Joe Everett is a genealogy librarian at FamilySearch, responsible for patron services in international branches of the Family History Library. Joe was previously the head of International Reference at the Family History Library and a technical services librarian, cataloging Slavic and Germanic records. He also spent several years as content manager at Joe earned a B.A. in Russian Language and Family History/Genealogy (Germanic emphasis) from Brigham Young University and a Master of Library Science from Emporia State University (Kansas). He has been active in library and genealogical associations and has lectured and published articles Central & East European research.

16 August 2011

Information-Hoarders vs Information-Sharers

As a follow-up to my post on lifelong learning, I wanted to say a word about lifelong teaching.  As we strive to always be learning, we should also strive to always be sharing knowledge with others.  There are two types of people: information-hoarders and information-sharers.  The hoarders have the mistaken notion that their expertise is enhanced by building up their own personal store of information and meting it out to others only on an as-needed basis, taking care not to share too freely, lest others start to rival their level of knowledge.  In my observation, many information hoarders are unaware of their tendency to withhold information, although there are some who know what they are doing, and it is their personal philosophy to continue carefully guarding their information.  Knowledge, after all, is power.

But the wonderful thing about knowledge is that is not diminished when it is given away.  When I teach something to someone else, I still know it.  In fact, I usually come to know it better through the act of teaching.  And while those who hoard information may think they are strengthening their position over others, it is in fact those who are willing to teach others what they know who tend to have greater influence.  In many cases, people go to the information hoarder only because they have to, but not because they want to.  They may hold the person with the knowledge in awe, but they will more likely fear them or begrudge them, rather than admire them.  And the moment they can turn to an alternative source of information, one that is more freely given, they will.  If someone is willing to teach what they know, others will come to them willingly.

It is a simple principle, but one that is very often not understood or followed, especially in the workplace.  It is also, unfortunately, a tendency for some who aspire to be professionals, including professional genealogists, to be stingy with information.  The idea seems to be that those who hold the information have the competitive edge in getting clients, landing the better jobs, and making a name for themselves in the professional community.  Thankfully, this seems to affect the minority of genealogists, as in my experience, genealogists tend to be very happy to share what they know with others. And, ironically perhaps, it is those who are the most eager to share and teach who are in fact the most successful, and the most highly regarded.

Lifelong Learning

It has been said that the more you know, the more you realize you don't know.  I have found that is as true of genealogy as any other subject.  I have recently stepped up my efforts to expand my genealogical knowledge by reading more and attending more conferences.  I have attended three conferences so far this year, and renewed subscriptions to three major genealogical publications, with a goal to read each one before the next issue comes out.  (Harder than it sounds.)  I have also started reading more genealogy blog posts and listening to more to podcasts.  One might thing that after a while, this would all get quite repetitive and I would run out of new things to learn.  I mean, how much can one say about any topic, let alone genealogy?  Yet, I am continually amazed that, with each new blog post or article I read, conference lecture I attend, or podcast I listen to, I learn something new--often multiple things.  After 20 years at this, I feel like I am still just scratching the surface of the available knowledge.  It is both exciting and overwhelming, but I guess that is also part of why it is so addicting.  The more I learn, the more I want to learn.

I have been referred to by some as a genealogy expert, but one thing every "expert" should know is that the moment you declare yourself an expert, that is the moment that you risk stagnating.  Every moment of every day, there are new ideas, new methods, and new technologies being discovered that you don't yet know anything about, not to mention the fact that the body of knowledge is already so vast that one person can not possibly know it all.  Rather than aspire to become experts, we should aspire to an awareness of the need to never stop learning, and to develop the information literacy skill to continue learning all our lives.