How About Some Nominalism For Thanksgiving?

November 24, 2010, 11:01 am

Heading into the holidays I want to reflect for a moment on one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories. It occurred my senior year of undergrad, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I was in a Renaissance & Reformation course (intellectual history) with about 30 other students. There were only six of us present that day and the professor said that his lecture was too important for the others to miss– so he decided to cancel class and offered to meet us at Applebee’s for a 2-for-1 drink special—and that he’d buy the first round.


This was an unexpected and really cool experience. He was an older German fellow and used colorful language during his lectures– a tough grader too. I remember that he liked to challenge popular notions of history and historical figures and dig into the psyche of the material. He was really into Freud and the primal motivations behind people’s actions. When we had to write essays he pushed us to deconstruct and present new hypotheses, otherwise the best you could get was a C.


That afternoon stuck with me. There were four of us who had three classes together in a row (Ancient Rome, Shakespeare, Reformation) so we had already bonded as colleagues. It was my favorite semester.


Anyway– having drinks with the professor was transcendent. It knocked away the barrier of HIM vs. US. I didn’t even drink at that time so it was more about the conversation. This was a chance to step outside of the classroom, literally and socially, and to relate to each other in a different manner. I’ve only had a handful of instructors in which it wasn’t about earning a grade, but rather, about passion for the subject– about being a scholar. In these classes I wanted to learn the material because it was interesting and I wanted to earn the prof’s respect, rather than just working for an A.


In some subconscious way I think this impacted my (ubiquitous) approach toward being a public services librarian. There is a different level of reliability that I could have with students and faculty.  It wasn’t simply about me teaching a class or answering reference questions, but finding a way to get involved with the campus. At all my places of employment I’ve maintained that I work for the University, not the Library.


I like to find the motivation that people have and then connect with them. For example, there was one student leader who told me he never used the library but asked for my help because of my interactions with another student club. His activity was totally unrelated to the library, but I agreed to work with him. Now I see him in our building all the time and he meets regularly with his subject librarian, and he even encourages others to use our services too. Since he is graduating he’s started to introduce me to upstart freshmen and ambitious sophomores because he wants to keep the personal relationship between students and the library intact when he leaves. This approach isn’t scalable, but it’s an example of relating to others interests and then transforming how they view and use the library.


So yeah… just some wandering thoughts. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.


Oh and one more thing that I remember about that Reformation class was the topic of nominalism. It blew me away at the time. Does that chair you are sitting in right now really exist? Probably not. I’m going to try and fit this philosophy into my next book. Perhaps it will start a wave of nominalistic discourse in the library literature!

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