I really despise the clichéd description of libraries as a “storehouse of knowledge”. There are many, many iterations on this theme, but each one shares in the common misconception that ‘knowledge’ can be some sort of material object. No, damn it, no. ‘Knowledge’, properly defined, is justified, true belief. That is, knowledge is a mental state, not a collection of words on a page or screen.
Data, Information, Knowledge
January 22, 2010 by Lane Wilkinson
If anything, libraries are storehouses of information. But, even that can be misleading. I am an adherent of the GDI approach: information is syntactically well-formed and meaningful data (with certain epistemic and ontological restrictions). But, meaning is a strange entity in the absence of a cognizer, and surely there is quite a bit of material in any library that has never and will never be used. I prefer to call libraries storehouses of syntactically well-formed data. Unfortunately, the definition of data is even more slippery than that of information, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Anyway, I think libraries work like this: syntactically well-formed data sits on shelves or on hard-drives (including content accessed online) and librarians are the stewards of this data, ensuring accessibility in accordance with information needs, ethical standards and best practices for organization and classification. A patron enters the library with an information need, identifies the proper data source, retrieves the raw data, synthesizes the data into information by attaching meaning to the semantic content, and (hopefully) becomes justified in believing the truth of some proposition.
Obviously, there is a whole lot that needs to be filled in, but I like this conception of libraries. Perhaps my favorite aspect is that it comports with the librarian’s commitment to neutrality w/r/t accessibility and collection development.
You know, the more I look at this, the more a realize just how much needs to be explained, defended, critiqued, &c. &c. &c..
I know what I’ll be writing this week-end….