The overlap of philosophy and librarianship is like the game “6 Degrees of Wikipedia.”
Not familiar with this Wiki-surfer’s trick? It is also known as 5 clicks to Jesus. Let me enlighten you. To play 5 Clicks one begins with a topic as far removed from Jesus as possible. No matter if the topic is garden gnomes or Brewerton NY, one can navigate their way to the prophet in 5 or less spasms of the right index finger. I would bet you my life, a Wonka Golden Ticket, and the Shroud of Turin that Philosophy and Librarianship have a 5 Clicks relationship.
Where there is library smoke, there is philosophy fire. Where there is philosophy smoke, there is library fire. (That is not to say that setting libraries on fire is my new philosophy–Do not get me wrong. All I am saying is that Sartre would have lived longer had he not smoked like a chimney.) Librarianship requires an aerial view of fundamental questions about how we order our world. Philosophy literally means “love of wisdom” in Greek.
Take a look at the cornucopia of “Philosophy Of’s” (http://www.aletheia.fsnet.co.uk/) that exist in academia and in pop phil. For example, we’ve seen Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Football, Philosophy of Sexuality, Philosophy of Language. ecc. ecc.
I could go on…
The bottom line is that the field of Librarianship is changing… Librarianship is a philosophy. No more mere collections of books, librarianship today is a mission statement that comes with tools of the trade. (The symbiotic croc-and-bird metaphor may break down here a little, but not to worry. The two concepts remain distinct-enough entities, each with its own niche, history, and practical application)
As David Lankes defines and discusses in the proud language of the Atlas of New Librarianship and his newest guide Expect More, New Librarianship is a way of redefining libraries, and indeed, librarians. He insists, rightly, that people chit chatting in a closet are more a library than a room containing books. Librarianship should be seen as necessarily dialogue-based, social, and people/community-oriented rather than artifact preservation.
Before I delve into the overlaps of Librarianship and Philosophy discussed by Weinberg and through independent intuition, I want to add a cautionary word. On its face, it seems the claim that conversations are the backbone of learning. People talking together is the ultimate win-win situation.
Conversations, however, are a delicate thing. Thus, I want to take care to clarify what we mean by conversation. Putting ‘conversation’ on an untouchable pedestal without taking a close (and even *sharp intake of breath* philosophical) look at what we mean by ‘conversation’ is dangerous at worst and cavalier at best. I may be peculiar in my skeptical lens, but i stand by my own experience.
In my experience, truly meaningful conversation is a diamond in the rough, and occurs less than one might hope. People, myself included, often talk in every prepositional relationship except “with” each other. Ron talks at Hermoine. Justice Scalia talks over the judge. The Chinese talk around accusations of terrorizing Tibetan monks. Many instances of what looks like conversation turns out to be masquerading aggression, propagation of one’s own ideas and ideological agenda. I would accept a concept of conversation that acknowledges a safe space for ideas to be tossed around. Polite conversation often requires equivocation, agreement, and non-abrasion. Any exchange of words that requires the participants to play a role is a faux convo. Some hallway interactions might appear to be conversations. There were words, smiles, and hugs exchanged. Good! If there was a equality, respect, and a striving of each party to make an honest effort toward truth then a firework conversation it was indeed. But if we want progress to be made in education, librarianship, and conversation, we must be ready for disagreement, vulnerability, and allowing our genuine selves with all our quirky passions and views to surface. Conversations need be an effort to figure out the world, explore perspectives, and solve problems. Popular ideas do not determine right by mere virtue of their font size in the headlines of CNN –truth is not a matter of voting, but of rational intuition.
Hume said: “Truth springs from argument among friends.” See that? Argument implies a disagreement of ideas, a clash of perspective, but among friendsmeans a non-threatening environment. An ideal meeting of minds, i.e conversation, need not be lofty. Particle theory is fun to chat about. So is the Olympics. We can learn from both exchanges if the conversations, like the Buddhists might say, has good intention–the intention of honest, ego-free, respectful contribution.
Conversations should be practical calls to action, not an end point. Learning is active; talking is well and good but experience fuels, supplements, and, ideally, results from a good exchange of words. Sitting at the Bleu Monkey on Marshall street with the intention of listening, considering, chewing on California rolls and what my friend had to say, I realized that in the end we are truly social creatures. We should be careful to define ‘conversation’ and continue to learn to ‘get at’ the experience of people we talk with. The merit of Libraries lies in providing a safe site for new ideas, exploration of old ideas, a trampoline for social and/or political action.
There will be more in a future post on Weinberg’s Information Study/Philosophy overlaps. I promise! I got carried away in this post in preliminary deets. I will leave you with this: Philosophy are inquires into the “joint of nature,” in other words, how we carve up the world. Guess what. SO DOES LIBRARIANSHIP! Weinberg discusses Pluto’s demotion as a planet because of problems defining the criteria for qualification as a planet. We try to make sense of the world by creating categories and groups such as racial classifications, the periodic table, and color-coding our closets (note: i do not claim here to color-code my closet. Please suspend all judgements). A similar philosophical problem is called the “problem of the criterion.” It is a metaphysical issue about the difficulty of conceptual definition.
More talk of conceptual problems to come!
Fun [Almost]-Fact!: One final difference that has historically divided librarians and philosophers is language barrier. The traditional Greek tongue of Aristotle and Socrates has only rough translation into Geek, primary dialect of Knowledge Facilitators today,especially in the 134 B.D. (before Dewey) period.