Saturday, August 4, 2012

Understanding My World through Curiosity

Curiosity is part of human nature. We can feed our curiosity
and build our understanding of the world by pursuing
information in a wide variety of formats and fields.

While listening to NPR this morning, I was intrigued by a story about the Mars rover that is set to touchdown on Monday morning EST, next week. Aptly named, "Curiosity," the rover will expand our understanding of the universe, life and the context of our lives in that universe.
Adam Steltzner, the entry, descent and landing team leader for the rover mission, was highlighted in the radio program "Morning Edition." Below, I've pasted some copy from the Crazy Smart:When a Rocker Designs a Mars Lander story transcript. Steltzer discusses his teen years when he was a less than stellar student and was told by his Dad that he wouldn't "amount to anything but a ditch digger...." 
Finding Purpose In The Stars
But then something happened. As Steltzner tells it, he was on his way home from playing music at a club one night when he became fascinated with the stars, especially the constellation of Orion.
"The fact that it was in a different place in the sky at night when I returned home from playing a gig, than it had been when I'd driven out to the gig," he said. "And I had only some vague recollection from my high school time that something was moving with respect to something else, but that was it."
As crazy as it sounds, that experience was enough to motivate him to take a physics course at the local community college. That did it. He was hooked.
The fog of sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifted. He had to know all about the laws that govern the universe. The rocker wound up with a doctoral degree in engineering physics.
"I was totally turned on by this idea of understanding my world," Steltzner said. "Engineering gave me an opportunity to be gainfully employed [and] really understanding my world with these laws and equations that governed it."
Finding Purpose in Life through Information
Earlier this week, on my new office door in the school library, I posted two signs. One says, "Libraries are in the curiosity business." The other says, "Curiosity and creativity are cousins." As I looked for ways to describe my library vision to my students, the word "curiosity" has come up again and again. I realize that, no matter what lights a spark for a person, it is that person's curiosity about the subject that will propel them to learn more about it. 
I asked a teen who was helping me shelve books this week what his areas of interest are. He told me that he likes working with motors. I told him about my husband who recently took apart bits of his motorcycle and rebuilt it. I told him about the plane that he is building. He began asking questions. He was curious. I was working to make the connections between bits of information that he might be able to use to better understand and appreciate his world. I am prepared to help him find books on the subject during the school year should the opportunity arise.
The idea of finding a subject that would "motivate" a rocker to become an engineer and that would "hook" him, has inspired me. How do I get across the idea that information is fun? How do I motivate teens and help them realize that research can be a key to finding purpose in life? Maybe as an information specialist I am not motivated to take apart an engine, but I am excited by someone else's excitement about it. I am excited about finding the information that will help someone succeed. I am excited about connecting a person to the information that helps one better understand himself and his world in any productive way that is possible. 
With expertise in archives, my understanding of my world is usually guided in some way by my interest in primary sources. How do people leave their marks on society? How do we share our thoughts and ideas? How do others use our thoughts and ideas? What do we learn from one another? How do we pass on our knowledge and the culture that we develop from it? How does material culture reflect our attempts to understand who why are and why we are here? How have others helped mold my world? What have earlier communities set up for me so that I can make my own mark on society?
I am fascinated about how we each "understand" our place differently. Yet, sense of place, sense of purpose, and sense of self can be found in any study of culture, science, arts, or mathematics... Despite the diversity of information, it is all is connected. "Understanding my world" involves finding a pursuit that leads one down a path guided by curiosity. 

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