Way back in the Days of Yore (more commonly known as 2000), your hero started working for Partners Healthcare. The purpose of infiltrating the colossal company was pure profit; Northeastern University’s profit that is. I needed a job to help pay for my English degree. The operative word there being “helped” since I upon graduating I was shackled with a student loan debt in the area of $50,000.
After that aforementioned graduation, I got many an eye roll and confused puppy head tilt when I told people I didn’t have a Computer Science degree but rather an English one. “Great Scott, man! What use is that?” Was the question du jour. Then I went on to tell them how every department needs a skilled documentation writer. Those esoteric procedures that happen only once in the blue moon after Haley’s Comet buzzes by, need to be documented so that hours aren’t wasted on feeble first attempts before the procedure is finally finished. Email has become the communication tool of choice for the incessantly multitasking IT professional. However, the majority of folks last exposure to professional writing was back in college composition class. So grammar errors abound and sending the boss an email stating “Were going over their” is a good way to lose her confidence. That’s when I shed my secret identity, tie on my cape, and become Hey-edit-this-before-I-send-it-to-the-boss Man!
This went on for years and I took it for granted. I, too, didn’t see how useful my English degree was and took solace in the fact that I could use what I learned at all.
Soon, however, I realized that it wasn’t just my written communication skills that were solid, but my communication skills in general. In a land where this:
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is more clear than this: “Affect is a verb meaning ‘to influence’ while Effect is a noun meaning, ‘a result of a cause’” communication isn’t all that easy. It would be great if developers only needed to speak to developers, programmers to programmers, managers to managers, etc. That’s not the case though. Being able to speak both “Tech-ese” and plain old English is a valuable asset. One for which I found my degree had groomed me. I may not be able to get too fancy in languages such as XML but I understand them enough so that I can relay technical information in a manner that’s understood by even the most computer illiterate of souls. While my documentation is derided by tech-savy folks, it’s not written for them. It’s written for newbies so that they can jump right in and start feeling useful.
This need for communication is apparent in the LIS field as well. I recently read an article on the ebook debacle that is being driven by that infamous root of all evil: money. The Big Six are doing their best impression of the Sinister Six and libraries are playing the role of Spider-Man. From the seemingly arbitrary 26 loan limits to price gouging and even refusing to sell new titles to libraries there’s been not a few heinous deeds. I don’t think their intentions are malicious, they’re just trying to remain relevant in a field that’s in flux. I don’t think the publishers know how to take advantage of growing demand for ebooks. Since they are businesses, I don’t begrudge their desire to maximize profits. But I do begrudge their not making the knowledge those ebooks contain available to libraries. Libraries aren’t in the game for a profit. Their goal is to make knowledge available to their patrons. How can they do that if the publishers won’t provide them with it?
In that article the ALA used a very familiar word: communication. I don’t think either side knows what the answer is. So in the stead of each of them trying to come up with the answer on their own, they’re opening the lines of communication. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in, communication if paramount. I have faith that this ebook trouble will be solved. It isn’t a passing fad like disco or pogs, ebooks are here to stay. But the ebook dilemma isn’t the only place where communication can expedite a resolution. Nor is Partners the only place where taking on the guise of the Courageous Captain Communication is useful. Since I’ve started yet another degree that doesn’t fit perfectly into my current job, I’ve been looking for skills that are transferable, act as a crosswalk if you will. Communication skill is the perhaps the best I’ll ever come across. For without communication any company may fall prey to that ne’er-do-well, that vile villain: Major Miscommunication and his misanthropic intentions.