August 20, 2006
Budd, John. Knowledge and Knowing in Library and Information Science: A Philosophical Framework. Lanham, MD:Scarecrow Press. 2001.
Notes from my reading:
The book’s introduction includes the following quote, one that partially explains my interest in the topic:
“Pragmatism, however, does not mean a dismissal of thought and reflection. Some philosophers, most notably Richard Rorty, claim that, effectively, pragmatism trumps epistemology, that there is no point to a theory of knowledge; what is important is discovering what works. The error in this claim is the assumption that epistemology cannot be pragmatic, that examining knowledge cannot help us find the most effective action. The thought and reflection in LIS contributes to effective praxis. Throughout this book I’ll explore the essential relationship between thought and praxis” (page 3).
I am specifically interested in philosophical issues surrounding information literacy. A better understanding of truth and knowledge is helpful when guiding people to the information they need. Understanding the social, political, and economic dynamics of information are necessary in a field that colleges, organizes, classifies, provides, and instructs people in their quest for information. This introductory statement grounded the book, for me, in a way that made it appear useful for my research interests.
The book is arranged in two major parts. One is exploring the genealogy of ideas. The very first chapter was essentially a recap of my modern philosophy course in college, but without the depth. The book also touches on a number of interesting disciplines including sociology, biology, psychology, and economics. The second section of the book rejects the use of scientism in LIS and makes an argument that LIS work should be done in the school of hermeneutical phenomenology.
I felt that this book is a great introduction for someone with little philosophy or epistemology background. For those with a background in the fields, it’s a little too lacking in some areas and could go more in depth. I also felt that in some areas he displayed plenty of rigor in making his arguments, but in others, the rigor was lacking. I missed my philosophy (proper) texts, where arguments are clearly laid out, and each point is decisively proven or disproved. Part of the problem might have been that the audience of the book was too broad. It was for both theoretical and practical LIS workers, coming from any academic background. This problem could have been partially solved had the book been broken into several books, each chapter been longer (the book was under 400 pages), or if a good use of footnotes was provided with references for further information.
Despite my minor complaints, I feel this book was an excellent starting point for my project. It was good to have a refresher course in the appropriate philosophers. It was a quick read. And it did give me a good grounding.
Chapter 5, “Knowledge and Knowing in LIS,” was the most appropriate for my topic. Budd starts by explaining that LIS is seen as a social science, but has argued through the book that scientism isn’t the most appropriate method for LIS. This is where he argues for hermeneutic phenomenology. He also specifically cites Jesse Shera and Margaret Egan, Patrick Wilson, and S. D. Neill as LIS writers who concern themselves with social epistemology.
Budd admits the topic is esoteric but says, “If we are to comprehend fully why someone bothers to formulate a query, why people seek “information,” then we have to understand what it is we can know about the process of structuring a query aimed at finding a meaningful answer, and about the process of responding to the query. In other words, it is knowledge that defines the activities that take place in libraries and other, similar, environments” (page 204). And that’s a good enough argument for me to feel good about this independent study.