Thanks to James for the invitation to blog… I should start out by making clear what I believe to be the ethical foundation for what we do as librarians…
Librarianship is founded in two inter-related principles. 1) the stewardship of knowledge and 2) the free, open and effective sharing of knowledge for the common good. Everything we do as professionals flows from – or, at least, should(!) flow from –these two principles. (We can talk later about aberrations…)
Stewardship implies thinking comprehensively and synthetically about knowledge and about how knowledge is historically organized but even more importantly, about how knowledge might be organized as it continues to evolve… I hope it is very clear that I am saying explicitly: librarianship is not defined by a physical format (board and rags) or by intellectual domain or by economic or cultural jurisdiction. By implication, stewardship implies a careful consideration of how knowledge is created, of epistemology.
I think all good librarians practice epistemology intuitively . A senior scientist for whom I once worked said that he had the uncomfortable feeling that I was “observing” him – and of course, he was right – for many years I have considered ethnography to be an essential part of the librarians role. Though, unlike me, a really skilled librarian-ethnographer is not obvious…
What should follow from practical observations is insight and innovation for the benefit of all who seek to use knowledge.
As for sharing, the American public library is one of our most fundamental democratic institutions. It embodies the meritocratic notion that every member of our civil society has the right to access to knowledge and should have the freedom to develop knowledge creatively and productively (or even idly and unproductively! – Bertrand Russell, among others, has noted the importance of “idleness” to the creative process – and apparently, Charles Darwin – as he was gestating The Origin of Species — shot pool with his butler most days… The pool table was next door to his study).
The American public library tradition has evolved in parallel with the evolution of science. Both traditions are strongly dependent upon full disclosure, upon full access and upon effective use. In a very fundamental sense, without submission of one’s scientific analysis and data to public scrutiny, one is not practicing science.
Similarly in the public sphere, there has been a strong and increasing demand that public policy and decisions taken for the public good, be “evidence-based” . (One might consider Colin Powell’s performance before the the UN, just prior to the Iraq War, — to be a pro forma honoring of this expectation?)
In a complexly representative system of government, it is only by provision of the evidentiary basis for policy and decisions that citizens can engage with and evaluate policy and decisions. The importance to access to data as evidence has become critically clear as the discussion of global climate change has progressed… Ultimately not only should the available data as evidence be fully available for examination, but the scientific logic that supports the selection of those data as evidence should also be transparently and usefully available… More, to follow…
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