Friday, October 21, 2011

White whales and anchovies

I got into a flap with a friend yesterday on facebook.  I hope it wasn't a really serious fight; it's hard to tell across computer screens, but he hasn't replied to my apology, so I worry.  But I bring it up here because the misunderstanding has some interesting underpinnings, I think.

My friend had posted an earnest status update about not knowing where he'd be getting food for the next month or so, and I replied asking him if I could take him out to dinner when I'm in town in a few weeks.  Trying too hard to be clever, I added, "We can discuss the whole give a man a fish/teach a man to fish thing."

He replied, quite reasonably, that this statement was 'unnecessarily sanctimonious' of me.  I was appalled (at myself) that he'd taken it that way, but then I remembered that most people aren't privy to my thoughts until I articulate them, and of course it would seem as though I was scolding him for being shiftless or something.

It actually puked out of my word-hole mostly because I've been thinking about that whole axiom thanks to a couple of my LIS courses, and the ideas that underlie it, and I've come to the conclusion that it's bogus and, yes, sanctimonious.  That was the bit I didn't realize I hadn't conveyed, that I actually wanted to be guffawing about teaching people to fish, with my friend, over, like, foie gras or whatever.  I thought we might get a laugh out of the moralizing and whatnot.

Unfortunately, in the LIS world (that's library and information science, y'all), we're supposed to want to teach everyone to fish.  And that seems okay, on the surface.  People come to the library with an information request; they have no idea how to effectively search databases or whatnot; we teach them; next time they come in, they can do it for themselves--we've provided them with autonomy!  They're in control of their own educational destiny! They'll eat for life!  Woo teachable moments.

It occurred to me, though, that we've sort of built a society predicated on specializations aimed at efficiency.  I don't *want* to learn to fish.  That's what the Gorton's guy is there for.  He fishes; I study library science.  And it goes both ways.  I will be a librarian due to a combination of factors including interests, aptitudes, and lack of other better options.  People with their own interests, aptitudes, and lack of other options will come to me for their information needs.  I'm supposed to make them do my job?  I'm supposed to ignore the autonomy they've exercised in choosing, for whichever one among the many constellations of reasons, not to become a librarian?  No, sir.  I'm there to fish up their information.  Then they go use it, to write a paper or a play or win a bet or cakewalk up the esprit d'escalier or whatever.

If they *want* to learn how to use Lexis Nexis? Of course I'll be happy to teach them.  That is information I can provide, if it's part of the information they want.  If not, I'm not going to disrespect them to the extent of deciding what would be best for them.

I can see the ethic behind the opposite argument, really I can.  I suppose it is a good thing, in a utopia, for everyone to be self-sufficient in every way.  But there's no moral or civil law requiring us to be so.  Indeed, it's a pretty conservative, every-man-for-himself attitude, to suggest that we all must take care of ourselves, always.  I prefer to think that those who can serve ought to, so that the other guy can go fishing.  Anchovies or white whales, whatever rocks his boat; we'll all come out ahead in the end.

So, LC, I hope that you're not mad, and that I can still take you out to dinner.


No comments:

Post a Comment