Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I ain't no (_E=mc2_)

I have a love/hate relationship with language. On the one hand, it is a cumbersome, unweildy tool which often makes me feel clumsy, and on the other, it's a precise instrument capable of expressing the nimblest thoughts.

People are not like ants that spit up a molecule of a carbon+something that tells other ants that there's a hunk of a cherry Pop Tart on the kitchen counter. And we're not like dogs who smell each other's butts to learn that one lives in a ranch-style house with a mocha-colored leather sofa and a pool.

We're people. And we like to talk. And although using smell to communicate is pretty damn cool (unless you're commmunicating your love for Mexican food), no other creatures have constructed language as complex (and if they have, they must be hiding the thesauri up their tiny poop-chutes).

People talk and people write, and people bat their eyelids, fold their arms, and wave their hands either comically or seriously depending on the message they want to express.

And this leads me to why this might matter to a librarian: we can't help people if we can't understand what they want.

Our capacity to convey messages has been, dare I say, corrupted by language. We don't, as a species, all shake our asses to communicate the same message. We lost that ability long ago. Watching me shake my ass now might inspire you to want to make love. To view others shaking theirs, maybe not so much, but damn, it would make the reference interview hilarious.

And so, it is with some apprehension that one approaches the role of researcher, of information provider, of librarian.

I'm sure most of us find it difficult to make out what the patron wants. Some are clear about their needs, but not all. And if we don't understand each other, how can we help? This problem has been applied recently to the medical field. Patients who can't read or communicate with their health care providers are more likely to die from inadequate care.

Holy crap! It's a rare instance of miscommunication in the library that's caused a patron's death. But again, when it happens, it's hilarious.

It's hard enough to get a patron to tell me what she wants clearly and without the preamble: "it's been years since I've been in the library..." And it's nearly impossible to help the patron with the crappy phone.

I don't expect I'll enjoy when my whatchacallit beeps and I see the message: pls hlp m fnd bk wr n pec by leo tlsty. Although in that case, it's only the presentation that annoys; the message is perfectly clear.

It would be great if we could all understand each other. Not just at the reference desk, but everywhere.

Language, as it is, is man's creation. And at its purest form of blasphemy, it approaches the divine.

But I don't compare a librarian's work to God's. I don't think God could do our job: Sundays off, what a wimp.

[note: The above rant was inspired by this site: http://owlcroft.com/english/index.shtml, where the motto seems to be, "To degrade language is finally to degrade civilization."]
[another note: the title of today's message translates to: "I do not consider myself to be more clever than I consider others (to be)." (I am not a smart-ass.)]
[another nother note: man, I need an editor. By the time I'm done proofing, none of this makes sense.]