While I’ve always classified myself as a binge reader (I prefer books), my friends recently pointed out I’m a binge researcher. Huh?
When people ask me a question, especially at the library, I scour for information. Given the huge amount of fake news and erroneous information available, I feel a keen sense of responsibility to steer people towards reputable resources. It is a challenge for me not to overwhelm folks with TMI—Too Much Information.
One day one of my elderly patrons slowly came to the reference desk. Lydia might have been in her eighties (or older; a lady never tells her age). “I’m Catholic, but I want to know about the Reformation. Wasn’t Martin Luther a monk?”
It was on October 31, 1517 that a monk named Martin Luther (according to tradition), hammered his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle church to announce a debate, and Lydia wanted a book about Luther and his times. Knowing she was an avid reader and preferred deeper titles, I found “Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World,” an excellent biography of Luther and the age he lived in by Eric Metaxas.
In an effort to be fair, I suggested she take a look at the Catholic Reformation. Here I referred her to the Catholic Encyclopedia, now online. Despite her age, she marched over to a terminal and found the site.
Now curious myself, I found myself roaming the stacks and the Internet. Would the Reformation been as intense if the Gutenberg Bible hadn’t been increasingly available, starting around 1500s or so? Did this, in turn, spur literacy beyond the clergy and well-to-do? Oh, and what exactly were the 95 questions? It turns out Luther wasn’t being defiant. At that time, if someone wanted to start a serious debate, you posted a large sheet of paper with questions to start the process. Lydia and I both agreed that from all accounts, Luther wanted to remain faithful to Catholicism, but everything snowballed beyond his control.
For the most part, web sites presented pretty much the same information in terms of dates and facts. I made a conscious choice in this case to settle for readability along with quantity, rather than deep academic works. And, of course, I mention some of this to the patrons looking for material on Martin Luther. It was undoubtedly more than most of them wanted to know.
I enjoy being curious, and wondering where my research is going to take me. The process has led me down twisting paths, and opened up new areas for research, like the Counter-Reformation, known as the Catholic Revival.
People still continue to take strong stands on religious beliefs. How can we remain respectful amid increasing intolerance?