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Ladder of Understanding

The Internet effects the principles of librarianship, or does it?

An alternative title for this section could be "The Internet effects the principles of librarianship, or does it?"

Often times librarianship is described as the process of collecting, organizing, archiving, and disseminating data and information. The advent of the Internet with its ability to share vast amounts of data and information have made much of traditional librarianship seem mundane and outmoded. Yet there remains a core of the profession that has not changed. A core element that is rarely articulated. That element is evaluation and facilitation of knowledge.

Librarians do not collect, organize, archive, and disseminate information just for the sake of it. These processes are a means to an end, not the end themselves. Why collect things if no one is going to use them. Why organize them unless some one was suppose to browse them? Why archive anything if there is not the desire to retrieve it later? Data and information are the manifestations of the profession. The creation of knowledge, the spread of wisdom, and the advancement of understanding are closer to its ultimate goals.

The Internet with all its advantages and disadvantages has had profound effects on librarianship. Yet if the profession reflects upon itself, then the profession will understand the Internet and its accompanying technology is simply another tool to fulfill those goals.

Thinking and thinquing: Librarianship requires both.

The process of amalgamating traditional library skills (and ethics) with Internet technology requires a certain type of thinking as well as something else I have coined as "thinquing." In this setting, "thinking" is an intellectual process characterized by methodical, systematic, left-brain activities. In many ways ( but not all) this sort of activity is characterized through things like mathematics and computer programing. The other half of the process, "thinquing," is intuitive, creative, and unsystematic. Many people characterize artistic endeavors in this manner.

Both of these intellectual processes, thinking and thinquing, are necessary for the libraries of today (and even yesterday) to manage technology effectively. Thinking must be used to analyze the needs of our clientele. It must be applied when drawing up a budget. Thinking is a necessary activity when learning how to use the newest piece of software. Similarly, thinquing must be a part of the process when evaluating how to use computer technologies for library services. Thinquing must be taken into account when asked a new reference question and the answer is not readily apparent. Thinquing is the process you use when you encounter a new problem and must come up with some sort of solution. The problem with the profession today is it tends to ignore obvious problems and consequently it rarely employs the practices of thinquing.

Put another way, it does not only behoove libraries to continually be aware of new computer technologies (thinking), but they must also be able to discover possibilities for improving services with these technologies (thinquing). Then, and only then, will librarians be effectively using the Internet. The entire process requires an fundamental understanding of library principles and, at the same, it requires individual librarians to thinque "outside the box" for the purposes of enhancing methods of applying our fundamental principles.

In today's world of networked information, more and more information seeking activities can be accomplished without the need of a librarian. Frequently our clientele can do real, significant information seeking without ever stepping into a library. Many of our profession (as well as lay people) see this sort of environment as a prelude to the demise of libraries. While the future of libraries will not be constant with their past, I do not see libraries fading away. Rather, IĘsee the current environment fostering a means for evolution and an enhancement of library services. Like a caterpillar, libraries can use the current environment to foster growth, turn upon itself for the purposes of reorganization, and emerge as a beauty unto itself and for others.

A Ladder of Understanding.

In conclusion, as more and more people gain access to more and more information, these same people will have to come to terms with methods for evaluating and using this information. This process, the process of evaluating and using information is, in my opinion, the future of librarianship. This process moves the library from one of dispensing information to fostering knowledge and understanding. It has been said that understanding is like a four-rung ladder. The first rung on the ladder represents data and facts. As the data and facts are collected and organized they become information, the second rung on the ladder. The third rung is knowledge where knowledge is information internalized and put to use. The last rung is wisdom, knowledge of a timeless nature. Technology has enabled more people to climb between the first and second rungs of the ladder with greater ease. Similarly, technology may enable libraries and librarians to climb higher on the ladder as well and provide knowledge services instead of simply information services.

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Version: 1.0.2
Last updated: 4/15/00. See the release notes.
Author: Eric Lease Morgan (