Whether you are a librarian or a librarian in training, I think we all can relate to Evelyn ‘Evy’ Carnahan (or so I hope). If you were to tell my 18-year-old self that I was going to pursue my graduate studies in Library Science in hope of being a librarian, I would have brushed you off. I wasn’t a reader nor, did I spend time in the library unless it was for a group project. However, after working for the children’s department for the past four years, I never want to leave the place (sometimes). I can proudly say I am happy with what I am studying and I cannot wait to get in the field. But this article is not about my love for library, or of the sorts.
I was presented with an issue that I would have never considered: philosophy of librarianship. Of course, I believe most professions have an embedded philosophy or addressed “why do what we do? Why are we needed?” For those who are in the profession or in their studies, I suggest that you read Andre Cossette’s Humanism and Libraries: An Essay on the Philosophy of Librarianship. His essay attempts to identify or what should the philosophy behind librarianship. His argument is very defensive however; he essay can stir up your inner “Evelyn ‘Evy’ Carnahan”. If the reader was to cast his opinion to the side, the essay can challenge your views and opinions of the role and importance of the library and the librarian.
I think there is a contemporary belief that the role of the library and the librarian will diminish due to the dominant presence of technology. The library’s identity crisis fluctuates between the fear of losing its value to technology and the increasing need and demand for information resource and access. Maybe this crisis can be blamed on the idea that librarianship lacks a unified and clear philosophical doctrine or consensus. I would have never pondered the idea of a philosophy for this field but that very thought signifies that this topic should be brought to awareness, which it is. Cossette believes the lack of philosophy can inhibit the librarian’s ability to express the importance of “why do this work? Why are we valuable?”
One of my professors stated this claim, which I will always keep in mind, especially in terms of this field. She said if you do not understand your history, you will not understand your value. The awareness of the history of library information teaches students its purpose, and who did or do libraries serve. These facets can contribute to our philosophy. I came across two definitions of philosophy of librarianship. First Cossette’s believes that the library purpose is to disseminate information. The patron is overwhelmed with all the messages, facts and ideas, therefore the library is an institution that organizes, assembles, and provides the user access. He does agree that the library can be a place to provide education and preservation. Why do we exist according to Cossette? To give information to the community, so that they can be well informed, make constructive decisions, and become a more democratic society.
Another reading that I came across was Librarianship and the Philosophy of Information by Ken R. Herold of Hamilton College. He addressed the same ideas as those who commented on this issue. Yet, he believes the quest of information philosophy should not overlook the “importance of books, or printed knowledge, or [music, sound, and other realia]” (Herold, 2005), but he addresses that librarians should recognize the demand of information and be active participants in the discussion of identifying a philosophy for information science professionals.
I agree, with both writers. The library is present to provide access to information and knowledge. However we have or will come across of type of reference task that require book request, creation or management of programs that cater to their community’s interest or enhance their knowledge. I accept all viewpoints. Yet I believe to stand solely one side of this issue can limit our purpose, potential, and significance.
As an avid library advocate, I have experienced the library as an institution that is available for the community. The library is an establishment that aims to create an educated and cultured population. To provide them needs that is accessible. To preserve culture and information that could have or be lost over time. We are like the community historian. The grandparent if you will; we provide information of the past, teach new skills, keep you updated on current events. Invite you over for projects, a place for comfort and learning.
So what’s my point? Like Cossette, and Herold, I bring this concern for you to be mindful of. If you are in the field, maybe you experience the significance of your work. It may not be something you experience everyday but you feel like you have a responsibility. For those like me who are just learning and beginning to get their foot through the door, we need to keep in mind of this issue of having a philosophy. Answer this, why do have library’s? Why do we do what we do? Why are you here?
Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.
Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.
Cossette, A. (2009). Humanism and libraries: An essay in the philosophy of librarianship. Library Juice Press: Duluth, Minnesota.
Herold, K. R. (2005). Librarianship and the Philosophy of Information. Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal). Vol 3, paper 27.