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And not Or

Believe it or not, there are a lot of people with very strongly held opinions in the blogosphere. Well, in all media actually. I feel like I've been reading (and contributing) to a good deal of either/or type thinking this week.

  • Separate or integrated tech/info lit curriculum
  • Encyclopedia Britannica or Wikipedia
  • Evolutionary or revolutionary change
  • Content knowledge or process skills
  • Testing or assessment
  • Mandated skills or teacher choice
  • Print or online
  • Libraries or technology

Guess it is this sort of black and white thinking that makes stimulating reading and engenders reader outpourings of love or hate. 

I'd encourage you, however, to go back and read an old column by Walt Crawford called The Dangers of Uniformity that appeared in American Libraries (it's OK tech folks - you won't get cooties reading it) in September, 2004. In it he says:

...why do so many of us look for single solutions to current problems, single technologies, single media? Why do so many writers, futurists, and speakers tout X as “the future” rather than “a part of the future”?

I’ve used the slogan “And, not Or” for more than a decade. There’s another slogan that goes along with it, one that I believe to be at least partly true in most walks of life: “The answer to most multiple-choice questions is Yes.”

That requires some clarification. I’m talking about real-life multiple-choice questions, ones that are often phrased in terms of a single choice: “Is the future for fiction e-books, audiobooks, or print books?” “Should reference work be done over the Internet in real-time chat, via e-mail, at a reference desk, or by walking around to see who needs help?” “Should library databases offer Google-like single boxes, simple fielded search options, or complex Boolean capabilities?” “Will scholarly journals be electronic-only, electronic and print, or print?”

In each of those cases, and in most similar cases, the best answer is Yes. All of those are correct, certainly across the range of libraries.

Walt's philosophy is one worth adopting. Next time I am asked if something should be x or y, I'll try to answer, "Yes, x and y."

Have a wonderful weekend. 

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Reader Comments (2)

Generally speaking, yes, we are plagued by false dichotomies. However, the experience of NCLB is that it crowds out other options. At least in the city, and much of the rest of the country, you can't have NCLB *and* something else, and the more moving parts you add to NCLB, the less you have of anything else.
January 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman
I'm all for "And" instead of "OR", Dough! :) I have no clues about what Tom Hoffman means by NCLB, but as far as the options you've listed, I say "AND, AND, AND"!
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGladys Baya

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