This I Believe

Judith - Ann Arbor, Michigan
Entered on November 13, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
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It was something to intrinsic to me that I never even thought about it until one day when I suggested I might give up my role on an official University committee that addresses the ethical questions regarding research projects. I’d be easy enough to replace in my required non-scientist role: the world is full of non-scientists. I was surprised when the reaction was “You can’t quit; we need you.” Why? The answer was something so true of me that I’d never considered it: “You look things up.”

It’s true. I was likely to have pursued some question related to what we were discussing: average of marriage for women in Nepal or the racial composition of some Michigan community or any number of other questions. What I’d never thought about before was that this wasn’t just perfectly average behavior. How was it that the others on the committee didn’t feel an equally strong need to look these things up?

I come by my habit naturally. When I was a child back in 1950s small town Michigan our family ate dinner together every night. There were rules about dinner in our home. You had to have at least a taste of everything served. And you didn’t get up from the table until everyone was finished. There was one major exception to that rule. Sometimes a topic would come up over which some question of fact loomed. Somebody would be sent from the table to fetch a dictionary or encyclopedia volume, and together we’d all look it up.

This occasion at the dinner table or elsewhere was marked by what my friends today label “your family motto”: “Let us seize the moment of excited curiosity for the acquisition of knowledge.” Sometimes it got shortened to “seizing the moment”, but usually the whole thing was said, most commonly by my father. All he ever explained of it is that when he was in seminary, in preparation for his calling as a Methodist minister, one of his professors would quote that when a student asked a question that he deemed worthy of pursuing right then and there

It’s no wonder, I suppose, that I became a reference librarian. What other job allows, indeed requires, seizing that moment of excited curiosity and going after knowledge. The methods for getting that knowledge have changed a lot over the almost four decades I’ve been a reference librarian, but the goal has remained the same. I spend my working hours surrounded by other reference librarians, and when some idle question comes up during office conversation, someone is sure to be on the computer looking it up. It seems I assumed the whole world works like that.

One friend needlepointed and framed it for me, so I guess I can just state it to the world as my This I Believe: Let us seize the moment of excited curiosity for the acquisition of knowledge. Or, more briefly: I look things up