Threading the web

Persian manuscript, ca. 1400-1500The word I have chosen as the title of this blog possesses an unusual etymology: Latin gossypium, cotton, and Swahili boma, an enclosure. The word gossypiboma denotes a mass of cotton (or any foreign body) that is retained in the body following surgery. There is an interesting literature on the medical outcomes of this rare example of surgical oversight.

Information literacy is the essential competency of our time, but one of the least recognized. What is it about human beings that most of us are quite willing to admit that we haven’t yet achieved physical perfection or absolute knowledge but blunder happily about the web with two fingers and a one-or-two-word Google search strategy? Health librarians like me work very hard to convince people that learning how to complain about their boss or their bunions on Facebook does not make them information literate. Often our interventions are met with the IDHTFT (I Don’t Have Time For This) brush-off or the IAOTI (It’s All On The Internet) dismissal.

Just because we know how to sew on a button doesn’t mean we’re ready to close in surgery. We might even have left behind a gossypiboma. When it comes to information, most of us are amateurs, and even proud to be acknowledged as such. Fortunately for the health care system, real gossypibomas are quite rare. But think of the consequences of real information illiteracy: the countless lost stitches of the googled web, the hopeless weaving in every digital direction, the impacted wads of fruitless investigation, the wasted time. This blog is dedicated to threading the web more intelligently, getting our work done efficiently with the right resources, and knowing how to close. Our motto: no twine left behind.

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