As published in the Red Rock News
Anyone who has visited a doctor may recognize how, as a lay person attempting to understand the state of one’s health, the technical language that medical professionals use can often be confounding. This is not only the case with the medical profession, but many professionals use language particular to their field, or as it is commonly called “jargon.” Jargon is a way that professionals communicate with one another but it also can present a communication hurdle to those not in the profession.
The disconnect between the professional and the lay person can prove daunting. Have you ever tried to wade through the jargon used by your mechanic who is explaining just what is wrong with your car, what must actually be repaired and what it will cost? This is not just a modern problem confined to getting your car to run again. Since time immemorial, jargon has separated the common person from those “in the know.”
While jargon is a way to easily communicate with others within one’s field, it may also be a way for those in that field to accrue power and status. Through the use of jargon, the work of the professional may seem mysterious and special to the outsider, thereby allowing the user, or insider, to stand apart from the common person. In so doing, the professional becomes more valuable, commanding power, favor, and of course, money.
But that is not the case in the library. One of the remarkable aspects of librarians is that they move in the exact opposite direction than jargon affords. In my years as a librarian and in reading the professional journals of librarians, I have been repeatedly struck by, and proud of, librarians’ efforts to make what they know easily accessible to the public. Researching anything can be daunting, especially given the rapid movement into the digital realm. Librarians stand ready to not only access information but to teach the public how to do it for themselves. In this way, they actually give away the very power of the professional in order to make the broader public more knowledgeable, capable, and self-sufficient!
Librarians are clearly a breed apart. The vast majority that I have known don’t see their knowledge as something to be carefully kept secret by the members of the “guild.” Rather librarians share what they know and help users conduct research on their own. It is one of the main reasons that libraries and librarians are so highly respected.
As I read the current issues of “Library Journal” and other publications in the field, I see how the COVID-19 pandemic has offered an excellent example of how librarians empower the public. Their efforts to offer access to public records regarding infection rates and the most up-to-date scientific information on the virus have been a primary helpful focus. Librarians have also strived to provide the best information about the numerous issues that drive electoral politics. They work to furnish the broadest array of information on topics with the goal to always give the public access to the most current information available and let them decide for themselves on what they believe. In an environment where media outlets often trumpet one particular body of facts, it is not only refreshing, but essential to the functioning of our democracy, that the broadest view be presented. And librarians are the ones making the efforts to give the broadest view to the public.
By doing so, and with their efforts to teach the user how to find the information available in the library’s system, librarians’ work flies in the face of the standard behavior of professionals to elevate themselves and accrue power and influence with jargon. And librarians do this quietly and without fanfare. In an age when everyone wants to be a star, the steady light of librarians shines not on themselves, but on access to the information they provide.
The image of the quiet librarian is something of a trope. It is easy to overlook librarians’ work and the significant contribution that they, and libraries, make to the functioning of our democracy. Doing so imperils their important work. As freedom of information is a cornerstone of democracy, access to that information, especially in an increasingly
complex environment, is essential. That librarians eschew the jargon of technical language, and strive to demystify access to information makes them absolutely essential workers. Next time you are in the library, observe how they work to improve your ability to be self-sufficient consumers of information, and thank them. They are truly a breed apart among professionals.
Sedona Public Library works hard to be an excellent library by providing access to information and empowering you, the user. Please visit the library online at sedonalibrary.org, in west Sedona at 3250 White Bear Road, or in the Village of Oak Creek at Bell Rock Plaza, Ste. 51 A. Also, visit the Friends of Sedona Library’s ongoing book sale in the house adjacent to the main library for great bargains on used books. Sales are offered all the time, and your purchases support library services.
Sedona Public Library
Column for June 18, 2021
Written by David Keeber, President of The Friends of the Sedona Library
Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News.