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Summer Solstice and Summer Reading

21 Jun
Summer

Just hanging out in the summer sunshine.

Today marks the longest day for us here in the Northern Hemisphere. Time to welcome summer! I read an article this morning on STAT listing 23 of the best health and science books to read this summer and it got me to thinking about my own picks. In my last post, I mentioned David Epstein’s new book, Range. I’ve almost finished it and give it two big thumbs up. Here’s what else is in my pile for the summer:

First, a couple of things for work. Being new to management, I picked up Kevin Hoffman’s, Meeting Design, which talks about how to use design principles to plan and facilitate better meetings. If there’s one thing I quickly remembered when I returned to the library last summer, it’s that we have LOTS of meetings. I might as well learn some ways to make them both more efficient and maybe even a little fun.

Meeting-Design-front-cover-640x960

I also have Julie Zhuo’s very readable, The Making of a Manager, on my desk. A Silicon Valley product designer, Zhuo found herself in a management role a good bit before she expected. She offers up first-hand stories of lessons she’s learned, along with great tips for finding your own way. And it’s got fun comics by Pablo Stanley throughout. 

Zhuo

Finally, my fun summer read (it’s likely gonna take me all summer to read it, too), is the really enjoyable Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It’s the choice of my book club for the summer and I’m finding it fascinating. Great pick!

PF+Pulitzer+sticker

What’s on your list for the summer? Share in the comments section.

BONUS: It’s also Make Music Day, a world-wide celebration of the joy of music. I hope everyone is able to find a good book and some good, live music to make this a wonderful day!

Practice, Practice, Practice … or maybe not

7 Jun
retreat.JPG

Retreating is Hard Work!

Sorry to miss last week’s post. Just as I was getting back in my Friday writing groove, we had a joint department retreat here in my library. GREAT stuff happened there, but it kept me from writing. Not from thinking, though. Oooh… have I been thinking. 

I’m in the midst of reading David Epstein’s latest book, Range. I read the NY Times Book Review about it and immediately ordered a copy. It’s a fascinating read and so very relevant to the work that we do as librarians and/or information professionals. I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, so I can’t give a complete overview of the theories discussed, but so far, I’m pretty well convinced that the argument he is making rings true.

In brief, Epstein suggests that in a world that’s becoming more and more specialized, it’s the generalists who will thrive. He builds on the work of psychologists Gary Klein and Daniel Kahneman who have studied human decision making, and in particular, how the contexts in which decisions are made affect gaining expertise in an area. Robin Hogarth, another psychologist, goes further, identifying these learning environments as either “wicked” or “kind.” In a kind learning environment, “patterns repeat over and over, and feedback is extremely accurate and usually rapid.” (p. 21) Think swinging a golf club or learning Chopin’s Prelude in E minor on the piano. Over and over and over you’ll need to practice, in order to be any good at it. 

Compare this to what’s required to become really good at addressing an ebola outbreak or finding solutions to the climate crisis or figuring out if we can really do long-term space flight. Compare it to becoming really good at helping people not only find credible facts in a sea of opinions, but also determining the difference between the two. Think about problems that have no easy answers – or any answer at all. This is much more the world we live in and our habit of relying on past experience over and over again, much like practicing a golf swing, just might not be the best for us.

Perfect example… I subscribe to and regularly read the STAT Morning Rounds newsletter that appears in my inbox daily. A recent piece on the opioid crisis highlights the work of Dr. Stefan Kertesz, a primary care physician in Birmingham, AL. Dr. Kertesz has many patients who, over time, have developed a dependency on opioids thanks to the practice of overprescribing that’s been well-documented over the last few years. In reaction to this past behavior, the CDC proposed guidelines for prescribing in 2016. The issue, as often occurs, is that guidelines quickly become mandates. It’s simply easier for agencies or insurance companies or governing bodies to enforce a mandate rather than accept a guideline.

The problem with this, it seems, is that setting hard and fast limits on prescribing is applying a “kind” solution to a very “wicked” problem. It strips the patient and all of his/her variables and uncertainties from the equation. As Dr. Kertesz states, while tapering patients off of opioids is certainly to be encouraged, these are choices that physicians need to make in conjunction with their patients. “Backing mandatory limits, he said, assumes that what’s going to happen at the systems level will effect the best clinician.” 

To bring this all back to my work as a librarian, a terrific piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education* last week spoke to the affect that Google (and other search engines, not to mention the structure of the Internet, in general) has had on our presumptions about knowledge. We’ve become so accustomed to the practice of having a question, typing it into a search engine, and receiving back a lengthy list of results, that we’ve been lulled into believing that a list of results equates to an answer to our question. As the author so succinctly states it, “Search engines have created the illusion that vastly more information exists than ever before and that this information lies just a keystroke away. Today people ‘search’ rather than ‘study.'” Spot on, I say.

*My apologies if you cannot get to the article in the Chronicle. It requires a subscription.

I’m often leery of the swooning love affair I perceive when it comes to research, science, decision-making … you name it … around the role of both big data and artificial intelligence (not as a single thing, but the two separate “Ooooooh… it’s the solution to everything” mindset attached to both). Will they bring us significant breakthroughs in complicated problems? No doubt. Will they solve everything? I’m not so sure. I find a bit more truth here:

The progress of AI in the closed and orderly world of chess, with instant feedback and bottomless data, has been exponential. In the rule-bound but messier world of driving, AI has made tremendous progress, but challenges remain. In a truly open-world problem  devoid of rigid rules and reams of perfect historical data, AI has been disastrous. IBM’s Watson destroyed at Jeopardy! and was subsequently pitched as a revolution in cancer care, where it flopped so spectacularly that several AI experts told me they worried its reputation would taint AI research in health-related fields. As one oncologist put it, ‘The difference between winning at Jeopardy! and curing all cancer is that we know the answer to Jeopardy! questions.’ With cancer, we’re still working on posing the right questions in the first place. (Range, David Epstein, p. 29)

But then, of course, Watson never played Emma the librarian in Jeopardy!, either. 🙂

Happy Friday!

 

 

New Year, New Month, New Project!

1 Feb

Podcast-Art-1

You may recall that I’ve mentioned more than once how I wanted to start producing a podcast called, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.” The podcast features interviews with people who have interesting hobbies and/or activities outside of their regular 9-5 working life. People like an X-Ray technician who organizes ukulele clubs all over town, a biomedical researcher who plays drums in a rock band, a science center director who grows hops and brews beer, an IRB director who travels all over the country as a birdwatcher, a medical librarian who writes about baseball, and on and on. The thing is that while we may live in a society and a culture that tries hard to define us by our work, not everyone falls prey to such thinking. I’ve met many people who live full lives outside of their jobs and while their jobs are often quite meaningful, they get a lot out of the other pursuits, too.

One theme that I’m exploring with these interviews is the role of creativity and how being creative in one aspect of our lives influences and benefits others. It’s something that I’m always wondering about and thought it would be cool to explore it via these chats.

And so … I’m super excited to report that I published my very first episode yesterday! I’ll be posting future episodes to this blog (my goal is a couple each month), but you can also visit my Libysn site and subscribe to the RSS feed there. You’ll also be able to find the feed soon, i.e. by the end of this week, in iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Downcast, and other popular podcasting spots.

If you’re interested, I hope you tune in! (Click the link below to access my podcast page.) I’d love to get feedback and love even more to have volunteers for interviews. If you’ve got a cool gig outside of your workplace, tell me about it!

Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Episode 1: A Guy Walks into a Bar with a Ukulele

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