A Collective Mind or the Borg are Coming

A rat with a brain-to-brain implant
Photograph: Scientific Reports via The Guardian article

I’ve been searching for something to blog about this week and I hadn’t come up with anything that spoke to me, until today. Researchers have successfully connected the brains of two rats together and allowing them to share sensory information over the Internet.   In the experiments, the rats were connected so that when one rat correctly pressed a level for a reward, the signal was sent to the second rat who then responded correctly and got the reward as well.  At first the experiments were conducted locally but then the Internet was used to connect a rat in the U.S. to one in Brazil.

So what does this bring to humanity or more focused, to librarianship?  Well the first thing that I thought when reading this article was . . . The Borg!  Resistance is Futile!

Star Trek

So will humanity become a collective mind sharing knowledge from around the globed.  This ties into another blog post I read earlier in the week and invokes another movie reference: In Japan, The Matrix Is Now Reality As Humans Are Used As Living Batteries.

OK, so despite the fact that a functional human mind-melding  global humanity is decades away, what would be the potential of this technology to librarianship?

Movie “Signs”

When attempting to demonstrate how to search for an item to a student, especially when that student is remotely connected, it can be a trying  task with deadends and missed directions.  Even with remote viewing capabilities, sometimes the understanding of the process can be lost.  Now bring in direct mind-to-mind connectivity.  The librarian could transmit his/her thoughts to the patron and connect at a deep level of understanding.  Google would love to connect librarians to their collective so that searchers would be able to directly connect to subject experts.  If searches take milliseconds now, imagine direct mind-conducted searches.  “I already know the answer before I even thought about the question.”  Would we stop there?  What about connecting to the mind of an expert in a scientific field to gather access for a book report?  How would you cite that information?  Would there be controls (well most definitely) to allow guarded access?  Would foil hats come into style?

This is a lighthearted exploration of “What-if’s?”  But as technology continues to create new ways to gather, collect and access information.  Librarians will need to be at the forefront to make sense of these tools, less they overwhelm us (Skynet).

For a more scientific reference to the Brain-to-Brain research see the following article:

Pais-Vieira, M., Lebedev, M., Kunicki, C., Wang, J., & Nicolelis, M. A. L. (2013). A brain-to-brain interface for real-time sharing of sensorimotor information. Scientific Reports, 3. doi: 10.1038/srep01319


Book Report – Blink


Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking” has been sitting on my shelf since my librarian mother-in-law gave it to me as a Christmas gift probably around its release in 2005.  I started reading it but got distracted by other things.  I’ve always wanted to read it and now I had the time (or made the time).

In his book Gladwell explains the way our mind jumps to correct conclusions based on our subconscious’s ability to size up a situation immediately and make snap decisions.  Some would call this intuition to others it is a process to be studied.  This process of rapid cognition is where “our unconscious finds patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience” is called “thin-slicing” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 23).  This process can be an amazing benefit as when art experts are able to judge the validity of art statures at a glance.  Or when the longevity of a marriage can be determined with 80% accuracy by viewing couples engaging in single conversation.  But there are times in which our rapid cognition fails or we fail to recognize it.  These times include the President Harding effect when the likability factory overrides our better judgments of character or when we are given to think that having an abundance of information will guarantee positive outcomes such as in the Millennium Challenge war games exercise.

This book explored the positive and negative effects of our ability to make decisions in a blink of an eye.  Rather than calling it intuition and leaving it at that, Gladwell explores this hidden process by gathering the accumulative scientific knowledge that has been studying this affect and illustrating them through examples.

What can Librarians Learn?

While being able to predict which newlyweds will still be together in ten years or how to spot double-faults in tennis are interesting examples of thin-slicing, they do not seem to be of much help to a librarian performing his/her normal duties.  What other information can we gather from “Blink” that is important to librarians?

One of the examples that Gladwell details through a few examples in his book is the ability of people to “mind read” others’ thought processes by observing, if only subconsciously, facial cues.  Psychologist John Gottman trains other psychologists to be able to determine a marriage’s success is based on spotting slight facial changes, lasting only milliseconds, like anger, jealousy, fear and contempt when the couples engage in normal conversations.  The works of Silvan Thomkins and Paul Ekman mapped out the range of hundreds of facial muscle movements as they correspond to emotions.  So I imagine a time in which a reference library can use these facial cues to assist a patrons during  a reference interview.  Patrons often come to the reference librarian with a vague notion of what they are searching for.  Getting at the heart of the inquiry can be a long process of questions and probing.  Some librarians can instinctively fill in what patrons are leaving out of their description. But if librarians in the future are trained to spot facial cues, the same way the marriage observers are trained to spot marital stress, then they can identify what a patron really wants quicker and more accurately.  The librarian becomes a mind reader, so-to-speak.

Having too much information and operating within a ridged set of processes is not always ideal.  ER doctors must evaluate patients complaining of chest pains quickly. Family history, weight, diet, medical conditions and many other factors have to consider before admitting them.  But it has been proven that by disregarding all the possible condition combinations and asking four questions produces a more accurate diagnoses of  myocardial infarction.  In another example, the Millennium Challenge war games pitted the superior Blue Team with its  greater military force, abundant intelligence and command scenarios for conceivable enemy actions against the lesser equipped Red Team.   Retired Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper was given the command of the fictional Red Team.  The Blue Team with its vastly superior means of gathering and accessing the battlefield information was expected to win.  Van Riper’s inferior Red Team struck a decisive blow to the Blue Team in the first few days of the war-games scenario.  Red Team out smarted the informational superior Blue Team by using non-conventional tactics; thinking outside the box.

Librarians can use the same principles when helping patrons.  The job of librarians is to help patrons navigate the overwhelming amounts of information available to patrons.  Having too much information, like with Team Blue, can cause inaction through over analysis.  Instead of approaching a reference problem the same way each time, librarians should gather the skills to be free thinkers and think outside the conventions.  This helped Van Riper and it can help librarians.

There is a final trick of the mind that Gladwell explains in the chapter section aptly titled “Taking Care of the Customer.”  It is about a car salesman who out preforms his colleagues by not pressuring the customers and treating everyone equally; in other words, turning off his unconscious, immediate thin-slicing assessment and letting his interaction with the customer guide the direction of communication exchange.  Gladwell explains that people can be conditioned act differently if they are prepared  beforehand.  This is shown convincingly when it comes to race.  What can the librarian learn?  Librarians need to be more like the successful salesperson and be prepared to turn off our preconceived notions.  This is especially important with it comes to intellectual freedom and the right of patrons to read whatever they want without judgement.  Or when it comes time to acquire materials for the library, having an open mind that is not prejudging the materials is important.  Sometimes our first impressions are not the best.

For more information, I found this thirty minute interview of Malcolm Gladwell discussing “Blink”

(Grgg, 2010)


Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The power of thinking wihout thinking. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Gregg, A. (Nov. 6, 2010). Malcolm Gladwell – Blink – full show  Retrieved 2/21/2013, from http://youtu.be/3TRioBKpUwY

Digital Public Library of America

I come across this link from a reference in a ILS vendor’s newsletter.  I have not heard about the Digital Library of America project (http://dp.la/about/).  This sounds like an interesting approach to a national library of sorts.  Here’s a snippet from their About page,

The DPLA is leading the first concrete steps toward the realization of a large-scale digital public library that will make the cultural and scientific record available to all.”


Course Reflections So Far

I am taking LIBR 202 – Information Retrieval and LIBR 287 – The Hyperlinked Library.   The first is a core class and the later is a cool class.   I have a deep down desire to learn more about fundamental library services like cataloging, reference and searching.   LIBR 202 and the other core classes will teach me about these fundamentals but I am constantly inspired by the Hyperlinked Library class.  I come to work with ideas from LIBR 287 more so than from the core class.  The Hyperlinked Library course is current, taking on topics such as participatory services which I can see needing encouragement to grow at the Del Webb.  I know the fundamentals are important and the group project is fun but my other class generates far more ideas.

Reflections on Participatory Services – Please DO Feed the Blog Monster

Blog Monster

The first idea that comes to mind when I hear the words Participatory Library is great idea, but you got to participate to make it work.  What?  I have been the administrator that sets up blogs for my university.  The potential blogger will come back from a conference or committee ranting and raving as to how useful and easy blogs are to use.  The blogger will request that a blog be set up for such-and-such purpose.  After approval, I setup the blog in our campus’ WordPress site, explain that they can log in using their Active Directory username and password,  and hand-off the blog stating that they can contact me if they have questions or would like to request a particular theme.  Mostly what happens is that the blogger will have a few inspired posts and then the content stops.

Blogs need one thing to keep them alive: content.  They feed on a constant diet of new ideas but sadly it has been my experience that most blogs starve to death due to a lack of content.  There have been exceptions:  a student blog of their experiences on campus (maybe they are graded on it) and the library’s News blog is going strong.  But this is where participation takes on its two-way definition.  The library’s LibNews blog is one-way communication.  We allow comments and engage serious responses but mostly all we get are spam-bots (over 1,000 / week automatically filtered).

How do we encourage, foster and grow our participatory library?  How do we engage out patrons?  My library has a Facebook page and we allow for tagging in the catalog record.  I think we need to take a more proactive role to be more participatory.  I think we are like other libraries in that we can say that we have a Facebook account, blog, Twitter account or an enhanced catalog but we just enable the said feature, put it out and do not promote it. We forget to feed the blog monster.

There are two difficulties: the staff and the patrons / students.  Both have the same excuses, “We’re too busy to write a blog or comment on blog.”   So, we need to give the staff and patrons reasons to want to be participatory.  Why would they want to create a post or leave a comment?  Staff can be arm-twisted into writing entries; making the processes part of their jobs perhaps. Students cannot be manipulated as such.  We have to give them something positive to comment on.  Ask questions out right to the students, “Do you like the new Mac computers on third floor?”  Create simple surveys or polls.  Post informative information.  From this class and others to follow, I hope to bring fresh ideas like these to my library’s meetings and change the culture from one that sits behind the service desk to one that might not even have a desk at all.

-Gerald Rezes

Turn off comments on pages

I typically do not like leaving comments turned on for “Pages” but I couldn’t figure out how to disable them.  The solution was on the screen, but hidden.

From the discussion thread: http://wordpress.org/support/topic/disable-comments-for-page-option

1. Click Pages on the vertical menu located near the left side of the Admin panel. A submenu will open, revealing two submenu items: Pages and Add New. The Pages admin page will also open.

2. Click the title of the page you want to disable comments on – or hover over that title and select the Edit option below it. The Page Editor will open.

3. At the upper right corner of the page editor, right below the greeting “Howdy,”, click Screen Options tab. The hidden panel Show on Screen will slide open, containing a certain number of checkboxes and radio buttons.

4. Place a check mark in the Discussion checkbox.

5. Click again the Screen Options tab to slide hidden the Show on Screen panel. (this step is optional, if you’d like to keep the Show on Screen panel open, it won’t in any way interfere with the next step.)

6. Scroll down to the bottom of the Page Editor, to see the Discussion Widget that magically appeared where it wasn’t before.

7. Deselect “Allow comments” and “Allow trackbacks and pingbacks” checkboxes.

8. Click Update button.

Et voila, you’ve just disabled the comments on that page!

Be careful what you blog – you might get sued

“A university librarian who is being sued after writing a critical blog post about a scholarly publisher is finding support from professors and librarians around the world.” –Jake New

Full article:  http://chronicle.com/article/Librarians-Rally-Behind/137329/

Another article: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/02/litigation/press-sues-librarian-over-negative-evaluation/