by Barbara Quint
Complex human actions like persevering in a
cause or carrying out a plan or following the path
of virtue all require multiple motives. Not
all the motives will meet the highest standards, but
then not all of them will sink to the lowest level,
either. It's not that human beings are natural hypocrites.
The problem is that, as self-programming life-forms
rather than instinctual ones, we have short attention
spans. We don't hibernate; we nap. We not only find
many reasons to follow a course of action over time,
we generate reasons. For example, multiplicity of motivation
is a key feature in the programming language humans
use to produce the "apps" known as habits.
One set of motivation patterns operates universally peer
pressure. People want a sense of belonging and fear
becoming outcasts. If the comfort and security that
comes from being one of the group requires individuals
to do things they might not do on their own, then most
people meet the requirement. We've all seen the negative
side of peer pressure mob rule, silenced debate,
bell-bottom trousers and other fashion excesses, or shudder "reality" TV
But peer pressure also has some good accomplishments
to its credit. When doting parents cannot bring themselves
to discipline the brattiness out of their offspring,
one can pretty well count on peer pressure to do the
job when the enfants terribles arrive at a schoolyard
occupied by people who don't love them. And think of
all the time we save on a daily basis by looking in
closets filled with clothes and moving directly to
the socially acceptable sets of clothing for the situations
or environments we expect to encounter that day.
The most troubling aspect of peer pressure is its
intrinsic amorality. As long as one follows the herd,
it seems not to matter where or why the herd is moving.
A generation of youngsters raised with Bart Simpson
as a role model may succeed in inserting brattiness
into a well-mannered child, while TGIF may force uncasual
figures into casual attire. Birds migrate to warmer
climes to ensure survival; lemmings march to the sea.
Whether we approve or disapprove, we all must recognize
the power that peer pressure has. To counter its dangers,
we must first recognize its presence, both in ourselves
and in others. People who always act contrary to the
norm become as predictably compelled by peer pressure though
in reverse as those who obey the norm. Even
those who take the "road less followed" should know
where the main highway might intersect.
Look at the history of end-user adoption of online
information. Set aside the time when it was too difficult
and/or too expensive for universal adoption. Even after
simpler, cheaper systems arrived, one saw a lot of
people pooh-poohing any idea that they personally should
use online resources. The "top people" in fields who
also tended to be the older, more monied, better-staffed
people wouldn't sully their hands. They had
subordinates to do that kind of thing for them. Today,
I doubt that any member of the elite would have the
moral courage to confess they could not "google." Top
people might not share their e-mail identities with hoi
polloi, but if you want to manipulate them into
revealing those addresses, just imply that they don't
have e-mail access and their defensive reactions may
reveal their digital identities.
Sometimes trouble comes from not having the right
kind of peer pressure. The other day I was looking
through an estimable publication and spotted an article
on librarians partnering to improve services to clients.
Wonderful! I approve! But as I got into the article
I noticed that all the candidates for partnering were
other librarians. Maybe we should strive to expand
our image of the group we're in to include some of
the "cool kids."
For example, online and offline bookstores and music
stores and video/DVD outlets supply some of the same
services as public libraries. These establishments
also have expanded digital delivery mechanisms from
e-books to MP3 downloadable files to online rentals
and video-on-demand. Now other outfits are moving into
the field. Starbucks has announced a pilot project
that will roll out a digital music service to 2,500
of its 5,400 U.S. stores over the next few years. The
service lets patrons choose tunes from a list of licensed
music and burn their own CDs. Virgin Megastores will
soon offer a similar service. Several online services
already offer downloadable music. There are a lot of
pay services out there now, but there is also a lot
of music available for download from library Web sites
and other open sources. How about opening a download
service in the library? "Bring your own blank CDs or
buy some from us." Even if only as a promotional event,
it should draw some traffic.
Speaking of partners, what about approaching some
of those commercial services? Apple gave away 100 million
songs through a promotional program with a Pepsi bottle-cap
game. Maybe Apple would be glad to partner with the
libraries of the land for a joint promotion. Might
even be tax-deductible.
Speaking of promotional activities, the NCAA March
Madness package of college basketball games will have
come and gone by the time you read this. But during
that dribbling dementia, SportsLine.com offered a $9.95
subscription service for high-speed Internet connection
to dozens of games in the early rounds. The Webcasts
offering up to three games at a time were also available
to America Online's subscribers with no extra charge.
Now wouldn't it be wonderful if public or academic
libraries could have cordoned off a section beyond
the "SSSHHH" zone and made those Webcasts available?
Might even have gotten a big screen rental, maybe more
than one. That would have looked awesome, baby!
What about corporate or institutional libraries?
How about bringing in a vendor panel of the new competitive
intelligence services emerging from advances in text-mining
technology? Or a sampler of new sci-tech services for
open access publishing and archiving? Or a review program
for news sources? Too much for one library or one overburdened
team of information professionals to do? Well, that's
why you have professional associations. Get them to
do programs like this that you can re-brand and distribute
to clients. Buy, rent, or borrow the Web versions or
computer conference copies. Supplement them with some
additional material that vendors provide particular
to your institution's interests. Make sure the professional
associations have notified vendors that acquirers of
the program will be contacting them for such assistance.
Tell the association staff to please supply vendor
contact information specific to the programs. You've
paid your dues. Now let them pay theirs.
Of course, you understand, I don't want to put any
pressure on anyone, but ... well....
Barbara Quint's e-mail
address is email@example.com.