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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Library UX Reading Reflection, Week 8

Anthropology Inc.

Graeme Wood’s “Anthropology Inc.” for The Atlantic was a stimulating introduction to the practice of corporations like Coca Cola and Pernod Ricard USA  to hire ReD, a research firm that specializes in field studies, to get qualitative data so they can understand consumers better. My former ad agency, DDB was doing this in the 1980s and I imagine its competitors were too. I’m not sure of the academic qualifications of all our researchers, but I found their presentations on topics like children’s opinions of their closets’ contents and conditions to be fascinating. 

When Wood described the home party in the beginning of the article, I immediately wondered about the ethics. How would I feel about being studied at a party so that I might buy more Absolut vodka? How would the guests feel after reading this article? Not only were they studied, the party was then reported so there’s a double lens through which the party and drinking behavior was recorded. It’s both interesting and creepy.

I felt conflicted about the process. On the one hand, I love discovering new insights and would find this work fascinating. On the other, I value privacy and feel our world is getting more and more like the setting of the novel WE, a futuristic world where all rooms and buildings have windows for walls. I agree with the academics who point out that without a code of ethics research can be harmful. It can also be flawed as Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principle tells us that when behavior is observed, it’s different.

ReD’s six hour long interviews sound like an endurance test, as well as a major imposition. Most participants will opt out of such a long interview so I wonder if the subjects who agree are representative. I would hope that those commissioning the research would take the results with a grain of salt.

The parts of the article that described Chinese group-orientation was half-right. Yes, Chinese person’s and other Asians’ circle of concern is wider than the stereotypical Westerner’s, but it isn’t all-encompassing. There’s a bright, sharp boundary. Most observers would note that Chinese people tend to think in terms of their in-group rather than their individual self. An “outsider” is not someone whose welfare is important, whereas though Western consumers may emphasize self, communal generosity or justice is a value. So the anthropologists who note this communal/individual dichotomy aren’t engaged in good scientific observation. Wood’s article would have been stronger had he mentioned this shortcoming. Since The Atlantic frequently features perceptive reporting on China, I’d expect its writers not to write from inside a silo.

I wish Wood had included some information answering the question of “To what extent do today’s cultural anthropologists exoticize their  subjects?” There seems to be an inherent trap of dramatizing their findings or emphasizing the behaviors that seem different. A mixture of P.T. Barnham’s “Give the people, (e.g. client) what they want” and the practice of “orientalizing” behavior so the client feels they’ve paid for treasure rather than the expected. Wood was a bit guilty of hyping his article in this way as his examples of the Orthodox Jewish subject and the lesbian drinking party are more exotic than a mundane middle class family of four. While all groups should be studied, the way the findings are delivered should not be fashioned to dazzle or entertain the client. We all should be leery of how and what Madison Avenue presents to us. I think Wood should have been a bit more skeptical than he was.

An interesting read, “Anthropology, Inc.” calls attention to the business world’s growing use of social science to understand and market to consumers.

Getting to Know Your Patrons

“Getting to Know Your Patrons” provides methods and rationale for conducting field research or contextual research even in libraries with small staffs and limited resources. After reading about PhDs who conduct qualitative behavioral research, it was freeing to understand that doesn’t need the academic expertise ReD’s researchers have, to conduct a study that yields important insights.

Smaller libraries may think they must forego such significant work since they don’t have a dedicated staff that specializes in UX. That’s not the case. By organizing staff to do short observations and showing the sort  of descriptions that are useful, this article prepared me to do my first contextual inquiry.

References

Schmidt, A. (2011, June 1). Getting to Know Your Patrons. Library Journal, Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2011/06/opinion/aaron-schmidt/getting-to-know-your-patrons-the-user-experience/

Wood, G. (2013, March). Anthropology Inc. The Atlantic, Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/03/anthropology-inc/309218/

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2014 in Library and Information Science, Practical

 

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The Harbor

harbor

Ernest Poole‘s The Harbor is tied for the most exciting book I’ve read this year (with The Count of Monte Cristo). Written in 1915, The Harbor tells the story of New York’s harbor from the late 19th century till WWI through the eyes of Bill, whose father has a lucrative business. The Harbor gripped me from page one when seven year old Bill shares how he hates the harbor. Though crude to a sheltered rich boy, this harbor is filled with sailing ships, exotic foreigners, spices, silks, and riches. Yeah, there’s plenty of spitting and cursing and the odd fist fight as Bill learns when he meets a Dickensian boy, Sam who’s something of a “harbor-urchin” leading a back of wildish boys who scare and fascinate Bill. He’s never the same after meeting Sam. The rich kids in their starched shirts with their gentle games lose whatever charm they had.

We follow Bill from his often adventurous childhood through college when he meets Joe Kramer, a worldly politically active man, whose family became destitute after his father unknowingly gave tainted medicine to children with small pox. Though the fault was with the drug company, Dr. Kramer and his family were driven out of town and had to move from town to town as rumors caught them. Joe is full of the straight dope. He sees through society’s shams and thinks most of college is a “tour through the graveyard.” Joe comes and goes always making Bill and his sister Sue question their views and life.

The Harbor has the tone of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, that vivid, robust tone from the turn of the century. Poole’s not as polemic or biased as Upton Sinclair (whom I do like). The middle class and upper class views are presented honestly. It was amazing and sad to see how work and life on the harbor got harder when sailing ships were replaced by bigger steel ships.

Poole was the first writer to get a Pulitzer Prize, which he got for his second novel, The Family. From what I’ve read The Harbor‘s the better book and the new prize wanted the author of The Harbor to get credit for the fine writing in that book.

I’ve got that joy of discovering a new favorite writer whose every book I want to read. I’ll get to The Family after I finish his Giants Gone about “the men who made Chicago,” which I’m getting from the library this morning.

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2014 in American Lit, classic

 

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Images of America: Chicago’s Gold Coast

When I picked this up at the library I didn’t catch the smaller type: Images of America. So I thought there would be more text about Chicago’s Gold Coast. Once I figured out the subject of this book I appreciated the wide selection of old photos of grand houses in this Chicago district. Images of America: Chicago’s Gold Coast upped my understanding of how the city looked in the late 19th century and beyond.

Here’s a few of the homes featured.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in history, non-fiction

 

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Chicago History Museum, Service Safari

Today I went to the Chicago Historical Museum to do some research for a writing project I’ve started. It’s a historical

Chicago Historical Museum Research center

  • What was my goal  and was it met? My goal was to get some primary sources on the 1870’s in Chicago to find out about how
  • What was good about the service? The librarian was very approachable and helpful. She showed interest in my search and checked on my progress and offered new ideas as I worked.
  • What detracted from the experience? I had no complaints.
  • With whom did you interact? I spoke with a friendly reference librarian and I suppose an intern who brought the items I needed. You have to show a membership card or give the librarian the entrance ticket ($10) when you arrive.
  • Were you confused at any time during the experience? I had to use a microfiche machine, which I hadn’t used since probably high school. The librarian gladly showed me how, but all the different knobs are hard to get straight right off the bat.
  • Describe the physical space. The reference desk is near the entrance. In the main room there were several long tables with slips for patrons to fill out to request items. Along one side of the room are books on shelves and the opposite wall has several computers and microfiche machines.  Beyond the tables is an area with lots of old maps on tables.

When I went, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the scope of their collection or what would help me. I want to also try the Chicago Public Library, if non-residents can, and the Newberry Library so I wasn’t sure that I’d be back so I didn’t purchase a membership. Now I think I’ll go back perhaps weekly and hope to take one of their walking tours. So I will get a membership.  Going to one of these special libraries is kind of cool, but also a little intimidating at first. You can’t bring in any bags, pens, food or drink. You’re not supposed to bring in cameras, but one woman was snapping photos of documents with a camera. That was pretty obvious since her camera clicked loudly. I guessed she must have had permission.

You can just bring in a pencil and/or a laptop computer.

They’re only open in the afternoon. I did find out quite a bit from their history magazine about servants in that era. I went perused several weeks of the Chicago Times, a now defunct paper on microfiche. Best of all I got to go through Mrs. George Pullman’s diaries and address books of the time.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2014 in book lovers, historical fiction

 

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