Quick Thinking

cc image – flickr.com – planetschwa

Some jobs require quick thinking. Air traffic controller. ER doctor. Improv actor. They have to be great at thinking quickly and intelligently, or they are out of a job.

Librarians need quick thinking too. People want answers to questions, and they want it NOW! I got a little experience thinking on my feet when I did homework that involved practice reference transactions. I would pair up with another student and we’d practice answering questions on the spot using only free internet resources.

Now that I’m working in a public library answering questions all day, I find myself wanting to jump to conclusions or habitually only looking in certain places. My quick thinking may not suffice in the end, though, and someone leaves dissatisfied or still looking for an answer that suits their needs.

Naturally, I’ve been aware of my interactions with patrons because I’m new at this. And I really like helping people so I want to get better at it. Slowly, I’ve been collecting tips and tricks from my fellow librarians who know much more than I do. The full-time cataloger who has a few shifts at the reference desk has been extremely helpful with giving me new ways to search the catalog to find books. It’s already improved my response time tremendously. I also walk around the stacks or click around on the library’s website to get acquainted with the massive amount of information we have access to. I think another great exercise would be to give myself random questions and see how fast I could answer them.

Here’s some questions I’ve gotten lately that had my brain sputtering:

  • What are the side effects or dangers of zeolite?
    • I searched online for this “zeolite.” My first reaction to the “side effects” part was that they should consult their physician. We are not in the business of giving health advice. When the patron heard this, they were immediately discouraged and ended the interaction. After searching the internet some more, I found some basic info on the Sloan Kettering website that could have been useful to them without breaking the “no medical advice” rule.
  • Do you have any audio books about math?
    • Hmm. This was a hard one because there just wasn’t anything to fill his need. I showed him some audio books in which math was mentioned as a smaller topic within a broader science context. I did use the tips I learned from the cataloger to make my catalog search more precise.
  • Which Kennedy had an annulment?
    • I guess this one was hard because she kept saying that it was Robert Kennedy and it was actually Joseph Kennedy II. Sometimes people think they have their facts right but they don’t always. A Google search for “Kennedy annulment” did the trick. But I got stuck because of her prejudgment about who had the annulment.
  • I need some easy listening music CDs.
    • We don’t have an easy listening category in our music CD collection. I know this used to be a category when browsing in some CD stores back in the day (I remember those days….). So I had to give suggestions, like jazz or classical. Sorry, dude!



A closer look into “A Streetcar Named Desire”

After catching the film “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Turner Classic Movies the other night, I was blown away by the performances and the writing. Now an American classic, I wanted to know more about the film, its background, the process of production, and anything else about the actors, the story, the director that I could discover. I especially wanted to find some criticism that could help clarify some questions I had — for example, What is really true about Blanche’s past and her dead husband? Does Stanley actually rape Blanche? Is Stella really going to leave Stanley? Why does Blanche so eagerly kiss a strange teenager but won’t kiss Mitch? I could probably formulate my own answers if I watched the movie several times more or carefully analyzed the play, but I was interested in what published critics and academics had to say.

I went on the ProQuest database and did a simple search of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Lots of the results were review articles for recent stage adaptations, not exactly what I was looking for. I then added “AND film” to the search box, which gave me better results. The first article I read was truly eye-opening. Dowling’s “The Derailment of A Streetcar Named Desire” in Literature/Film Quarterly (1981) gave insight into the differences between the play and the film script and the role of the censorship board of the Motion Picture industry in the watering down the film’s sexual tones.

For example, a key component was left out of the story of Blanche’s previous marriage. In the play, it’s alluded to that her husband was gay and she actually walked in on him with another man. But this was completely left out of the film, with only his poetry as a single clue (and that’s not even a strong one.) This is the reason why Blanche lashed out at him and he therefore killed himself. It’s a much more well-rounded picture of the situation and of her past, something that I was missing from the film.

I also discovered that the censors wanted to completely do away with the rape scene at the climax of the story, which, thankfully, Tennessee Williams was vehemently opposed to and wrote a letter in protest of. In the play, this scene is much clearer with Stanley actually taking Blanche to his bed. The film, however, just uses the symbolic image of a shattered mirror, which was vague enough to have me wondering if the rape even happened at all.

Ultimately the producers of the film wanted to get as wide an audience as possible and therefore bent to the will of the censors who wanted to keep the public away from some of the most poignant and meaningful elements of the story for fear of the degradation of society. If I had not done a little research and read this article, I don’t think I would have found elsewhere such a detailed account of the censorship forced upon one of the greatest films in American cinema. The real tragedy of “A Streetcar Named Desire” is that it was never allowed to take its original language and intent to the silver screen.

The Power of Google

I love this infographic about how to use search operators in Google to get the best results.  Some of these strategies I knew about; some I didn’t. The tilde (~) and asterisk (*) are my two new favorites.

Originally posted by Hack College under a Creative Commons license.

First Reference Transaction!

After starting my first shift ever at the reference desk at J.W. England Library, University of the Sciences, I got a reference question in the first 5 minutes. That was fast!
Her initial question was about if we had access to an article. After some back and forth, we determined that article wasn’t exactly what her professor was looking for. It was a news article and not a scholarly journal article. So her initial question turned into a different problem that we needed to solve.
Now she needed to go back into the CINAHL and the Cochrane Databases but she had received very little results from her first search or results that weren’t relelvant. Her problem was that she was using very specific keywords, which worked for some databases but not so great for others, and didn’t revise her search strategy when the results were poor.
I showed her several ways she could expand her search–by using synonyms and wildcards, looking at subject headings of relevant articles, and limiting her results by date or subject.
She left the desk satisfied. It was my first official success at the reference desk as a newly-minted librarian!
Go me!

What Google’s search filters could mean for the future of creative thinking

In The Filter Bubble, author Eli Pariser presents various reasons why Internet personalization filters are bad for us.  The part that I’ve been most interested in is how these “filter bubbles” affect our ability to think creatively.

As an undergrad working on my English thesis, I had an a-ha moment when I was developing my topic.  I was pulling information not just from my knowledge of literature and writing, but going a step further to connect this with facts and ideas from other disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, and science.  My brain was connecting all kinds of dots to create a bigger, more fully realized picture.  Because I had taken a variety of courses and exposed myself to topics outside of my usual comfort zone, I had access to broader resources which made my thesis more interesting and, I think, more accessible to those outside of the English department.

A major reason for this process and outcome was a result of my ability to think creatively and “outside the box.”  And yet, this is precisely what Pariser believes will deteriorate with the increasing popularity of personalization filters on the Internet.  These filters find out who we are and what we like, think, and believe and then proceed to give us more of the same.  It severely limits our exposure to news, facts, and ideas that we otherwise may not see or hear about.  Pariser explains that “ingenuity comes from the juxtaposition of ideas that are far apart” (p. 93).  When we are no longer seeing ideas from other disciplines, opinions, and modes of thinking because of a filter bubble, we lose our ingenuity and our access to the innovative mind.  Serendipity is deleted from the equation.

As a librarian and Millenial, I have grown up with this paradigm shift — from getting information from books, newspapers, radio, and television, to the Internet being the sole information source for some, if not most, people.  I still read books and newspapers.  I listen to the radio to catch up on the news.  Yet, I’m beginning to see how the filter bubble is affecting younger generations.  As an after school leader of a library drop-in homework help program, I try to refer kids to print media first but so many of them say that they would prefer to go on the Internet to look up a fact or answer a few homework questions.  They would rather wait a half hour or longer for a computer to open up instead of taking 5 minutes to look through a book.  Print media is serendipidous in the way it is organized.  This younger generation is missing out on the chance to be surprised and amazed by things they don’t know yet.  By flipping through an encyclopedia, dictionary, atlas, or any non-fiction book, kids explore information in a way that the Internet and search engines are not suited for.  Children are seeing less and less of the bigger picture and therefore will be impaired later in life when creative and critical thinking skills are highly valued.

Librarians should be aware of the filter bubble and find ways to measure and combat its deleterious effects on our intellectual culture.