Note: I really struggled with this post and almost decided to trash it except for letting people know that they should not take my misconstrual of David Bade’s words as I had. But I spoke with someone whose opinion I value this afternoon and was reminded that I am at least trying to engage in dialogue, that it should be evident that I actually care because of his message, that even though I display a concern with the manner in which David Bade’s words are formulated I have helped to show some that there are far more to them than those of a “frustrated intellectual” who is tilting at a madly whirring windmill. That helped bolster my spirits some. So I guess I’ll ask that if you cannot recognize that, or if you are not willing to try and keep that in mind as you read, then just move along now. If you cannot respect that simple request, please do not read another word.
David Bade has responded to my critique of his paper at the LC Working Group meeting last week.
His comments add quite a bit to situate the sentences I found offensive in such a manner that I now see them in a much better light. Please read his response.
Before I proceed I’d like to repeat something I said in my 1st post on this topic:
At this point I will add some comments on David’s paper. Please do not misconstrue these thoughts. I have no doubt that if he and I were able to sit down over a few pints [or some Mongolian tea] we would agree that we are both saying the same thing. I also humbly offer this critique as the things I am about to complain about are the same issues I struggle with the most—voice, nuance, and “selling” your message to your audience. These comments are offered as a request for some of that nuance and not as a deconstruction of his points.
He has also graciously offered to provide a copy of his paper to any who ask [AUTOCAT 15 May 2007]. It is none of my business to post his email address, but it is findable if you look for it at the University of Chicago Joseph Regenstein Library.
I can accept his comments in the light he has placed them with his comment on my post. But. There are still several tiny (and not so tiny) issues overall, both with the specific thing I found offensive and with the whole paper. With my background in philosophy, history/philosophy/sociology of technology and so on (and his clarification), I can see what he appears to be up to in his paper. And I applaud him. Let me make this very clear: I really like and appreciate his paper, and I love the concepts that he is attempting to bring to the table.
But these are extremely complex ideas, and the tack he is using to bring them out will be unfamiliar to a large number of librarians. I am fully aware of the limited amount of time and conceptual space in which he had to work at the Working Group meeting. As such, perhaps his chosen tack was not the best one; or perhaps he only tried to fit too much in. These are not some sort of lordly critique on my part; I have often been in this predicament and have no doubt I will be again. Often. It is one of my biggest weaknesses; one I am working hard to overcome.
His main point is “to reorient and reestablish librarianship on a totally different basis (communication rather than engineering)” [or described as a theory of transportation in the paper]. But, David, do you realize that many of the prominent, if not the most prominent in LIS, theories and metaphors of communication are based on engineering, mathematics, and/or transportation?
I could be mistaken but I certainly do not remember Grice—nor Wittgenstein, in a serious way—ever being mentioned in 70+ hours of graduate LIS education. Shannon, yes. Lakoff, yes. Many other mathematical/engineering/transportation-based concepts/metaphors of communication? Yes. This is not to suggest that you should not try. Only that you need to be seriously and critically aware of the battle you are undertaking. [I am well aware that Shannon's is a theory of information supposedly, but if information is not what is communicated (among being other things) during an act of communication, what is?]
As I alluded to in his offer to provide his paper, David also addressed my concerns on AUTOCAT. Let me state here unequivocally, except for the 1st couple paragraphs of my post on David Bade’s paper all of the comments came from me. Let me also try and help shut down the idea I may have started: He did not mean to disparage catalogers at all in his comments that I critiqued. In fact, he finds himself in that situation. Maybe it was just me and a few others, or perhaps it truly is easy to be offended by his wording of those thoughts, but he meant no offense. I take him at his word on that!
In his AUTOCAT post he offers some more clarification and context. Again. It helps. But it is not an answer. Not because he failed, but because there really is no “answer.” There are only many and varied things we can do—as he calls for—to mitigate the situation.
If he wants to reorient librarianship towards a theory of communication then he ought to learn a lot more about communication. As much insight and intelligence as Grice and Wittgenstein bring to the topic, they are not the last word by any stretch. And as much of a wonderful tool as philosophy can be, in the end we are talking about language, people, people using language, and other social practices. There is and never will be a philosopher who can “save” us on these subjects. And that statement comes lovingly from one who considers himself a philosopher in his better moments.
Again. Let me state. I pretty much agree with most of what David Bade has said. But he is in many ways on one end of what can only be a continuum. The world he rallies for—as much as I would even love to see and live in it—probably never did, nor will it ever exist.
But can we do something to orient ourselves, our profession, and our institutions toward it? Certainly we can! And I would even be honored to help him try.
One of my biggest concerns with his presentation of his ideas is that as hard as it was for me to grasp what he’s really trying to say I can only wonder how doable it is for others; especially those who need to hear it. In a world in which the Calhoun Report exists and is taken seriously by many who control the purse strings and directions of our institutions I have serious sleep-disturbing thoughts about the language in which David’s ideas are cashed. It is far too easy for those unprepared, unable, or unwilling to engage with the actual ideas contained in his ideas to dismiss them out-of-hand and just say, “See. These “frustrated intellectuals'” ideas are inscribed in stone. We’ll just go with what Calhoun recommends and everything will be great.”
Either way is suicide for the profession. We need both (and so much more), but in the right contexts. Maybe David Bade will not like my 2nd engagement with his ideas either. But, at least, I take his ideas seriously enough to engage with them. I hope that counts for something; with him and the (few) others who suggested perhaps I was a bit hard on him. Perhaps I was/am. We hurt the ones we love, right? But for those who suggested I was, where is your engagement? “Great job, David” does not constitute engagement.
You should have no doubt that I take his ideas far more seriously than many of you. And I approve of them, in the proper contexts. I’d just love to see them presented in such a way that most of the people who they need to reach can understand them, so that when/if they dismiss them it will have to be an active dismissal. It is far too easy to dismiss an idea that you have to work to understand.
My ideas here are probably much stronger sounding they really are. So, beware. If you (anyone) wants clarification, more context, some nuance or whatever, just ask. That is what I try to do. It is how I see my role in this profession. [There are issues in philosophy, linguistics, scholarly communication, inter- and intra-indexer consistency, and so many others tied up in my statement that the world David envisions cannot exist, except in a few rare circumstances; that is, item by item.]
I, too, often have problems communicating. I struggle frequently. And until recently, I have steadfastly clung to the belief that others ought to try and understand the message despite the tone, voice, attitude, language, or whatever. But that is simply not how communication works!
I give these comments in a loving spirit of healthy dialogue and honest concern for David’s message getting through to those who need to hear it. My mission is at best barely orthogonal to his. And I for one will be tracking down as many of his writings as I can for serious reading. I would like to know better where he is coming from so that perhaps I might be of assistance in helping propagate his message.
And, David, you should be aware that in addition to those who might disparage your dress, or even someone like me with the audacity to question the actual content of your views, that you do have a fan club. I have received several emails and have spoken personally with people who admire you greatly and care deeply about your message. As do I. But I simply do not consider “Way to go, David!” as sincere engagement. In fact, it seems to me to fall squarely into the gist of your paragraph that so [initially] offended me.
A couple of the folks who have been in contact with me will be engaged as our discussions show. But do not simply read David’s papers; read them and then take action to help foster his ideas. Perhaps by coming at the issues with our own voices we will be able to facilitate a world where others are capable of hearing the value in David’s “voice.”
This needs lots of work to reach the level of communication that I would like, whether it is between two people or a lot more. There are too many other things to do, though, at the moment. A large number of assumptions, lived experiences, theories (across and amongst disciplines) are essentially hidden behind almost every one of my words; just as there are in every one of David Bade’s words or anyone else’s.
And to the gentleman who via public and private correspondence thinks I am advocating a lowest common denominator approach and that I do not think that there are varying levels of qualifications and abilities, to include the possibility that someone is “elite,” that is simply not the case. It is, in fact, the exact opposite of what I would argue. I apologize if I made it seem that way, or if I did not reply to your further email quickly enough. But as David has asked that people not attribute a slur towards catalogers via his words, I would ask that you not allude to those of us who supposedly advocate a lowest common denominator approach.
In fact, alluding is downright cowardly—even if sometimes perceived as necessary and is rampant in our profession. Just who is it that is advocating this approach? And don’t say Calhoun because you have admitted to not having read all of the report. As much as I liked Thomas Mann’s critique, it is not the only or the final word on the report. As much as I respect Thomas Mann, I would not recommend letting him interpret the report for anyone else. That is why, all along, I linked to both and said “Go read both.” I despise the Calhoun Report, but I have read it at least 5 times now. I do know what’s in it. I do know what (most) Thomas Mann got right. I have a decent idea from talking with others where Mann’s rhetoric got in the way. I know where Calhoun misused citations. But all of this takes work; engaged work as David might say. Cheerleading, questioning and, perhaps even, disparagement can serve a valuable purpose, but either alone ought to be highly suspect.
Walt, if you made it this far, please, please, please, write about “librarians’ willingness to disagree with one another!” [C&I 7 (6), June 2007, pg. 6 pdf] I’ll be a guinea pig, or subject, or whatever the term is nowadays, if need be.
I am once again completely disheartened! I do not claim to be a great communicator and, in fact, maintain the opposite. This post is far more negative than it needed to be, which is not what I intended or wanted. But I keep trying and I keep trying to learn amongst all the “failures to communicate.” For those very few who seem willing to stick with me as I try we often each learn something. That does not mean we always end up agreeing. Nope. But we usually know where and why we disagree, and that is often enough, and even if not enough it is valuable.
Stephen Bell may want more disagreement, but I cannot even get people to accept questioning.