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Monday, September 17, 2007


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David Miller

Hi Christine --

Thanks for a very interesting blog!

I agree that empirical research, which is what I think people usually mean by "evidence," is essential. But what always bothers me is the derision of our ever-growing body of qualitative evidence, gathered over decades in uncontrolled, messy, and therefore real-life situations, which we deride under the heading of "anecdote." The two are not opposed means of learning, but should be complementary. Also, repeating "we need more research", while often true enough, can be an excuse for inaction, or even a stick with which to beat others' actual knowledge, experientially gained (that is, their "mere stock of anecdotes").

So what this comes down is that the dichotomy between empirical research-based practice and experiential knowledge-based practice is often overemphasized, and generally unhelpful, at least for me.

Best wishes,

David M.
Levin Library, Curry College

Chris Schwartz

David, Thanks for this reply.
I think your point about undervaluing qualitative experienced-based evidence is excellent. I've learned a lot from my professional colleagues through this type of learning. Talking with them and learning from their experience has be invaluable. And one would definitely call this "anecdotal evidence." It's not like I was sending out a survey or anything. It was usually just a conversation or an email exchange.
Yes, the dichotomy of evidence vs. anecdote is not helpful (maybe I should delete this post!). But I also think that the future of cataloging and library catalog debate is often based on neither empirical evidence nor knowledge-based practice, but is instead purely speculative, wishful thinking. What I like to call "digital fundamentalism."

David Miller

Hi again Christine -

No, don't delete the post :-)! The topic comes up often enough, but isn't often examined in terms of underlying assumptions -- what do we mean by "research," what evidence do we value or discard, etc.

I agree, yes, there's a lot of wishful thinking. It seems to operate just as much in discussions of what we should (or must) stop doing, as in discussions of why we do what we already do.

All that said, it would be most helpful to organize, in a way, our day-to-day evidence in more rigorous -qualitative- analytical or descriptive frameworks. That would still respect the primacy of actual experiences, but make them more widely communicable.


I most certainly agree that some anecdote rises to the level of evidence, just as "real" empirical evidence can be misused.

I respect what David says and, in fact, agree with it mostly. I was not trying to emphasize some dichotomy between the two; anyone who's read me long enough would know that I generally despise supposed dichotomies and have yet to find a real one in the world.

But in the effort to redesign what it is we do I would hope that a bit more attention other than an "it's generally unhelpful" attitude would be paid to the quality of the evidence, whether it is unconfirmed anecdote or verified empirical data. There is room for all of it; but all of it must be questioned and not just blindly accepted.

That was my attempted point.

David Miller

Hello Mark --

Well put. I'm often guilty of overgeneralizing.



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