|Courtesy of Duluth Public Library|
So far as I am aware, librarianship is really in a critical condition…the profession itself is now unsure of what its functions are and unsure also of just how to go about performing whatever functions are assigned to it or that it adopts. This state of affairs seems to me to be entirely understandable in the light of certain developments that affect not merely the profession but our society as a whole (p. 295)
It’s a busy day at work so I’ll keep this brief…
As one of the core, foundational texts in the philosophy of librarianship, Abraham Kaplan’s “The Age of the Symbol” is a testament to the importance of appreciating the philosophical foundations of librarianship. Moreover, his discussion of the myriad problems facing librarianship are eerily prescient…new technologies, an explosion of information, external socio-political pressures…the same things you’ll see in the current literature. And how does Kaplan propose we respond to the challenges facing librarianship? Well, I’m not much for spoilers, so you’ll have to read the article yourself.
However, I will point out that Kaplan advocates a particular approach to library science. First, he argues that librarianship is a humanist enterprise. Second, he makes the case that librarianship is more akin to the “metasciences” of logic, mathematics, linguistics, and information science (p. 301) than to social or hard sciences. Given that most librarians believe that library science is a social science and most library research takes its cue from sociological research methods, the second point should raise some eyebrows, but I think he is spot-on. Library science is not a social science like sociology, anthropology, or political science. Neither is it a hard science like physics, chemistry, or biology. Library science is
not about subject matters provided by man and nature, but about subject matters provided fundamentally by our ideas about man and nature, or by our language, or by our ways of transmitting and processing the information that we have derived, and so on. (p. 301)
And later, he elaborates that library science
has thrust upon it, as its appropriate domain, the whole of knowledge, the whole of culture; nothing is supposed to be foreign to us, and we ought to be prepared under suitable circumstances to be helpful with regard to any and every area of human concern. [W]e cannot even begin to occupy ourselves with the substance and content of this endless domain, but only with its form, with its structure, with its order, with the interrelations of the various parts. (p. 304)
I like this approach and I probably agree with Kaplan more than I disagree. If anything, placing library science in the meta-scientific realm places it at a more foundational level than the profession may realize. Hopefully I can return to Kaplan’s arguments in a future post.
Essential Reading in the Philosophy of Library and Information Science