Friday, January 18, 2008

Don't Share What You Know

Librarians tend to be nice people. I know some patrons who fear the withering glance of the bun-wearing spinster might disagree, but in general it's true. Librarians want to help people, and usually they don't mind getting little reward for all that help. Money's not that important. A piece of chocolate and a kind word every few weeks keeps the librarians happy.

As the etymologically inclined among you undoubtedly know, "nice" didn't always have the bland but generally positive connotations it does today. When the word appeared in English in the fourteenth century, it meant, according to the OED, "foolish; simple; silly; ignorant." Now how do we feel about being nice?

Librarians are nice in all sorts of ways, but mostly because they want to help. They want to help people by sharing what they know, and sometimes they do know things. If we believe Francis Bacon that knowledge is power, it's a wonder librarians don't have more power. These days the pundits are apt to opine that information is power, or the control of information is power, or some such thing. Those who have more and more timely information have an edge over others. If this is true, then librarians should have more power, it would seem, and yet they don't. Why? Because they're too nice, in every sense of the term.

So do you want more power? Then don't share what you know. It's that simple. Don't tell your patrons everything you know. Make them come back to you. Hold them captive to their own ignorance. If patrons were so smart, they wouldn't have to come to the librarians for answers, now would they? No, they wouldn't. Don't teach them to fish. Don't tell them how you found that information they were looking for. If they want the secrets of information mastery, they can damn well go to library school and be bored to death like the rest of us. Is that too much to ask? I didn't think so.

Some librarians are even nice enough to share what they know with their colleagues. This just shows how selfless, and, dare I say it, nice librarians can be. Let's be honest. What incentive do I have for sharing my knowledge with my colleagues? I keep my knowledge to myself and use it to my advantage. If I'm at a meeting and some backwards librarian isn't hep to the latest library jive, I'm happy to hint at how much I know, and thus how superior I am, but I'm hardly likely to start giving workshops entitled, "Things I Know But You Don't Because You're Too Lazy to Learn Stuff on Your Own." If my colleagues want to know about the latest twopointopian gobbledygook, they can slog through the blogs like I do. So what if I'm younger than them. It's not like I graduated from library school yesterday. Things change. Keep up, but don't expect me to help drag you into the new millennium.

And for the younger colleagues, my only incentive to share what I know with you is to make you my minions in case a power struggle ever breaks out in the library. You might think you know a lot, like those Library Student Journal folks who think they know more about libraries than I do, but there's plenty you never learn about in library school. For example, I never had a class about power struggles in the library, but I learned everything I needed to know from Machiavelli, who would have made a fine assistant library director.

So if you want to look for advantages instead of like suckers, remember: knowledge is power. Don't share what you know.

37 comments:

Misshelved Librarian said...

I learned everything I needed to know from Machiavelli

Reminds me of the time I did a study of Sun Tsu's Art of War applied to the library

Anonymous said...

Wait, your library school taught you "the secrets of information mastery"? Since when does library school teach you anything about being a librarian?

The.Effing.Librarian said...

possible responses:
a) I shared everything I know once, and look at this rash. (No, don't touch it. Are you mad?!)

b) I share everything I know every day. It takes about five minutes. Then I take a nap.

Library Elf said...

This is an interesting point of view, but I guess it makes sense. When I taught computer classes at a public library, I would not answer question covered in the more advanced classes, wanting them to come back.

Ed Crank -- Librarian said...

Fortunately, the people I work with are really lazy. I keep finding the same basic information for them again and again. I tell them exactly how and where I found it so they can do it themselves the next time.

Do they?

Nope.

They are lazy and I do the work for them.

Plus, they get credit from the higher ups on a job well done.

TJPaladin said...

AL,

We talked about this a great deal when I was in Library School

Name me one profession that requires an Advanced Degree where the practitioner actually teaches their customer how to do the job.

We are often in the business of making ourselves unneeded.

The exceptions to this are:

* Tech Serv. Librarians : where nobody else really wants to know.

* Special Librarians : Where the patrons don't want to spend the time

* Or maybe other patron Service librarians that are always trying to stay ahead of the curve so they have something to teach.

Hey, BTW - do you know how the 780 and 785 MARC tags work with each other ?

I can explain it if you want to know.

Dances With Books said...

I read Machiavelli a year ago. I was amazed how relevant it was to our profession. Indeed it is the perfect guide for a library director. Heck, just the perfect guide for those of us who are more savvy. Indeed, keep your power and use it sparingly.

Machibrarian said...

A ha! Your vanity has undone you. You did just share with me what you know and now my victory is complete.

Chellie said...

Are you kidding?

If not, then I quote Ginny Weasley, "Don't be so mean."

yet another anonymous poster who occasionally reads this blog said...

If you only knew what I knew....

The Reactionary said...

I think this is how a lot of people think of librarians:

Erik the Librarian Mysteries Ep.1.

Anonymous said...

Of course you could be the Invisible Librarian.

Whenever anyone comes into our small special library, they gush over the reference librarian and over the female librarian.

Me?

I feel like the character from Monty Python. You know the one who is invisible. The one nobody notices. Even though I provide a valuable service, everyone else gets the credit. Oh, they come in Hi George. Hi Karen. And then to proceed to ignore me. Oh yes, I know I am here, but no one really cares.

Hey!!

Did you stop reading this?

I am even invisible in the Library 2.0

Anonymous said...

I must be masochistically inclined, since I like sharing information. Oh wait....I'm a public librarian, so....(oh, damn it!)

once upon a time anonymous said said...

I must be masochistically inclined, since I like sharing information. Oh wait....I'm a public librarian, so....(oh, damn it!)

Fabulist said...

I'm with you. I don't mind being an underling to your mastermind! Hale the conquering AL! I will fight for you my master! *Signs up for your samurai/Jedi/munchkin army *

It’s a librarian eats librarian world out there and anyone who reads the Prince is top in my book.

Fabulist said...

I'm with you. I don't mind being an underling to your mastermind! Hale the conquering AL! I will fight for you my master! *Signs up for your samurai/Jedi/munchkin army *

It’s a librarian eats librarian world out there and anyone who reads the Prince is top in my book.

Fabulist said...

WOW sorry about the double post my computer glitched *BOWS*

Anonymous said...

feh. I know SO much more than you, it's totally awesome.
But I'm nice about it.
Until the check bounces.

Anonymous said...

What incentive do I have for sharing my knowledge with my colleagues? I keep my knowledge to myself and use it to my advantage.

The early Knowledge Management (KM) initiatives ignored this sentiment. The only ones that survived provided incentives for staff to codify their knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I mentioned to a friend of mine not that long how useless librarians have become.

Aside from functions that require the use of a library, such as students writing papers they have to cite sources on, or databases that are restricted to use in a library, there's no real need to go in one.

Even the so-called scholarly journals are largely just automated plugs for professors to get their own tenure, and anxious PhD students to cite as many journals as possible to show they've done their research.

In other words, libraries continue because of outmoded systems that require them. Maybe it's different in special libraries that are there for a specific purpose, but the general academic/public libraries have outlive their usefulness.

Think about it, what would happen if libraries were simply replaced by a web portal with access restricted to a community, and a help desk to show how to find things?

Librarians can cry all they want about how important they, that is if you can pry them away from their blogs, chat rooms, and endless meetings.

To get to AL's point, it's like that old joke about "Don't mess with librarians because they control all the world's knowledge."

That horse escaped the barn a long time ago. Trying to keep some search techniques and sources "secret" to appear valuable again is too little, too late.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon, in which Dogbert states "Beware the advice of successful people. They do not seek company."

Which means I should ignore this post, because it's probably filled with intentionally bad advice. Maybe niceness really IS the answer!

Anonymous said...

Ah! This explains why my colleagues insist on loading our user interfaces with library jargon instead of labels that mean something to the patrons. It gives us plausible deniability while still keeping the rabble from getting their books and articles unassisted. Pretty clever, I reckon. Evil, but clever.

Anonymous said...

"So what if I'm younger than them."

'Tis a pity you did not learn grammar in library school. My junior high school English teacher would have had my head on a platter for that.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:53
My public library is pretty active, and not just with people doing research for school. Yep they have the ditzy romance novels that are popular everywhere, but they al;so have a great non-fiction collection, and an awesome genealogy section.

Speaking about my special library, The folks DO have access to databases and electronic resources. And yes I teach people about those resources when they come in to ask for help. hey i am even teaching classes on one of our newest databases.
more later

Anonymous said...

OK Back. Yep I try to teach my patrons the resources available to them, BUT for them it's faster to call me up on the phone and give the the info they want than to actually search for it themselves.
Privateer6

webbygrl said...

As a special librarian, I know what I know, and my patrons (doctors) know what they know, they think, but since I'm helping them find what they don't know, I'm learning what they know too. And they could care less what I know. Isn't that cool? Of course, I have to actually look up the words they know (or think they know) to understand what they know. And as each day goes by, I know more and more and my patrons marvel at what I know and they don't know how I know it. It's secret cool librarian stuff...

DearReader said...

Anonymous 10:44 said:
'Tis a pity you did not learn grammar in library school. My junior high school English teacher would have had my head on a platter for that.

What a great example of "don't share what you know"! You didn't correct the mistake - you just made it clear that there was a mistake, but was vague about what it was, let alone how to correct it.

DearReader said...

...and I'll pretend there wasn't an accidental mistake in my own post.

AL said...

I know what the supposed mistake was, but the commenter plainly is a pedant. That much was shared.

doe doe page said...

hi AL,

I got nothing profound to say but i thought i'd share this with you!

http://www.library.cmu.edu/Libraries/etc/game1/game1.swf

Anonymous said...

I wish I had known this at the beginning of my public library career instead of the end. Or maybe not, since I am calling it quits early and getting out of libraries before I turn into scary Erik the Librarian. And I've worked with Erik!

skeptical thomas said...

The cat once again set the mouse trap, and once again quite a few got caught in the trap. And when you think I almost missed this post. Way too funny...

j- said...

*Anonymous said...
I mentioned to a friend of mine not that long how useless librarians have become. *

And then you went online searching for some library blogs for what reason?


*Aside from functions that require the use of a library...there's no real need to go in one.*

Aside from wanting to get some food, there's no real reason to go into a restaurant.

*Even the so-called scholarly journals are largely just automated plugs for professors to get their own tenure*

Revolt, peasants! And apparent PhD dropouts!

*In other words, libraries continue because of outmoded systems that require them.*

Smash the state!

*Maybe it's different in special libraries that are there for a specific purpose*

Why don't you go to the library and do some research to validate this theory?

*but the general academic/public libraries have outlive their usefulness.*

Yeah, you can get all kinds of obscure books online--who needs your campus library with its nine floors of worthless texts.

Maybe you haven't been past the K-12 level after all.

*Think about it, what would happen if libraries were simply replaced by a web portal*

Dell's help desk would get a lot more irrelevant calls?

*with access restricted to a community*

Oh, yet more "gateways" to be hacked or hurdled.

*Librarians can cry all they want about how important they, that is if you can pry them away from their blogs, chat rooms, and endless meetings.*

You sound bitter and one-dimensional. I can see you fuming right now: "The only thing I hates more than a librarian is...TWO librarians!"

Minks said...

Yea, 'hide what you know' is pretty feasible since we are all paid to divulge what we know. Maybe supermarket cashiers should stop counting money. I wonder what would happen to them? I suspect the same thing that would happen to use. But hey, turnover is good. It gives the wet-behind-the-ears librarians places to move up. But, knowing you, that was kinda your point in the first place. Well, either that or that nobody would notice if we clammed up. Sometimes your sarcasm is so mighty and all encompassing it is hard to figure out what is really being said.

What woman uses the word 'minion' in a blog? Minion is such a male word. I am just sayin'...

-Mink, the preacher of mediocre

Anonymous said...

I'm with you. How many times have my colleagues and I opined that ours is not a true profession. Do you go to a CPA and expect her to show you how to do your taxes? Do you visit an attorney to learn how to file a brief? Does your doctor show you how to set your own broken bones? Of course not. Yet we are constantly giving it away for free. Ho ho ho.

Anonymous said...

do you know how the 780 and 785 MARC tags work with each other ?

I know! I know! What do I win?

Anonymous said...

"Hold them captive to their own ignorance. If patrons were so smart, they wouldn't have to come to the librarians for answers, now would they? No, they wouldn't. Don't teach them to fish."

How true and further:
If you light a fire for a man you keep him warm for a day but if you set fire to him you keep him warm for the rest of his life.