Inquiry: Rumors of knowledge and the existential future of “library” by LJ Frank *

Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer

What is knowledge? For the philosophical purposes of this article knowledge means to know and be aware of or cognizant of something.

The process of acquiring knowledge begins at birth and grows through experience wherever one receives it and through research, reading and study. Knowledge is the ground (foundation) of life and without it is to live and make decisions in a “dwelling” without a foundation.

And existential in its most basic form means, “to exist,” (and, what does it mean to exist).

I assume one of the purposes of human existence is to create and evaluate an environment that enables knowledge to grow and the human species to survive, support and nurture each other. Human cells are full of knowledge that pass along information and knowledge with each generation.

Knowledge in other words, affects the ability “to exist.” My question consequently is whether knowledge acquisition is a natural human right? That is, what is the rationale for people having to pay, other than taxes, for knowledge especially in a democracy and given that it’s essential for existence? To what degree do the artificial boundaries that people face in everyday survival affect knowledge acquired?

The “library” – whether it’s public or academic serves the public and the populations of students, faculties and staffs and is founded on knowledge. To create a library is a political act. That is, its existence or “to exist” is the result of a political body that creates and maintains it as the ground or building blocks (foundation) of a civil and an informed, educated and enlightened citizenry.

A physical and or online “library,” requires money from others to exist. It’s fairly simple arithmetic. In a democracy it has meant taxes. And, once elected or appointed to a physical or “online Board,” members arrive with agendas within a political and digital context. Historically, core to a board member’s agenda is the role of advocate for a knowledgeable citizenry that carries with it political and financial support and a plan of action. The challenge for boards and politicians is appreciating their role in government. Does outsourcing government alter the foundation or ground of existence – the meaning of government and roles of its participants?

A technological nuance exists in the processes of governing as the dwellings of knowledge arrive in a digital format. The question is how will the agendas evolve? Sufficient physical parking space in a downtown or campus library gives way to “digital parking space.” The agenda moves towards the process that is corporate based. “Thought leadership” is now synonymous with corporate mindfulness.

American democracy has transitioned from a social democracy applied to public services towards using a corporate based economic model with more money in the hands of fewer people and significant donations to knowledge based institutions or agencies increasingly coming from fewer sources. Isn’t that the definition of an oligarchy? Does the application and exploitation of a post democracy model affect the quality and structure of information and knowledge itself?

Knowledge and literacy and the use of high technologies are critical to public, and academic libraries. Innovation means being cost-effective and beneficial on less operational money and is a corporate based paradigm. As Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus at MIT, has pointed out, today the wealthy enjoy the benefits of socialism through wealth sharing with each other while capitalism is applied to the poor. The wealthy increase their wealth at the expense of the poor while those who are poor live on what the wealthiest allow to fall off their table (“even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs,” Mark, 7:28).

Whoever controls the wealth controls the agenda – ridicule it should be noted, is a potent weapon of manipulation and used on those without sufficient resources to combat the moral equivalence perpetuated by the corporate model based on profit, power, narcissism and moral arrogance.

Who plans for their own obsolescence? “Maker space” and other programmatic trends in libraries are not new but the information and knowledge paradigm “shifts” the rules of navigation and the nature of the navigator and has increased in velocity. Transitioning from a state of being to a state of becoming is now a lifestyle.

An added challenge today is the numbers of under-employed and unemployed college graduates let alone the increasing numbers of disenfranchised and under trained citizens that continue to rise in numbers in a high-tech environment that demands more knowledge, literacy and skills.

While the corporate mind recommends more entrepreneurship are we also nearing a juncture where citizen boards and politicians aren’t really necessary in a corporate-digital-intelligence-security-militarized complex? What will software and hardware and “humans” look like in the future?

At issue: has technology, wealth, power and corporate influence tilled the “ground” to such a degree that “to exist” becomes a matter of – can you afford it? What will the world look like when the right to knowledge and the right to exist are sold to the highest bidder? Being a pawn to another’s knowledge or one’s own ignorance is not a pleasant thought and points to an “existential frustration or angst” now being faced.

The Greek historian Herodotus after observing the travesties of war, the callous behavior of the wealthy and the travails of the human spirit among the physically and spiritually impoverished, stated, “The worst of human sorrows is to have much knowledge but no power.” History, Book ix, Ch. 16. (445 BCE)

*Frank has over 25 years public library directorship experience and over 5 years as a consultant.