Monday, June 11, 2007

Are "How We Done It Bad" Abstracts Making the Cut?

Reading Steve Lawson's recent comment about conference presentations describing projects that didn't work in his See Also post How we done it...bad got me thinking. (The site is not responding for me today, so here is an an alternative Feedburner feed.)

I wonder if the relatively low number of "how we done it bad" presentations is a problem with the conference abstract review process. How many potential "how we done it bad" presentations are left as abstracts on the cutting room floor? Do conference planners select those abstracts that support their perspectives, or, are they so overly concerned than attendees walk away with a positive feeling that they filter out the "how we done it bad"?

On a related note, last year Rick Anderson (a fellow LJ Mover & Shaker 'rebel' class of '05 ) put out a call for such articles for a column in the publication Against the Grain . Yet, a recent review of the table of contents reveals that the column has yet to run. Is the column still in the cue or did the call not receive any response?

Could all of this (gulp) potentially indicate that there may be a more systematic bias in the library profession towards reporting only favorable outcomes? Are unsuccessful projects being modified in mid-stream to create positive outcomes in order to not look incompetent? Are only the successful aspects of an unsuccessful project being communicated? Or, even worse yet, are unsuccessful projects are being spun as being successful?

Just as studying diseases helps health care professionals understand how to nurture good health behaviors, understanding our failures can provide libraries with new understanding. Unsuccessful projects provide an opportunity to learn from mistakes and minimize the risk of making similar mistakes. Disseminating all outcomes is a key to our continued survival and evolution. Sphere: Related Content


waltc said...

I don't think there's much doubt that reporting is biased against "failures"--and that bias is pretty much universal, not just within librarianship. I also agree with your final paragraph--but people just tend not to discuss things that didn't work. I'd love to find ways to change that, but I haven't a clue. I can certainly understand the bias: Who wants to look bad, even if it will help others do better?

Eric Schnell said...

Thanks for the comment, Walt.

It does seem to take a confident personality or someone well established within their given profession to be willing to expose their failures.

Anonymous said...

As a matter of fact, I have yet to receive any responses to my call for entries to the "How We Done It Bad" column. I may be reduced to contributing one myself...

Rick Anderson