There is a surprising amount of literature available on the philosophy of library and information science (LIS), but it’s hard to know where to start. What should a library philosopher read? Where’s the best place to begin? Part of the problem arises when we see that there are many, competing foundational philosophical approaches to LIS. Pragmatism, social epistemology, philosophy of information, Habermas’ universal pragmatics, post-structuralism…the list could go on for a while. Do we really have to study each and every one of these?
Here’s the plan. Since this blog is supposedly about philosophy and librarianship, the least I can do is attempt to build a list of suggested readings to aid the interested. Granted, I’m no expert, but I can at least start building a bibliography of the texts I think are most important to understanding the intersection of philosophy and librarianship at a foundational level. So, I’ve added a new page–“Essential Readings”–to keep track of foundational and influential books and articles. (And if you have a book, article, blog, or website you would like to include in a list of essential readings on the philosophy of librarianship, please let me know.)
Here’s the catch. I wear my philosophical leanings on my sleeve. Coming from the analytic tradition, I tend to look more favorably on social epistemology, philosophy of information, pragmatism, and other rational philosophical traditions in library science. Many of the so-called “postmodern” approaches influenced by Foucault, Derrida, Rorty, Latour, and other continental philosophers strike me as irrational and too anti-egalitarian to be helpful in librarianship (‘relativism’ is a four-letter word in my house). So, my recommended books will be heavily geared towards realist, rational philosophy.
Well, enough of the jibber-jabber. Here’s today’s recommendation…the Winter 2004 issue of Library Trends.
As you may already know, Library Trends is a journal that specializes in thematic issues (how do you cite an entire journal, anyway?). Each issue features several articles entirely on one subject, and the Winter 2004 issue “The Philosophy of Information” is one of the best LT has published. In 16 articles, almost every core concern in the philosophy of LIS is explored by some of the leading thinkers in philosophy and librarianship, including John Budd, Don Fallis, Luciano Floridi, and more. In particular, this volume is absolutely indispensable for those interested in the philosophy of information as the foundation for LIS. Arguments for and against competing theories are advanced and the entire issue represents a fascinating snapshot of the current status of the philosophy of information in librarianship.
The impetus for this issue can be found in the work of Luciano Floridi, whose 2002 “On Defining Library and Information Science as Applied Philosophy of Information” set the groundwork for adopting the philosophy of information as foundational theory in LIS. It is therefore only natural that his afterword in the Library Trends issue is probably the best entry point, and a good summary of the philosophical approach that is both defended and criticized throughout this volume. Here is a link to the article on his personal website. Again, this issue is not a unified defense of a particular approach to the philosophy of information in librarianship. Articles run the gamut from analytic defenses of realism and epistemology to arguments for the importance of Hegel, Gadamer, and Habermas. Truly, there’s something in this issue for philosopher-librarians of every background. I, for one, find the analytical articles the most compelling, but the entire issue is of enormous value. Rather than ramble on about the importance of this issue of LT, I’ll end with a list of contents and brief descriptions of each article. Titles in boldface are those that I, personally, find the most compelling and useful.
Library Trends, Winter 2004, 52(3). Edited by Ken Herold.
- “Information and Its Philosophy” by Ian Cornelius
- Argues that Floridi’s work in PI is “innocent of LIS practice” and fails to recognize the myriad roles and responsibilities of actual librarianship.
- “Documentation Redux: Prolegomenon to (Another) Philosophy of Information” by Bernd Frohmann
- A neo-Wittgensteinian call for a shift from discrete theories of information to descriptions of documentary practice as the embodiment of “informing”.
- “Community as Event” by Ronald E. Day
- Discusses the meaning of “information” in light of political philosophy an ontology. Draws heavily from the work of Negri, Heidegger, and Habermas.
- “Information Studies Without Information” by Jonathan Furner
- Argues that we do not need a separate concept of information, favoring instead an information-as-relevance approach designed to cut across philosophical distinctions.
- “Relevance: Language, Semantics, Philosophy” by John M. Budd
- Argues that the philosophy of language is invaluable in assessing the role of relevance in LIS.
- “On Verifying the Accuracy of Information: Philosophical Perspectives” by Don Fallis
- Fallis urges librarians to consider the epistemology of testimony as a means of understanding the role that information professionals play in knowledge creation. Draws heavily from David Hume and Alvin Goldman. Awesome.
- “Arguments for Philosophical Realism in Library and Information Science” by Birger Hjørland
- Some researchers in LIS love to throw around the term “positivism” as a catch-all for post-Enlightenment or analytic approaches to LIS; the label “realism” has even been thrown about as a sort of intellectual epithet. Hjorland shows that this is a terribly naive approach. He argues that LIS needs to embrace the explanatory virtues of realism as the only viable means for addressing issues in LIS.
- “Knowledge Profiling: The Basis for Knowledge Organization” by Torkild Thellefsen
- Uses Peirce’s pragmaticism (it’s not the same as James’s “pragmatism”) as a means for analyzing knowledge organizations such as libraries.
- “Classification and Categorization: A Difference that Makes a Difference” by Elin K. Jacob
- A look at the syntactic and semantic differences between classification and categorization and how these differences shape information systems and information retrieval.
- “Faceted Classification and Logical Division in Information Retrieval” by Jack Mills
- Argues that the nature of information requires faceted classification as the optimal means of organizing information for discovery.
- “The Epistemological Foundations of Knowledge Representations” by Elaine Svenonius
- Looks at operationalism, Wittgensteinian referentialism, and instrumentalism as competing theories of meaning that can inform us as we develop optimal retrieval systems.
- “Classification, Rhetoric, and the Classificatory Horizon” by Stephen Paling
- Uses Gadamer to provide a hermeneutics of information classification.
- “The Ubiquitous Hierarchy: An Army to Overcome the Threat of a Mob” by Hope A. Olson
- Argues that Hegel’s conception of hierarchy and Reid’s defense of common sense are the foundations for library classification systems such as Dewey and LC.
- “A Human Information Behavior Approach to a Philosophy of Information” by Amanda Spink and Charles Cole
- Looks at how a cognitive approach to information-seeking behavior can inform the philosophy of information.
- “Cybersemiotics and the Problems of the Information-Processing Paradigm as a Candidate for a Unified Science of Information Behind Library Information Science” by Søren Brier
- A poorly explained mess of self-contradictory, post-modern drivel. I have no idea why this was included.
- “Afterword: LIS as Applied Philosophy of Information: A Reappraisal” by Luciano Floridi
- A defense of the philosophy of information against critics. Argues that PI is a better foundation for LIS than its main competitor, social epistemology.