An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series
There are some obvious similarities between the quintessential Linux user and the classical image of the librarian, covering the gamut of good, bad and indifferent. Librarians foster the curiosity and intellectual growth of diverse patrons, connecting them with reliable sources of information and suggesting entertaining books, music and movies. The Linux community encourages users to examine, change, and take the operating system further -- regardless of whether "further" works out as modifying a kernel module or creating a new scalable vector graphic icon set for the desktop.
Linux users, when faced with a question that's been asked millions of times throughout the ages -- one with an easily discovered answer, if the soul asking had only taken a few seconds -- often respond with a resounding "RTFM" (read the f****** manual). Sometimes this response will be shaken up with a stray "Google is your friend." Librarians, by matter of course, prefer to teach a man to fish rather than feed him -- and sometimes patrons, quite capable of fishing when pointed towards the appropriate body of water, would really prefer to be fed their fish, with a couple side dishes, butter, lemon, dessert, and valet parking for good measure. That's when they tend to be greeted with the response, "Look it up." And yes, sometimes this response will be shaken up with a stray "Google is your friend."
By and large, the quintessential Linux user and classical librarian persona are stereotypes. Stereotypes generally have a grain of truth buried in there somewhere. I think what's most awe-inspiring about these two demographics -- similar, yet simultaneously so utterly different -- isn't the kindred philosophies or the occasionally pointed terms used to encourage others to seek answers on their own. It's the shocking way that skills learned in one setting (librarianship, fooling around with Linux in nearly any capacity) are so complementary and transferable.
In its elemental form: These settings are complementary because neither places high value on knowing the answer right from the start -- the value, the knowledge, the ability arises from understanding what question actually needs an answer, and then knowing how to track that answer down.
Think of troubleshooting an error as a reference interview. Think of a reference interview as troubleshooting an error. It works reasonably well both ways.