Specialization is for Insects

I once instructed a friend and colleague that should I ever take up time, space and effort on my blog with thoughts related to my work, to promptly give me a good thwack on the head. At the risk of such a thumping, I feel the urge to share a muse that came to me via a “libraryland” experience, because really I think it might extend beyond that kingdom.

I have spent the past two working days (with one left to go tomorrow) attending a course described as an introduction to the NCBI molecular biology information resources. This is a course supposedly designed to teach medical librarians how to apply our searching skills to these highly specialized databases created by and for folks who work in fields dedicated to, to quote from the NCBI website, “better understanding of molecular processes affecting human health and disease”.

The amount of information contained in these resources is, without a doubt, impressive. Not to mention they’re all integrated, allowing the user to seemlessly move from one to another and another still, gathering more answers to more questions than one can hardly imagine. Unless one is a biomedical researcher, of course, which, as I’ve stated, I am not. I do work at a medical school with biomedical researchers, though truth be told, I rarely see them in the library.

We actually have one very famous researcher, a recent Nobel Prize recipient. I did catch a glimpse of him in our library once, but I believe he was only there to meet some friends. I know he didn’t ask me for any reference assistance, and judging by what I’ve discovered these past days to be my comprehension level of the information accessible via these resources, this is likely a very good thing. I think more than anything what I’ve learned through this course is that whatever the gene is that makes it possible for people to understand genetics – mine is mutated.

But all of this aside (and here’s where I believe this musing goes beyond “libraryland”), walking to the train after class today, I recalled an experience from childhood that left me with very similar feelings to those I’ve been having during this class…

I am staring at a plate of brussel sprouts getting colder and more inedible by the minute. My mother says I must eat them. I don’t like them. I like plenty of other vegetables, even some that 99% of kids my age refuse to eat. I like squash, okra, broccoli, beans of almost every kind, carrots, corn, beets, eggplant, and spinach (with ketchup on it). The list could go on. But I don’t like brussel sprouts (at least not when I was a child). And I don’t like peas (as a child or an adult). But that’s it. Anything else put on my plate, I eat with little to no complaint. Still, I am forced to stare down – eventually choke down – those little cabbages with the bad aftertaste because for some inexplicable reason, this is good for me.

It is the same today. I sit through class only because a voice in my head incessantly reminds me that somehow, for some reason, it is good for me. All the while, I stare at lines of letters – protein and nucleotide sequences – that might as well be Greek. Well actually not even Greek, because I took years of that language in college and seminary. Even with a couple of decades between me and Dr. Lisle, I bet I could figure out more going on in a Greek text than I can going on in these databases.

And therein lies the crux of things… I have a thousand interests, from Greek tragedies to the latest Red Sox box score. I can talk politics and religion, ballgames and movies, literature of all types, the latest best seller (even if I’ve not read it), any number of sociological issues, music and musicians from a myriad of genres, the latest fad on the Food Network, and practically anything related to college mascots (one of my best Jeopardy categories). In other words, I’m a generalist – the once proud claim of librarians. Indeed, the once great calling to librarianship. In fact, it was as if when I found this profession, I’d at long last discovered the one vocation where this particular trait of mine (could it be in my genes?) might not prove detrimental to my success.

And I share none of this as a means of taking anything away from those brave, rare few who have earned both their doctorate in molecular biology and a degree in librarianship. They are highly specialized and no doubt prove a tremendous asset to the researchers at their respective institutions. But I’m truly unclear as to the role that any “regular old librarian” like myself might play in this area. Not to sell myself nor my abilities nor intellect short, but this is a different league of folks and the push within my profession to insert librarians onto the same playing field, well I’m just not so sure the reasoning and rationale behind such.

To be honest, I don’t think our Nobel Prize winner really needs my help with his work. Do I feel my job security threatened by this fact? No. Perhaps I should, but I can’t help but feel like there are plenty of others who could actually benefit from our abilities. This very select group… I’m not convinced. Might we feel better about ourselves if we keep company? Might we feel smarter? More professional? More valued?

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I just don’t like microbiology. (I also don’t like cell phones, rudeness, litter, obsessive profanity, and the current state of our government.) It is difficult to imagine one who doesn’t even know her own blood type getting excited about the possibility of carrying around her very own copy of her DNA code.

Or maybe I just don’t like going through the motions of something, simply because some greater entity (my mother, my boss, or my profession) says I should. Be it eating vegetables or taking classes, there needs to be a better reason given than that. Heres’ hoping I’ll discover it in class tomorrow.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: