Tuesday, March 8, 2016


My favorite St Andrews historical personage is Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson. He was a professor of natural history, a mathematician, a zoologist, a museum developer, classicist, and parrot lover.

He had a reputation, even before taking up the chair at St Andrews, as being eccentric. He once said about his magnum opus On Growth and Form "it is 'all preface' from beginning to end." The book advocated natural laws that govern behavior rather than strictly focusing on evolution. Which at the time in 1917 was kinda radical. He also used math to point out differences and similarities between species.

This book inspired both Alan Turing and Jackson Pollock. Talk about differences in the species! He created both the natural history museums at the University of Dundee and the University of St Andrews(I enjoyed studying in the Bell-Pettigrew, which I talked about in an earlier post). One of his habits after moving to St Andrews would be to walk about town with his parrot on his shoulder.

My point here is that Professor Thompson was a polymath. Equally comfortable with language, science, math, and art. And parrots.He refused to be confined to disciplines. He would have made a good librarian.

I've decided to be more like D'Arcy W. Thompson. I'm not going to get a parrot and it's probably too late to be a renowned mathematician(even if I wanted). But he knew how to own his differences. He made them work for him. That's what I'm going to do. Learn more, walk about with a figurative parrot on my shoulder, use my knowledge and not apologize for it.

After all, I am a librarian. And as another (probably) polymath and librarian, Allen Smith, once said, "In order to be really good as a librarian, everything counts towards your work, every play you go see, every concert you hear, every trip you take, everything you read, everything you know. I don’t know of another occupation like that. The more you know, the better you’re going to be.”


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