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Wonder

December 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis) #reverb10

Wonder isn’t something I have to work very hard to cultivate. I am blessed (or cursed?) with a certain amount of intellectual curiosity and a strong desire to try new things. Taken too far, this can manifest as “flightiness,” something I try very hard to fight, with varying success. But I believe that, on the whole, I do a good job of leveraging this aspect of my personality in a positive way. And on my very best days, it can even be infectious.

Now, I realize this thing I’m talking about is subtly different than the prompt probably meant by the term “wonder.” I suspect they were talking about awe of nature, for instance, or, more generally, the ability to sit back and say “Whoa.” I am talking, I guess you could say, more about “wonder” the verb than “wonder” the noun. Because, while we all experience “wonder” the noun, at least sometimes, the other kind is more relevant to librarianship; that’s what I think we should, as librarians, try to cultivate within ourselves. (Except for those of us who have a natural excess of it. We need to damp it down, sometimes.)

None of this is new, so I won’t belabor the point, but I worry when people fall back on tradition. I think the past is full of valuable lessons, and I certainly don’t believe in reinventing the wheel—unless, of course, that wheel has noticeable corners. But, in general, I think libraries need to be more change-oriented than we are. (We should look for those corners!) We all talk a big game at conferences, but somehow, in the day-to-day work we’re doing, that doesn’t always come out. Sometimes, the instinct to fight change takes over. Often, we treat libraries and librarianship as these incredibly special and unique things that can’t possibly benefit from the tools or approaches that other industries and fields use. We tend to treat the MLIS as indispensable when, every now and then, a CS or HCI or education degree would be a lot more useful. When we’re choosing how to create—just hypothetically, here—websites, finding aids, and even programs/instruction sessions, there sometimes seems to be a tendency toward weighting what we think users need much more heavily than what the users themselves feel they need.

I’m not claiming we should discount our experience, or cater to every societal whim, but I think sometimes we do a poor job of weighting our tradition/experience appropriately against the changes we see in users’ backgrounds and expectations. We expect the users to come to us and to learn our way of doing things, instead of trying to make things fit in as well as we possibly can with their environments and ways of doing things.

To bring it back around, I think making this change within our field—moving from a past-oriented to a future-oriented discipline—requires us all (or at least most) to really work on being curious and excited about new possibilities, rather than fearful of change or failure. This is the kind of “wonder” I’m all about cultivating. But it comes to me naturally; how do I help others to build it within themselves, other than having as many “of my very best days” as I possibly can?

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