The Dyslexic Librarian or Towards a better breed of Reference worker by Martyn Lowe

The Dyslexic Librarian or Towards a better breed of Reference worker.


A as in Introduction.

Mention about Dyslexia and you can get a very predicable set of observations upon the subject.  Suggest that I have spent almost 34 years working in  libraries, that I’m Dyslexic, & then just you enjoy the
reaction of others to this idea. I’ve always wanted to put up a website, or edit an periodical entitled ‘The Dyslexic Librarian’.  Well – Now you’ve had your fun – Here comes the truth. I have spent just over 34 years working in  libraries, and  I am Dyslexic. This is not to say that my Dyslexia is in any way sever, but it does show in the way I spell, & in the way that I view the world.

My Uncle was Dyslexic too. He would sometimes write numbers back to front, & yet he could work out percentages from the top of his head. He was also a self made multi-millionaire.  So I guess that must prove something or other….. Now a lot of  people would seem to regard Dyslexia as akin to being a functional illiterate, but this is not the case for me. You just have to see the large number of articles & reports which I had published over the years.  However, like many many other Dyslexics I will switch letters around in the works which I write.  For example: I’ll write taht instead of that, etc.  It’s not just in my spelling that this shows up. I’ve sometimes caught myself trying to write the odd word backwards as I  put pen to paper. It’s not a problem for me as I know that I do it, & have learnt to compensate for it all. So why do I mention this ? Because there are very few functional Dyslexics that  really realise that they are Dyslexic, although they might state that they are ‘poor spellers’.  While very few people who work in Libraries realise that far from being a disadvantage in the work, that it is in reality a very great asset which everyone can benefit from.

B as in A Book.

Here is a book which I would recommend all Dyslexics to read, as it explains just how the Dyslexic mind works, & the kind of difficulties which some dyslexics experience.

‘The Gift of Dyslexia:
Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read and How
They Can Learn.’
By Ronald D. Davis with Eldon M.Braun.

Perigee Books –  Revised Edition, 1997

As the author also points out some of the most famous Dyslexic Inventors, Artists, engineers, and  Scientists include:
· Albert Einstein.
· Thomas Edison.
· Alexander Graham Bell.
· Leonardo da Vinci.
· Walt Disney.
. Michael Heseltine.
– the singer & actress Cher.
– Actress Whoopi Goldberg.

I’ll not review this book for you.
All I’ll say is READ IT !

C as in Continuation of the theme.

Perhaps one of the best ways in why I can explain why being Dyslexic is an advantage,  is by explaining some of the differences between a scanner & a proofreader.

Dyslexia is many times described as ‘word blindness’, but there is literally more going on than meets the eye. What is really going on is better described as fast vision.

I have a friend who does a lot of proofreading, & who is very good at this kind of activity. He will read something which I submit for publication, correct the grammar & spelling, & only after that will he consider the various points I’m making.

In contrast I can write the 1st draft of any statement or leaflet, but don’t expect me to worry about the grammar or spelling.  It’s Ideas & information that I’ll concentrate upon before I’ll ever worry about
cleaning up the text.

I can scan my way though a text, periodical, or newspaper, & get a very good overall picture about what it is all about. Like many another scanner I can go through some text & know what it is all about from just picking up on key words. Something which is sometimes described as ‘speed reading’, & which a lot of small ads claim that one can learn upon the production of a small fee.

D as in Do Know.

As I have stated already – I have been working within Libraries since 1972, & am Dyslexic –  So  you will appreciate that there are a lot of points which I wish to make about what it is like to be so.

The main one being that there is a high connection between lateral thinking & the way that a Dyslexic brain works. This is very useful if one is doing reference enquires.

What is also going within this process is that the thinking is so fast that one does not notice the logical jumps as they are being made, as it is too fast for most people to appreciate.

Only much later might one make the logical analysis by going back to 1st principles.

E as in Exercise.

As a Dyslexic I want to know how something works, rather than just have the theory of how it might work. Only by seeing how something works – Hands on as it were – am I able to understand how it functions, & so if it goes wrong can I work what to do with it  via 1st

I’ll give you 2 examples of the kind of exercise I do on a regular basis, & which kind of  illustrate just how  my  dyslexic mind works.

First of all look at a chair, & work out how many individual parts it has. Do that & your half way to understanding how it is made & how to repair it.

Then look at the same chair & think about all of the other ways in which it is used.
– Stepladder.
– Low table.
– cloths hanger.
– etc.

E as in  Education.

One of the many advantages of being dyslexic is that one can easily understand the multiple disadvantages of ‘formal education’, which in turn might be summed up as ‘received knowledge’.  Formal education still being exam orientated leaves little scope for questioning in order to understand the world about one.

Indeed, I would argue that this perception of education as a form of thinking that only received knowledge is valid, does in turn result in a kind of intellectual laziness.

What then happens is that people think that knowledge may only be gained within the class room, or within books.

Thus many students have always concentrated to pass exams by learning things by rote. This might be a good way to remember something, but it gives no real understanding of what might be classed as understand things via 1st principles.

What has now developed over the last few years is that students are doing there studies by looking at the web, rather than making the effort to look up the original works within a library. What makes this worse is that these very same students are in turn unable to give a critical analysis of what they read upon the screen.

Of course the worst ramification of some of the above thinking is that a lot of social attitudes have changed along side much of the above.

As more enthuses has been placed upon getting more formal education in order to attain  work qualifications, so education has also become increasingly seem as just a way in which one might
attain a better job & the income which goes with it.

While for others this new enthuses upon income-generation qualifications comes with a mistaken belief that it is the solution to all our social problems.

Both of these sets of attitudes would seem to negate the value of education as a joy in itself.

S as in Self education.

I got and I get a lot of my education by just visiting Museums & art galleries on a very regular basis.

After that I read about what I see & experience.

Yet that is not the end of just how I have managed to educate myself, as there is always much more which I want to see or find out about.

A lot of what I know about architecture & history comes from my ‘Walk Abouts’.  I look at the plaques upon the walls, wander about & explore the city, look into shop windows, & observe the world about me. Only then do I look up book references upon what I have seen, & then go back to them once more.

Then comes the art of ‘Putting it all together’.
– Comparing what I see on the ground with earlier maps.
– Looking up the origins of words which I encounter as I
explore the city.
– Ask Questions about what I have seen or heard.  
– Attempt to understand the world about me.

It is not a systematic process as such, but more to do with a constant questioning & curiosity about the world around me.

And  F as in Final words.

I started this article by stating that I am dyslexic, but I should of also stated that being dyslexic means that I have a great curiosity about the world around me.

Thus the advantage of being both dyslexic & doing library work.

It means that I can both enjoy doing reference work, and because of the way I think & what I already know, then I can pull up the right information from the most obscure sources.

This also means that by doing this work that I am increasing my knowledge too – Great !!!!!!

The only real disadvantage being that if I am not careful then I can start to do other peoples thinking for them.

Mind you – This does give me another sort of advantage while dealing with various difficulties or problems which I might encounter,

First of all I’ll tell the solution,  & only then will I describe just what the problem is all about.

Well – You get the idea.

Nothing is as it might at 1st seem to appear to be.

Now just one last question for you all.

Just how many other dyslexics are also to be found working with in the library world ?

I’ll guess that it is many more than most people would ever imagine there to be doing so.

Martyn Lowe