I am reading The Organization of Information, 3rd ed, by Taylor and Joudrey for one of my classes, and in the chapter, “The Nature of Information,” they discuss whether we are categorizing information or knowledge. They acknowledge that they have a bias, evident in the title of the book, but they do posit an interesting question.
After pondering for a bit, it make sense to say that we are organizing information. Not knowledge. Sure, encyclopedias are organized, and they share knowledge, so therefore we must be organizing knowledge. But how do you share knowledge? Knowledge is the act of knowing something. You can’t share it until you know it. And books don’t contain knowledge, because they don’t “know” something. They can only contain it. (Bear with me here. I’m making absolutely no sense to myself, either.) What’s the medium for transferring knowledge from source to recipient? Information.
Books contain information. Someone with knowledge wrote it down, turning it into information. It was organized to make sharing information easier. Then someone picked up the book, read it, and thus the information was transferred to their brain cognitively. By thinking about the information as they consumed it, it was turned back into knowledge.
I know I know, we often say that libraries contain all the knowledge in the world (or most of it, anyway.) But that is a short-cut, an easy way of expressing that we can gain knowledge from the materials. What we mean to say is something more philosophical: libraries contain all (or most) of the information in the world, which, upon reading and thinking about it, becomes manifested in knowledge.
I’m not going to blame anyone if they don’t want to open that can of worms. Even at a library festival or conference, I’m sure people still say, “libraries hold knowledge.” I know I will still say that. Imagine peoples’ reactions if you said, “libraries contain all (or most) of the information in the world, which, upon reading and thinking about it, becomes manifested in knowledge.” They would say, “That’s…interesting…You know what? I really have to go now. I-I-I have an appointment. Bye!”
Or maybe I’m being unfair. Librarians are geeks at heart. Maybe some do want to get into the philosophical aspects of information organization!
What do you think?