Yesterday, Matthew Ciszek posted on Cossette’s essay, Humanism and Libraries: An Essay on the Philosophy of Librarianship, translated by Rory Litwin. It’s been a few years since I read Cossette’s text and admittedly my knowledge of it is a bit rusty, but I remember thinking that he fell into the same trap as Ranganathan, the same trap that many thinkers in our field continue to fall into: trying to define a “unified philosophy of librarianship.” Cossette argues that by creating a unified philosophy of librarianship, we could bring “faith and certitude” to our actions as librarians, inspire professional unity, and give us a raison d’etre for what we do.
The longer I work as a librarian, the more I begin to believe that a unified philosophy simply isn’t possible given the diverse communities different libraries serve (public university, private college, city public, state repository, middle school, corporate archives, etc.) and, in fact, the pursuit of such may do more damage to our causes (esp. in raising public awareness, connecting our services to institutional goals, and telling our story to stakeholders) than good. What Ciszek argues is more sensible: an empirical approach that looks at what we are doing and explains why it is important to society. But I would add that this only works externally when the emphasis is placed on our society.
My hope is that through an empirical look at generalizations like the Five Laws we can begin the work of creating new theory, grounded in the social study of the phenomenon of libraries and librarianship, and philosophy that seeks to answer why what we are doing is important to society. Let’s start of renaissance of thought in librarianship and move past Ranganathan. He’s served us for almost 60 years, but it’s time we move the profession forward. Let’s resurrect the library theorist.
Of course, I’m reading my own views into Ciszek. His goal in the above paragraph is to argue for a reemergence of the library theorist (hear hear!), not a specific methodological approach. With that said, there is a groundswell of discussion happening now, mostly surrounding the New Librarianship class and mostly happening on Twitter and in blog comments. So if the future of library theory interests you, join the discussion!