This Week in LIS - 1 March 2013

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Headline of the Week: Signal and Noise

When Ann Hill Duin was interviewing on campus she referenced and suggested a new book she had recently read entitled, “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t”, by Nate Silver. It sounded very interesting and at that time the reference was coming from a potential new college president. The wireless in Valders 117, ahhh Valders 206, worked flawlessly and within 2 minutes of her reference I had an electronic copy in the Kindle reader of the iPad I had with me again with only the credit card reconciliation as consequence. During a long weekend visiting friends that included a couple of plane rides, I had some time to read from it.

Silver references an estimate from IBM that 2.5 quintillion new bytes of information is created every day. Such information represents “footprints” of peoples’ activities and that information can be brought together to fashion profiles. Retailers and social media sites have been doing this for years, leveraging those profiles to identify products we are more likely to buy or ads we are more likely to click through and explore and relationships that might be useful to us. In the recent presidential election, Obama’s tech-savvy workers used such approaches to identify voters that could be targeted who might need further encouragement to get to the voting sites.

Silver has a reputation as a statistician who has worked in predicting baseball, successfully playing poker and more recently working on predicting election outcomes. The essence of Silver’s approach is to leverage Bayes’ approach to probability. In a nutshell it entails making an initial estimate of the likelihood that something will happen and then adjusting that value as more related findings come in.

As I read I’m listening for insights on a number of problems. The first that comes to mind is the inversion of the traditional library problem that has occurred with digitization and networks. It used to be you came to the library to find the scarce good stuff. Now you come to get help culling through all the stuff that’s less than good in order to find the good stuff and the good stuff can be in any number of places including the library and other digital repositories to which one has access. In a world with more and more information accessible, librarians are the partners to find the valuable signals within the ever growing pile of noise.

We live in a world of extraordinary change. This leads to uncertainties. Humans don’t like uncertainty. By our very nature we construct mental models to explain what we observe. We fill in the gaps in understanding These models require us to implicitly and explicitly make a number of assumptions and predictions.

We also like to be right and perhaps even worse we dislike being wrong. This need to be right is stronger for some than others. For some that means we resist engaging in conversations concerning the construction of assumptions and models. Creations of assumptions and predictions from such modeling collaborations risk us being wrong and on the record. The problem with remaining silent is that we lose the value that comes from the insights of those individuals. The modeling is likely going on inside the mind; not sharing deprives the group. Culture and trust are tools to overcome the reticence to risk sharing.

For others we take in new information and resist updating our models and their predictions. This is the “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with (new) facts” situation. It requires one to have a little mental conversation about when one was wrong. As I contemplate a change, I ask myself, “Was I wrong earlier or am I wrong now!” Silver gives us permission to talk about uncertainties and risks and permission to update our predictions and assumptions as we get new information. The challenge is in identifying what is new information that is signal and what is noise? How can we tell the difference? Does it make one a “flip flopper” if one’s assumptions and predictions change with new information? I hope not. I hope it simply makes us smarter and better at dealing with uncertainty.

Time is our friend then. As time passes there is more information to build into our models, assuming we can find the signal in the noise. Time can also be the enemy, especially if what is under consideration requires us to move swiftly and decisively amidst all our uncertainties.

Thoughtfulness, trust, boldness, confidence and flexibility seem good tools to contend with risk and uncertainty in changing times.

Suggested Reading/Viewing:

“The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t” by Nate Silver

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LIS Blog Highlights from the Week

The following articles are sampled from those available on the LIS Blog:

Notes from LIS Council

LIS Council is the leadership team within LIS. Among the topics discussed this past week were:

  • LIS Operational Agenda
    • Council members will be reporting on LIS operational views (metrics for processes and status of projects) regularly at LIS Council meetings. This week’s reports included the following:
    • Network & Systems
      • Adam shared some interesting statistics about the usage of wired Ethernet connections in the residence halls that have them – e.g. not Towers. There is generally more than 1 wired device per student and there is a range of wired usage across the residence halls.
      • The total number of wirelessly connected devices continues to climb – now reaching 3000.
      • We looked at error rates for packets on the wireless network in Miller. It peaks around 20%. Dieseth is similar and slightly lower. Olson wireless errors are slightly lower still. We are looking to understand at what error rate does satisfaction with the wireless service move from acceptable to dissatisfying.
      • Adam reported that progress has been made in designing an approach to bring data from the windmill into the sustainability dashboard and hopefully it will be just a matter of time to complete the integration work.
    • User Services
      • The Digital Media proposal draft has been shared for review. A few comments have been received and they have been incorporated or conversations arranged to discuss and negotiate.
      • Use of digital materials in the classroom continues to grow and frequently we and our equipment are overwhelmed. The digital media proposal will bring resources (students and equipment) to provide some essential relief to the situation.
      • Details have been worked out for producing Commencement DVDs.
      • The schedule of events to be streamed yet this spring has been determined.
      • Work in the Koren lab and lobby as well as the Student Organizational Suite is complete.
      • There continues to be a stream of repair work coming from labs and classrooms across campus. That equipment is not rotated on a formal schedule like our workstations and is repaired or replaced on an as needed basis.
      • The Financial Services workstation refresh is complete. The refresh conversation for the Registrar’s Office is scheduled for March 21. Scheduling conversations is underway with Security and Campus Programming.
      • User Services is working with Modern Languages to acquire specific software needed for the Language Learning Center.
      • Matt Hughes will begin moving into his new role. Starting March 1, he will be in the Help Desk in the mornings and working in Workstation Support in the afternoons.
      • The Help Desk Lead search team will include Paul, Diane, Adam, Marcia, Eddy, Matt H, and Matt B. They will meet on Monday to start processing applicants.
  • New Items
    • LIS General Agenda
      • We discussed potential topics for next week’s LIS General meeting.
    • Open House to Support Destination Luther – Admitted Student Visit Day 4/15
      • We have been asked to consider supporting an open house of sorts from 11:45 – 1:15 entitled “Spotlight on Library and Information Services, Academic Support and the Writing Center”. We agreed to support the event and formed a subgroup of Ryan, Diane, Jennifer Rian and Paul to develop an approach.
    • Building Vision
      • Diane’s scheduled a meeting of previous team members to revisit progress on previously identified initiatives. Intention is to report back to Library All Staff meeting. This seems very appropriate given the changes over the last year and the big changes contained in the Digital Media proposal. It’s time to think more about the future given this new posture.
    • Critical Requests Outcome
      • Diane Tacke ran a process to collect critical budget needs in preparation for 2013-14. She wanted to identify critical needs where ongoing budgets have been insufficient and are leading to problems beyond reasonable and frugal tradeoffs. We submitted a number of them. We will receive some additional funding for software and hardware licensing and maintenance and library materials.

Upcoming LIS Training, Instruction, and Professional Development Opportunities

Click on the event below for specific information and for a link to register. More information on training and development events is available.

Course Format Date Location Enrollment
Google+ in the Classroom Faculty Development Mar 5 2013 – 4:00pm 5:00pm Preus Library – Hovde Lounge Open
Are You LinkedIn? Workshop Mar 6 2013 – 12:00pm 1:00pm Dahl Centennial Union – Borlaug Open
Zotero Workshop — Grab your research with a single click. Workshop Mar 6 2013 – 7:00pm 8:00pm Preus Library – Hovde Lounge Open
What's Up with You?: A Google Demonstration Product Demonstration Mar 14 2013 – 12:00pm 1:00pm Dahl Centennial Union – Mott Open
Zotero Workshop — Grab your research with a single click. Workshop Apr 3 2013 – 7:00pm 8:00pm Preus Library – Hovde Lounge Open
Luther College Archives: Research 101 Product Demonstration Apr 8 2013 – 2:00pm 3:00pm Preus Library – Hovde Lounge Open
Who are you According to the Internet?: A Guide to Managing Your Online Reputation Workshop Apr 9 2013 – 12:00pm 1:00pm Dahl Centennial Union – Mott Open
What is Google+ and Why Should I Care? Product Demonstration Apr 11 2013 – 6:30pm 7:30pm Preus Library – Hovde Lounge Open
Who are you According to the Internet?: A Guide to Managing Your Online Reputation Workshop Apr 16 2013 – 7:00pm 8:00pm Preus Library – Hovde Lounge Open
Zotero Workshop — Grab your research with a single click. Workshop May 1 2013 – 7:00pm 8:00pm Preus Library – Hovde Lounge Open

Training and instruction is provided to the Luther Community through Faculty Development Sessions, Library Instruction Sessions, Product Demonstrations, Skills Training, Workshops, 1-on-1 Sessions, and Online Materials. To schedule a session, contact the LIS Technology Help Desk at x1000 or enter your request online at

This Week in LIS is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of LIS at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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