By Christine Joy Cherney
Last semester I entered into a course called Human/Information Interactions, and right away I was surprised by its broad applicability, both to other courses I’ve taken in my Library Science program and to experiences outside of the classroom, in my ordinary, “plainclothes” life.
Not long after the school year began, I was shopping in an unfamiliar store, looking for particular brands but not knowing where to begin my search. I was with a friend who knew where to find what we were looking for, and I heard myself ask out loud, “How can I find it? How are these products organized?”
Hearing myself, I realized that my eyes were automatically looking for a system of organization, and I was amused at my awareness of the perception-altering filters I continue to develop as I study information science. While I expected my library education to prepare me to organize information into meaningful experiences for my patrons, I have been surprised by the wider insight of how information has been organized by others into meaningful experiences for me as a consumer.
Another surprise of classroom knowledge suddenly turned into real-life application came at the hands of my notes from that same class. A concept that my professor repeatedly stressed was, “Always distinguish between information and its interface.” Although I had not previously put it into those precise words, this is a discipline I try always to practice in my communication with the important people in my life.
Miscommunications and misunderstandings are inescapable, but can be minimized by distinguishing the information (what is meant) from its interface (what is said in words and non-verbal communication). To look through clumsy, hasty, or imprecise words for the meaning of the heart and mind of the person who speaks them takes a great deal of effort, patience, and knowledge of the speaker’s intentions. It also takes a willingness to ask clarifying questions and to suspend immediate judgment.
Although its interface can enhance the information’s message, there are times that it can work at cross-purposes, as well. Only knowledge and the wisdom that experience brings can aid in telling the difference, and lead to a complete message that reaches its target. This perception between content and container, data and metadata is an essential skill for both the practice of good interpersonal communication and a successful career in the library world.
In the end, I’d like to hope that the knowledge and skills I’m building as a library science student are also making me a better person.
Originally posted on the ProQuest Discover More Corps blog, March 6, 2014, under the title "Plainclothes Librarian." Published with permission of the author.
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