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Research Now


I checked out a book from the IUB Libraries:  The Lost Art of Finding Our Way by John Edward Huth.  This is part of the review in Amazon:

Long before GPS, Google Earth, and global transit, humans traveled vast distances using only environmental clues and simple instruments. John Huth asks what is lost when modern technology substitutes for our innate capacity to find our way. Encyclopedic in breadth, weaving together astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, and ethnography, The Lost Art of Finding Our Way puts us in the shoes, ships, and sleds of early navigators for whom paying close attention to the environment around them was, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

Even today, careful observation of the sun and moon, tides and ocean currents, weather and atmospheric effects can be all we need to find our way.

Lavishly illustrated with nearly 200 specially prepared drawings, Huth’s compelling account of the cultures of navigation will engross readers in a narrative that is part scientific treatise, part personal travelogue, and part vivid re-creation of navigational history. Seeing through the eyes of past voyagers, we bring our own world into sharper view.

And here’s an example of Huth’s writing  style:

In a way, we can create our own meanings: our own private frameworks to link events. Too often in the modern era, we rely on guardians to interpret events for us, and they’re too happy to step in and tell us what something “means.” But when we do this, we surrender the more primal empiricism that our ancestors surely possessed.

Huth, John Edward. Losing Our Way in the World.  New York Times Sunday Review.  20 July, 2013.  Accessed 18 Feb. 2014.

Very accessible, it seemed, when I picked the book out and took it to the circulation desk.  And the first chapters pulled me right in.  Social Science, Humanities.  I got it.  But TWO renewals later I am completely bogged down.  Plowing my way through SCIENCE, MATH, charts and graphs that make no sense to me.  Where the sun is at noon, if you are in Rio as opposed to Boston, on a given day.  But no, not where the sun IS, where the sun APPEARS TO BE.  And what that means in terms of where you are.  Or why.  I want to understand this stuff!  It’s fascinating.  I keep reading.  But I don’t understand it at all.  It seems important.  What if all the GPSs in the world stopped working and I had to find my way to Rio following the stars or the sun or… I keep reading.  I finish a whole chapter.  Might as well have been written in Sanskrit.  Still can’t navigate like the ancient Polynesians or the Vikings.  I know I’m going to finish the book, I know I’ll have learned SOMETHING.  I’m hoping I get the gist of it.  I’m probably going to make it mean something very different than the author intended.

What does any of the above have to do with Research Now?  Well.  Sometimes I sit in our Tuesday sessions listening and getting ideas, but much of the time I listen and think, “Hmmm.  What?  What does that mean?  That sounds really neat, I wonder if that’s like LCSH subject headings?  Isn’t that like the fields in a record?  The way we used to describe databases?  Can Content Mapping be applied to people?  Is everything a cycle?  Is this librarianship?  This isn’t your mother’s librarianship! Thanks goodness.”

I am pretty good at living in a state of perpetual discombobulation.  I really don’t expect to understand.  But I do expect to figure it out just enough to ask the right questions and to take the next step in the right direction.  And I think we are, at least, headed in the right direction.

What I’ve learned in all my years as a reference librarian is that we need to pay attention, be optimistic, and ask the right, the real, questions and be able to evaluate and pick out the “right” or “real” answer so that we can go off in the direction that will take us where we [think we] want to go.

Then, of course, you have to ask the next question and take off again.  For old-time reference librarians, it is as much about the journey as it is the destination.  It’s the searching that we get off on.  It’s the stuff we learn along the way.  Getting the answer is the secondary reward.  The REAL reward is discovering the next question.  And I feel like that’s what I’m in the midst of right now, finding new meaning and discovering the next question.

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