations regarding the type of equipment allowed, causing the record to be broken a half-dozen times since.

Another athletic controversy is brewing over the Nike shoes worn by Kipchoge and other record holders, raising the question of if, like those now-banned full-body swimsuits, the shoes are tantamount to “mechanical doping.” Nike’s position on the topic has been rather flippant, stating that, “We do not create any running shoes that return more energy than the runner expends.” Well, neither do rollerblades, although I don’t see those being used on the track. …

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“If you want those who come after you to jump through the same hoops you had to (instead of making their lives easier), please seek therapy. They shouldn’t have to go through whatever hardship you went through, and *you* shouldn’t have had to go through that either.”
—Chelsea Misquith

The Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, an icon of opulent French nobility, was so decorated largely because, as Wikipedia explains, “In the 17th century, mirrors were among the most expensive items to possess.” Compared to palace visitors at that time, people noticing a bathroom mirror from the hardware store in my house are probably somewhat less awed by its splendor. …

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Photo by Lorraine Kisselburgh

“Don’t ever invite a vampire into your house, you silly boy. It renders you powerless.”
The Lost Boys

“We just want to make sure he wasn’t looking at child pornography,” one of the uniformed police officers told me. I was the evening reference librarian on duty and the cops had shown up because a drunk patron (not one of our regulars, like the “sunglasses man” or “baseball cap guy” who frequent many public libraries), bottle in hand, was causing a commotion.

Even though I was just a year or two out of library school, where we had gone over patron privacy and the need to protect people’s reading histories, the instinct to obey a request from law enforcement personnel was even stronger: I don’t recall really hesitating about walking over to the workstation and pressing CTRL+H. We didn’t find anything notable, and the tipsy man was taken away, presumably for a night in the drunk tank. …

§ Sherpas and Chimpanzees

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“It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
—Franklin D. Roosevelt

Consider the following thought experiment: Pretend you put five monkeys in a room, along with a ladder and bananas that are tied to the ceiling. Our fellow primates are smart enough to use tools, and so soon enough, one of them starts climbing the ladder to reach the bananas. At this time, however, an alarm sounds and the entire room is sprayed with ice cold water.

Operant conditioning being what it is, the five monkeys quickly learn not to climb the ladder. You then take one of these monkeys out of the room, and introduce a new one. The rookie monkey will, of course, attempt to climb the ladder, but will also, just as certainly, be stopped in various ways from doing so by the four veteran monkeys. …

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“The world we need can’t be built by men loyal to the world we have.”
—Daenerys Targaryen

Unlike the proverbial restaurant with only one table or a magical apparatus that can change its appearance for each observer, my library’s website has been constructed to accommodate an approximate user base totaling, once you account for non-affiliated and community users, upwards of 30,000 readers. All of those people likely view things in a unique way, and I’m not just talking about the variations in their screen size.

Although we don’t provide a customizable interface (e.g., the MyLibrary portals of the Library 2.0 heyday, or the now defunct iGoogle) or segregated platforms (i.e., a gateway maintained exclusively for students, along with another one intended for faculty), and there are admittedly ways that different patrons have different needs, our services are largely each offered for everyone, which includes having a single homepage. …

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“Weakness and ignorance are not barriers to survival, but arrogance is.”
Death’s End

I’ve worked on an assembly line, doing tasks that were less economical to automate than it was paying me nearly minimum wage to accomplish. Thinking back on the nature of my work, I can only hope that’s no longer the case. Put another way, do we really want our descendants to pursue careers flipping burgers?

Every generation of library search tools has fixed problems with previous iterations of such systems, but while also inadvertently giving rise to some new ways that things can go wrong. Those obstacles are part of the path towards technological progress, and almost hardly ever sufficient reason to abandon more modern methods. …

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“If you’re not willing to make decisions without consensus, overt approval from all stakeholders, and a clear and obvious ‘winning’ option, don’t take jobs like mine.”
— Jenica P. Rogers (Director of Libraries and College Archives, SUNY Potsdam)

Relatively few famous works of art were designed by a committee. Even the more communal productions, such as movies, often have a single individual leading and delegating to others the work necessary for generating the result of a cohesive artistic vision. In contrast, scientific research and scholarly writing are more commonly created by multiple authors. …

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“Am I so out of touch? No, it’s the children who are wrong.”
— Principal Skinner, The Simpsons

My click-baity title is something of an unfair generalization. There are exceptions, of which I am one. And there are also plenty of times when a specialized interface, say to do chemical structure searching, is the most useful tool for the job. Such cases, however, are increasingly becoming anomalies, considering the growing usefulness of a “one stop shopping” approach as taken by integrated library discovery layers.

I’m reminded of a recent photograph showing horses coming to the rescue by towing a semi-truck. It’s an endearing image, but then again, how many of us ride a horse to work? People have a natural inclination to nitpick the limitations of new technologies while also doubling down on increasingly outdated methods. Not that newer is necessarily better, as evidenced by the haphazard “upgrades” to WorldCat and Nexis Uni, both of which revamped their platform with slick designs but ditched some rather basic functionality in the process. …


John Hubbard

Librarian at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

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