Thursday, March 15, 2012

Paleobiology - my revolutionary display

 Recently I helped put together a library display oriented on paleobiology.  I know next to nothing about the topic, so I partnered with a faculty member in the Geosciences department.  I was very happy with the final outcome, which featured a number of items we had on the shelves and a few borrowed rocks and informative snippets.  I always enjoy working on projects like this one because it allows me to learn about an area I knew nothing about, and in researching the various items I am constantly amazed at how interdisciplinary science is.  Our study of the Earth goes beyond merely analyzing the physical elements making it up.  Understanding the composition of a rock helps us understand the environment which made it possible and can lead to other conclusions such as how early life came to be, and even gives us a possible glimpse into what is happening on other planets.  

Anecdotally, when I discuss geology with peers it seems to be an area of study which is initially perceived as dry.  Rocks were something we collected as children because they looked pretty, but discussing what made them pretty held little interest.  Perhaps this reflects more on our social values, which appreciates the perfect princess cut diamond on the hand of a bride-to-be, and does not necessarily question how the diamond was mined. There is some recognition that the formation of certain crystals is rare and to be appreciated for its unique nature, but I found when writing out the information cards that the most interesting rocks were the ones which looked unassumingly simple.  For example, I recalled in elementary school appreciating pumice as the rock that floats. But upon further investigation I found that the formation of pumice requires a volcano which contains high viscosity lava.  Lava which cannot flow easily consequently erupts from the volcano and promptly cools so quickly it traps air bubbles inside it, creating pumice.  This struck me because often I do not appreciate how understanding something simple (such as the composition of lava) can provide explanation for something on a larger scale (such as the behavior of a volcano). 

Working with a geosciences faculty member to create the display also provided me an opportunity to network with the department.  Show casing interdepartmental work lays the ground work for future collaborations (hopefully) and I think is indicative of how the library is more than just a resource for the patrons. Library outreach is always important, but maybe even more so now as we are shifting into a digital age and becoming less of a physical presence in our patrons lives.  

In contrast to my academic display, my coworker who is the library liaison to the education department created a display which was much more colorful.  Dinosaurs were prominent.  Archaeology and the study of fossils is an area which could be considered a polar opposite of geology.  With the beloved study of fierce larger than life lizards and the prominent example of Indiana Jones, this is a field of science which is glorified. Upon closer inspection however, one realizes how little we can understand a culture or an organism when all we have are bones or an empty ruin. And that I suppose is the beauty of the human mind as it pieces together an understanding of the world around us. We speculate and imagine, and then test and examine. Occasionally we revolutionize our common understanding, but it is only possible through the various details of our lives adding up. It is a precarious balance and before I meander off into more philosophical thought I'll end with a quote from the display.

·         “Those who would question the present should investigate the past. Those who do not understand what is to come should look at what has gone before.” – The Guanzi (A collection of ancient Chinese writings dated 5th – 1st Century BC)