THE LIBRARY IS [JUST] A PHILOSOPHY (it’s not about the chairs)

June 19, 2012, 5:36 pm

Last week at the New Media Consortium Summer Conference Joichi Ito gave a talk in which he built upon the concept: “the Internet is a philosophy.” It’s not about servers or websites. It’s not about mobile devices or mobile apps. It’s a philosophy. It’s not a technology—it’s a belief system. His presentation was based upon his NY Times essay from last December.

This came up during a recent conversation with  Gardner Campbell. BTW: I recommend reading his Foo Camp chronicles. Basically, everything is a philosophy:

All this stuff is based on a cogitative narrative. They are beliefs that were developed into a tangible concept—but at the heart, at the molecular level, they are still just ideas. Ideas that could be morphed, remixed, or redesigned.

This morning (while waiting for my son to wake up) I was skimming Henry Ford’s autobiography and came across a passage in which he viewed automobiles as “concrete evidence of the working out of a theory on business.” This seems to echo Ito’s vision. Ford isn’t / wasn’t about cars—it was about the application of a philosophy. Likewise, the Internet is a communications theory in a tangible form.

In this manner– libraries are just a philosophy too. Learning Commons. Institutional Repositories. Special Collections. Information Literacy. All that stuff is just a theory. It’s a set of beliefs that we are attempting to translate into a tangible form.

I think sometimes (most times?) we get caught up in (obsessed with?) the materiality —but it’s really about what the materiality enables, not the other way around.

Palette of Experiences
At Virginia Tech we’re heading into phase two of some renovation planning. I keep coming backing to this theme of philosophy. We’re not creating a space designed for users. We’re creating a space designed for intentions. I’ve been referring to this as the “palette of experiences”—the types of behaviors that we want to encourage and develop.

I’ve been working with a recent graduate from our architecture program on this concept– and this is what she came up with. We’re calling it a spectrum right now because we want to account for and address the nuances. What’s really behind “group” work?

Our goal as an organization is to make this philosophy tangible. I’m hoping to do that in the form of villages and neighborhoods that can be distributed throughout our building. This approach enables us to curate different types of intentions, moods, experiences, and behaviors based upon the composition of these zones. I’m really pushing our conversations toward philosophy before we get into discussions about products. We need to figure out the why before we get to the what and how. I don’t care about the chairs– I care about what those chairs enable people to do.

So there you go. A quick peek into one of the projects I’m working on.

As our profession encounters change–  it all has to come back to a guiding philosophy. What are the intentions of the library? Academic Support? Preservation? Knowledge Creation? Instruction? Whatever is it, consider the best means for making those intentions tangible, rather than just the current means. The philosophy can and should be reinterpreted. And our application of that philosophy needs to be reviewed and re-imagined from time to time as well.

Some other readings to consider:

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