Street Fighting Research

altered book cover for street fighting mathematics
I think it is time for us to develop a Street Fighting approach to information literacy. From the preface to Street Fighting Mathematics: The Art of Educated Guessing and Opportunistic Problem Solving:

Too much mathematical rigor teaches rigor mortis: the fear of making an unjustified leap even when it lands on the correct result. Instead of paralysis, have courage–shoot first and ask questions later. . . . Educated guessing and opportunistic problem solving requires a toolbox. A tool, to paraphrase George Polya, is a trick I use twice.

And from the back cover of the same book:

In problem solving, as in street fighting, rules are for fools: do whatever works–don’t just stand there. . . Traditional mathematics teaching is largely about solving exactly stated problems exactly, yet life often hands us partly defined problems needing only moderately accurate solutions.

I think there is enormous potential in taking a Street Fighting approach to our traditional Information Literacy and Library Research Methods programs. I like the idea of empowering and equipping patrons with the tools and the confidence to try whatever works for a given research question.

For the vast majority of library research tasks, there are likely to be any number of paths that will get someone to a perfectly acceptable resolution.

At the risk of extending the analogy too far, my fear is that we are intent on teaching kids the formal Queensberry Rules of Boxing when they really need to be prepared for something more like an anything-goes Mixed Martial Arts cage-match. The information context in which scholars must operate today is messy and getting messier. We need to help them develop attitudes and instincts that serve them in that environment. We have to teach them to fight dirty. Sometimes that means using Google to jumpstart a search, sometimes it might mean culling blog posts and Twitter archives, and it often means combining many strategies and sources to address a given research question.

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