Plus ca change…

First it was vinyl LPs making a comeback–slowly, but still….  Now it’s “monotasking,” otherwise known as “single-tasking” or just “paying attention.”

“Monotasking Gets a Makeover” in the New York Times.

The attentive work I prefer as a librarian is reading, writing, and helping library users to use the library more effectively. Effectiveness isn’t efficiency, or Google would replace library work. (No, it hasn’t.) The complexity of a library system is too often derided because it’s misunderstood. “All these books, so confusing. How do I find something on Ernest Hemingway? I googled it but couldn’t find anything useful.”  The library catalog is a system to find things and to put like things together in a more rational way than the random or popular results from an open Internet search. These operations are called classification and collocation.

Sometimes effective library use comes from retrieving articles from journal databases; sometimes it comes from browsing a book collection in hopes that ideas will come to your mind by looking at what other minds have written and published. Or you might just look at the new book display until a colorful cover catches your eye.

Browsing is much easier in traditional published books than in online files. Thomas Mann, a former private detective, LSU student, and Library of Congress reference librarian, has written about browsing as a legitimate research technique. In fact, the organization and retrieval functions of databases are modeled on old-style library searching.

Here’s a serendipitous example. A person from the maintenance staff is looking for a book he consults occasionally, “a Bob Vila kind of book,” but he doesn’t know its title and can’t explain exactly what it’s about. Hence, while I can’t look it up for him, he can browse the stacks until he sees it. Not very efficient, but he’s happy. (When he does find it, I’ll ask him to show it to me so the browsing can be  made more efficient as well as effective). Eureka!



One comment on “Plus ca change…

  1. Randy Nichols says:

    What a wonderful blog. Late in life I am coming to appreciate “mono-tasking.” And I love to browse…libraries, book stores, grocery stores, and markets.

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