“Librarians” a.k.a. Janus reincarnated

Although I agree with Lankes that librarians must look to the future in order to have a future, as someone who doesn’t necessarily mind a library’s resemblance to an episode of hoarders, I was somewhat alarmed by Lankes’ claim that eventually the bibliofundamentalists will have to be left behind.  While I do agree that there needs to be a public conversation to renegotiate the terms of a new social compact between librarians and the communities they serve, I am confident, as I hope Lankes is, that librarians will be able to renegotiate the terms of this new social compact to include a forward looking philosophy that at the same time maintains the “historic responsibility” of the profession to be a living testament to where society has been.  In other words, I believe the profession must emulate the god of Roman mythology Janus – librarians must reflect the past even whilst they look to the future in order to be true agents of change.

In order to illustrate why it is important for the information profession to look backwards as well as forwards it is helpful to consider the field of political philosophy.  It is true that the likes of Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and Marx changed the world, but it is also true that these men and their ideas were shaped by the world in which they lived.  Nothing is created in a vacuum and even agents of change must first learn to speak the language of the status quo.

Here I think it is important to note that the call for librarians to maintain their “historic responsibility” is not a retreat from the position advocated by conversation theory or indeed Lankes’ own particular brand of conversation theory and relativism.  Rather the idea that past, present, and future states of knowledge and knowledge creation are intimately connected is an idea that shares a certain congruity with Lankes’ position on knowledge creation through conversation and an emphasis on relationships.

Subsequently the call for librarians to maintain their “historic responsibility” is therefore an attempt, not to refute Lankes per se, but rather to place greater emphasis on the tension that librarians and information professional will invariably face when trying to fulfill the role of agents of change.


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