Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 7, Number 6: June 2007

Bibs & Blather

On Being Wrong

Have you ever been wrong?

That’s a silly question. Of course you have. So have I. We all have. You’ve been misinformed. You’ve miscalculated. You’ve learned better. However you want to say it, you’ve been wrong.

Admitting error

Here’s a tougher question:

Have you ever admitted being wrong? You can think about that question on several levels:

     Admitting it to yourself.

     Admitting it privately.

     Admitting it publicly.

     Admitting it when it matters—when you were wrong about something more important than the likelihood of rain or the 17th digit of pi.

I’d like to think the answer’s also Yes there on all counts. It is for me. But I suspect the answer for some people is No, at least on the third and fourth counts.

I posted “Never being wrong” on November 16, 2005, lamenting John Dvorak’s refusal to admit that he was wrong in calling Creative Commons “eye-rolling dumb” and “dangerous.” Quoting my post:

Well…someone called him on it, explained how difficult it is to voluntarily reduce your copyright rights (particularly without abandoning them altogether), and so on. And here I quote Donna Wentworth’s October 28 post at Copyfight:

So will Dvorak write another column admitting that he was wrong? Not so fast. Explains Dvorak: “My column was never wrong, my column was questioning….I was saying ‘I don’t get it, will somebody explain it to me, please?’…Sometimes you’ve got to go public with your bafflement, which I do…”

Isn’t that wonderful? You can attack something outright, call it nonsense, belittle it, and so on–and as long as you include at least one question somewhere–”What is this all about anyway?” should do as an all-purpose question–you never have to admit you’re wrong. You were “questioning.”

Right. Before, I was beginning to regard Dvorak as frequently nonsensical and getting tired. Now, I regard him as a hypocritical jerk, too full of himself and his bafflegab to even admit that he was flat-out wrong, damaging Creative Commons to an audience of more than a million people.

That post was cited in a May 3, 2007 post by Anil Dilawri, who noted something strange after Microsoft posted better-than-expected earnings:

An analyst admitted that they were wrong. WRONG! Not only did the analyst admit it, he mentioned that he was wrong in the title of his research report…

...I, for one, have seen many analysts over the years “be wrong,” and in many cases “be very wrong,” and in a few cases “be disgracefully wrong.” Never have I seen an analyst admit it, say it, and own it.

Dilawri notes the nature of financial analysts—they never admit they’ve miscalculated, never use the term “we were wrong,” come up with feeble excuses “that usually blame something (or someone) other than their analysis.” It’s an interesting post that prompted me to write about being wrong.

Failure to admit error: Egotism or cowardice?

I’ve read comments about people who never admit to being wrong. The usual idea is that it’s a sign of extreme egotism. That’s probably true, although I’d suggest it’s a warped sort of egotism. If you’re so unsure of yourself that you can’t admit to error lest it diminish your stature, you’re in bad shape.

Something else may be happening when someone’s incapable of admitting error publicly: Cowardice. Failure to take responsibility for your own thinking and your own errors. That’s evidenced by finding all sorts of reasons you weren’t really wrong, something else was wrong. In the worst cases of ego and cowardice, people with power try to remake the world rather than admit error, no matter how much money and how many lives are lost as a result.

There’s nothing wrong with being wrong from time to time. That’s one way we learn—by making mistakes. It’s better if you’re wrong on issues that aren’t matters of life and death. There is something very wrong with never being wrong or being incapable of publicly admitting you were wrong.

Speaking of being wrong

Recently, I realized that I was fundamentally wrong in one of the more controversial posts at Walt at random—but maybe not the way that some of you thought I was wrong. The post: “Movers, shakers, self-promotion and C&I,” posted April 13, 2006.

Of course I was wrong to cite people named “Movers & Shakers” by Library Journal as shameless self-promoters—and I made that admission as part of the 29-comment thread: “First, I was wrong to couple “self-promoting” with LJ’s Movers & Shakers. Period.”

I won’t admit to error in distinguishing between self-promotion and blogging, publishing (even self-publishing), writing, speaking: There’s a huge difference between putting out your thoughts and making sure that people Look At You!

Here’s where I was wrong—and haven’t realized it until recently: I regarded “shameless self-promotion” as a bad thing. I was wrong. At the very least I was too simplistic, but I think “wrong” says it best.

I know why I was wrong. Despite my blog and ejournal, I’m terrible at self-promotion—I’m an introvert, and it shows in areas like this. I agreed to use “The Crawford Files” for my American Libraries column reluctantly after we’d exhausted other possibilities. Similarly “Crawford’s Corner” in Library Hi Tech News: the original title, “Trailing Edge Notes,” no longer made sense and a lovely (I thought) title I came up with was too long and soundly derided by those I suggested it to. None of my books has had a title like “Crawford’s Guide to…” (I would say “or ever will,” but “ever” is a long time.) Take a look at the banner of this issue to see the relative prominence of my name as compared to the primary title and the slogan.

The virtues of self-promotion

Just because I’m lousy at self-promotion doesn’t make it a bad thing. Promoting yourself can help others have a clearer image of who you are, just as promoting your library—telling your library’s story, marketing your library, whatever—helps others understand the library.

Is there a line between self-promotion and shameless self-promotion? Maybe, but I’m not one to draw it. Is there a line between self-promotion and excessive self-promotion? I think so. I think it’s the point where your message is lost in self-congratulation.

But I also think divining that line is like identifying obscenity: You may know it when you see it, and so may I, but we may see it at different places and it’s damnably difficult to define precisely.

Effective self-promotion means you get full credit for who you are and what you’ve accomplished. I suppose it means getting the best jobs and perks. Maybe it should: Self-promotion is hard work.

Particularly for introverts who were brought up to promote their product, not themselves. There are times I regret not being better at self-promotion, not being more of an extrovert. Mostly, though, I have to be comfortable in my own skin.

Or am I wrong about that as well?

Balanced Libraries

Do you find Cites & Insights valuable? I assume the answer is “Yes.” I also assume some of you have found my work on Library 2.0, Finding a Balance and the new Making it Work section valuable.

If you find this valuable, you should buy Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change ( waltcrawford/). I’ve seen two wonderful reviews, one from Pete Smith at library too, another from Jennifer Macaulay at Life as I know it.

Pete says (among other things):

[O]ne of the most refreshing aspects of the book [is] that it offers ideas, reflections and examples but always reminds us to put these in the context of our libraries and our visitors. The book is thus a good example of a balanced approach; it is not a strident call to revolution, nor a paean to lost joys. Rather it is a reasoned call to maintain the best of what we have and to always look as to how we can make change work for our libraries…

I recommend this book to anyone interested in ‘Library 2.0 and other contemporary issues, as Crawford sets them in their wider context. Yet it covers broader issues than just the latest technology, and does so in a considered way. As such, it will also stand when today’s issues are yesterday’s debates. It is passionate, yet not partisan; timely, yet not time bound.

Jennifer says (among other things):

I would recommend this book to any of my colleagues. Whether one likes the term or not, the concept of Library 2.0 is important as are the discussions that have taken place around it. Reading Balanced Libraries is a great way to learn more about Library 2.0—in a very non-threatening way that won’t cause people to become overwhelmed by the winds of change that seem to always be surrounding us….

I definitely think it would be great for all library students to read also. There is some great information about how to balance change and continuity in libraries—which to me, is a critical message.

What can I say? Buy the book.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 7, Number 6, Whole Issue 90, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at OCLC.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services,

Opinions herein may not represent those of OCLC or YBP Library Services.

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