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Chapter Event Report: Has Google in a Box Replaced Critical Thinking?

The SLA Annual Luncheon attendees enjoyed a delicious meal in an extraordinary historical setting on June 27, 2012. Thirty-two librarians convened within the lovely ambience of Rhodes Hall’s tiled fireplaces, parquet floors, wall murals and hand painted windows. Originally built as a retirement home in Romanesque Revival style for Amos Rhodes, today it is a turn-of-the-century house museum.  Lou Palmer, representing our sponsor Cengage Learning, attended as a special guest.

In addition to the catered lunch, our program featured a dynamic presentation by Susan Klopper, the Executive Director of Goizueta Business School at Emory University. She shared her perspectives on the state of the profession and how we should move forward.  Susan revealed her frustration and sadness  about what she sees happening and not happening — both within the library programs and also in the professional associations.  She described how she struggles with a generation of users who are accustomed to search using a blank box without regard to the context, the authority or the quality of the information results.  In a world in which we need information to solve problems and to make decisions, she hopes we can be part of the solution to the lack of critical thinking.  What keeps her awake at night: business school students are graduating today without having developed critical thinking skills and without the confidence they need to facilitate discovery.  How will they know what questions to ask?

We might think that a good response to this deficit would be to educate our community how to be intelligent consumers.  “We now have students who know nothing other than Google in a box,” she says. And she doesn’t see that changing.  But she also wonders if we as information professionals are equipped to teach them.  How do we teach asking the right questions?  How do we teach synthesizing data, recognizing value, and receptivity to discovery?  How do we dispel the concept of Google in a box as encapsulating search?  How do we make users take responsibility as consumers of information?  How do we initiate conversation around taking information seriously?

She does not look to information literacy as the answer.  She asks, “What does success look like for your organization?”  And she advises, “Start with the customer — it doesn’t start with us.”  Talk to your customers; then learn and embrace their language.  It is not about the information literacy model, but more about tools and a framework of thinking well.  She recommends a SWOT analysis in which strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are delineated.

Susan suggest that such an analysis is an iterative process that involves risks, small steps and failures.  She referenced an article written by Michael Porter in the Harvard Business Review with the title, “The Five Forces That Shape Strategy.”   In the article, he discusses the process of assessing the competitive marketplace and then carefully evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) in your strategy.   Such an analysis can be a team annual exercise.  Susan said “We conduct an internal SWOT of the team —  but when addressing the questions, we ask from the perspective of our customers.”  She added, “It can be a humbling experience but well worth it.”  Honesty, on-pointedness, and focus are required for this process.

Susan offered this link which demonstrates the essence of a SWOT analysis.

What followed the presentation was a lively discussion that was unfortunately all too brief.   Here are some ideas that were shared:  learning is an organizational process, so it is not about better service.  Our job is to help users be successful in their information search.  And, finally, we live in a shallow society with deep business — and information — concerns.   Critical thinking and analysis are crucial.

Lynda L. Larsen
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP

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