I’ve been slowly making my way through Melvyn Bragg’s “The Adventure of English,” which tells the story of the English language [1]. I read a bit the other night that I found rather fascinating, highlighting the symbiotic relationship between culture and language. Moreover, I found therein a perhaps sloppy metaphor for the unique role that library technologists play. Here’s an excerpt from the section about how the English language persisted, perhaps even thrived, despite the threat posed to it by the Normans who had recently come to power in England:

While the English-speaking peasants lived in small, often one-roomed mud and wattle cottages, or huts, their French-speaking masters lived in high stone castles. Many aspects of our modern vocabulary reflect the distinctions between them. English speakers tended the living cattle, for instance, which we still call by the Old English words "ox" or, more usually today, "cow." French speakers ate prepared meat which came to the table, which we call by the French word "beef." In the same way the English "sheep" became the French "mutton," "calf" became "veal," "deer" became "venison," "pig" "pork," English animal, French meat in every case. The English laboured, the French feasted.

Though I risk making broad generalizations here, I’ll share my thoughts on this briefly. I tend to think of technologists as being better-versed in speaking about the animal, the “pig,” the low-level guts, nuts, and bolts, the “implementation details” than are librarians, generally speaking. On the flip side of the coin, I tend to think that librarians do have a better grasp on the user’s needs, or at least have their needs in mind, and thus focus more on the end-product, the “pork.” Library technologists, then, fill the gap between pig and pork. We know enough about the pig to know that we can produce pork with it. And we know enough about how to prepare pork that we can procure pigs if the need arises.

This sounded better in my head. If it accomplished nothing else, it sure gave me a craving for bacon.

  1. Bragg, M. (2003). The adventure of English: The biography of a language. United Kingdom: Hodder & Stoughton. [Available: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0340829931/203-0353691-6278303]