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Magazines > Searcher > September 2003
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Vol. 11 No. 8 — September 2003
Muggle Magic
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine

Of all the characters in the Harry Potter stories, my personal favorite — the one whose arrival on a page always brings on a smile of eager anticipation — is Arthur Weasley. He is the patriarch (if one can use such a venerable term for such a casual, happy-go-lucky soul) of the Weasley clan. Ron Weasley, one of Harry's two best friends, is his son.

Arthur works for the Ministry of Magic's Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Department and actually drafted the Muggle Protection Act. It is thanks to this Act that we muggles never have to fear being struck by invisible flying carpets, since the Act prohibits their use, restricting traveling wizards to more compact transportation such as the traditional broomstick. Though Arthur and his wife, Molly, are pure-blood, they have absolutely no prejudice against mixed-blood wizards.

In fact, truth to tell, Arthur finds muggles and their artifacts absolutely fascinating, so fascinating that he collects such artifacts privately and studies them to discover the secrets of — well — muggle magic, the magic which muggles call "machines." Ironically, when his studies fail to uncover the mysteries, he sometimes violates the very Act he works to enforce by a little quick-and-dirty wizardry. He always has a good excuse. After all, when you're going camping with the family and it's already taken you half an hour just to figure out how to light one match, who could blame a loving father for giving up an arbitrary resolve to go "all-muggle" and switching to a little magic to set up tents? On the other hand, tents do belong to the letter of the law.

It's amazing how much magic we muggles do encounter in our lives. It's only since the 1800s and the arrival of the Machine Age(s) that humans learned to expect to be amazed by mechanical devices. Before then, improvements in technology moved along at a slow and steady pace and most often reached the attention of experts, rather than the average person. With the arrival of steam power, followed by gas and electricity, more and more wonders burst upon the scene, until someone born in the beginning of the 20th century would probably learn at their mother's knee that they could expect to see some wild changes in technology in their lifetimes. I can remember when the television came to our neighborhood, but the wonders have not stopped even there — color TV, cable TV, remote controls, VCRs, TiVo, DVDs. Clocks have morphed into radios. Wrist watches have become clocks and calculators. Calculators have become PDAs. Phones travel in pockets and purses and take pictures worth a thousand words. Hey! Mr. Weasley, are you watching?! Pretty good for mere muggles, huh?

Sometimes it's not the devices but the muggles themselves that become magic. Ironically, we may only fully comprehend our magic moments when the magic has gone. For example, when online came into my professional life, I became a Magic Muggle for years. Mighty clients with signatures that could authorize tens of thousands in expenditures, educated clients with rows of abbreviated degrees behind their names, even Nobel prize laureates would bow before me — well, at least call and speak politely — seeking my favors as the Magic Giver of All Things Online.

Today's information professionals probably book more online for their end-user client communities than I ever reached with intermediated searching, but, if they're doing their job well, the clients may never see the work. Clients may assume that online has responded to their own searching skills instead of to the careful interface research and feedback analysis and vendor negotiations by information professionals. Fellow professionals may recognize the wondrous achievement, but it's not the same as a star turn in front of an audience with mouths agape.

As a profession, we can never control the flow of information again as in those glad, magic-laden days of intermediated searching, but if any other opportunities for magic — particularly the flashy, audience-luring kind — should ever spring up (and by now all muggles should learn that magic is a thing to expect), information professionals should reach out to take advantage of it.

I wonder what such magical opportunities might be? Hmm? What about the machines themselves? The other day I had a conversation with a colleague who also loves the Harry Potter stories. She had just gotten a tablet computer from Microsoft and was singing its praises: how easy it was to use ("I opened it and minutes later..."), how flexible ("it can handle handwriting and even record conversations..."), how user-friendly ("so you make the note to yourself as the speaker speaks and, when you use it the next time, you just go to your note and the speaker's remarks...").

Oooo! Neat-o!! Sounds like magic. The same kind of magic that cell phones were or Blackberry devices or laptop computers years ago. What if we information professionals made a concerted effort to assure hardware houses that we would open our operations as demonstration sites for their products in return for being in at the start, in at the magic stage? We could even beta test the products for feeding relevant content to our clients. We could bridge our comments to information industry vendors to help them prepare for "the next big thing."

If any readers should possibly doubt the power of magic, how about a Third Millennium where a book numbering 637 pages (and no pictures) has children and their parents standing in line at midnight outside bookstores? Unbelievable? Well, the lines for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, this year's release, were probably as long, and this time for a book running 870 pages — no pictures. The latest book in the series also achieved a completely unprecedented status — the first English-language book to ever become the top best seller in France. And it only took a week to do it.

Reading as magic?? Hmm. The secret of magic may lie primarily in noticing it when it happens. And when you teach someone how to do what they could not do before and that new skill changes people's lives, well, that's magic. Every skill — no matter how old — is new to someone learning it. Teaching people how to find the information they will need to succeed throughout their lives. Sounds like magic to me!

But those are just two approaches. Put on your thinking caps, Muggles! Life's too short to be lived without magic

Barbara Quint's e-mail address is
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