The importance and influence of Philosophical Thinking for librarians.

Author:Alkan, Nazli


The library, which has survived for centuries as the memory of mankind and a social force, librarianship, an old and influential profession, and librarians, whose professional identity enjoyed recognition, all face the challenge of opponents who claim that they are outmoded. To meet opposing views successfully, librarians must attach importance to Philosophical Thinking (PT) and produce philosophical thoughts. The views of Butler (1933), Danton (1934), Foskett (1962), Shera (1962, 1969, 1971), Nitecki (1964, 1993, 1995), and Mukherjee (1966) are still useful for countering the challenge of opponents and for carrying the profession into the future.

Various definitions have been suggested for "philosophy." Passmore (1967:218), for example, says, "philosophy can tell us what life and nature 'mean,' what value or purpose they have. ... In its most general form, philosophy elucidates the meaning of the 'universe as a whole'." According to Cevizci (2002) philosophical thought emerges as a result of asking, and it develops along with interest in the problems of life. This approach emerges from curious, questioning, investigating, and critical minds. Answers and solutions resulting from PT are based on analysis and synthesis. Thought (the outcomes of information, experience, perception, and intuition) is analyzed and clarified, and is carried to a synthesis. PT, which may focus on any issue, simple or complex, enables an individual to assess life, nature, the world, the universe, and his or her own personal life through a systematic and rational approach; thus PT adds meaning and value to existence.

The relationship between the one who wants to know and that which is to be known constitutes the essence of PT. According to Oner (2005), thinking requires acquisition of information about something to be known. This information can be obtained directly by perception, or indirectly through reading or other means of communication. In order to convey information obtained by perception to another person, it must be organized into a concept. The mind does not merely take the image of something, it strives to grasp the essence and meaning of that image and makes the image dependent on the concept. Thinking becomes possible with concepts. Since concepts can be expressed in words, thought is transferable. The mind reaches premises by linking concepts, and premises are prejudgments reached by thinking. The mind makes inferences and reaches conclusions by establishing relations among premises. Knowledge is inferences placed in order. "Thinking" is in fact a process of making inferences and reaching conclusions. Oner (2005) also speaks about the individual's power to grasp the general through intuition. PT is a process which starts with an individual focusing on something and establishing connectivity with it. As a result of this mental process which proceeds systematically through critical approaches, one reaches a meaningful judgment and a conclusion about that something which is questioned. This conclusion can be termed "philosophical thought." Philosophical thought can be defined as the product of a PT process. According to Tamdogan (2006), when an individual finds a new answer to a query, as a result of learning and thinking, a value is created by that individual. The output or product of the process is knowledge having the value of being new.

Philosophical Thinking of the Librarian

In librarianship and the information professions, PT reflects the critical and questioning intellectual activity of theorists and librarians engaged in exploration. PT makes it possible to disclose "whats", "hows," and especially "whys"; it makes it possible to explore the meaning, value, or purpose of a subject, an object, an entity, an event, a phenomenon, a concept, a relation, a practice, through systematic, consistent, logical, rational, critical, and questioning approaches and to reach a meaningful judgment. Theorists and practitioners may take different approaches. These differences stem from the fact that librarians may combine their thinking directly with their practices or their ability to engage in PT during their practices.

From the perspective of practitioners, PT is found in librarians who are open to conducting professional activities accompanied by thinking, questioning, and investigating. It is crucial for the librarians to know what they do not know. Reflective thinking may lead to the systematization of what is in the mind. At the end of the PT process, a philosophical thought may emerge, and this outcome, if it is completely new, may be a value created by the librarian.

PT may be influential in the emergence and development of a professional philosophy. Just as the PT exercises of reflective librarians may be initial steps in the development of a professional philosophy, the philosophical thoughts they generate may serve as basic building blocks of this philosophy. The views of Butler (1933), Danton (1934), Foskett (1962), Nitecki (1964, 1993, 1995), Mukherjee (1966) and Shera (1971) are particularly remarkable in the context of PT by librarians and the role of librarians in the formation of a professional philosophy. It may be fruitful to elaborate further and to discuss the PT of librarians in the light of the views of these authors.

By saying "...philosophy which is blind to experiments and practice will be speculative only and of little or no value," Danton (1934: 543) implies that the philosophy of librarianship must be born in the library itself and that it would not be correct to exclude librarians' philosophical thoughts resulting from these activities. The philosophical approaches of librarians during practice are of specific value. Nevertheless, librarians' PT processes must be based on theory too; any practice without a theoretical base may hinder understanding. The importance theory is nicely expressed by Shera (1971: 151), who bases his views on Butler (1933): "...librarians 'know very well how to do things,' they 'have only vague notions of why they do them.' They have evolved... 'highly efficient systems of practices,' but they failed to formulate 'a corresponding system of theory to elucidate, justify, and control that practice'." He continues: "...a theory tells librarians not how to do things, but why such things should be done" (Shera, 1971: 153).

At this point it is necessary to clarify the theory-practice-philosophy relationship. Danton (1934: 536) observes that if a philosophy is closed to experiments and practice, it will remain speculative and have no significant value. Foskett (1962: 3), on the other hand, emphasizes the positive impact on practice of scientific. In order for these principles actually to direct and inform practices, however, a philosophical basis is essential. urthermore, Soysal (1998) holds that a professional philosophy must present an integrated whole, with practice, theory, and scientific principles developed in the quest for a philosophical basis. As practice relies more on theoretical grounds, librarians will be able to open up to PT and their profession will move further away from the merely pragmatic.

Foskett (1962: 3) says: "...a professional outlook is one's attitude towards the body of knowledge and technique that constitute professional equipment is coloured by a sense of purpose; and that the putting in order of that knowledge, in the professional mind, is inspired and directed by the end for which it is acquired." This expresses the philosophical outlook of the librarian. The PT process does not exclude a "sense of purpose." Efforts to clarify the purposes of their practices by making use of theory, and especially to establish a purpose-function relationship, are activities that develop or improve PT. Danton (1934) and Nitecki (1964, 1995) imply that the librarian should focus on a purpose-function relationship in the PT process. According to Danton (1934: 536), "a philosophy ... is interested in aims and functions, in purpose, and meaning." Nitecki (1964) says, as quoted by Mukherjee (1966: 11) "... a philosophy of librarianship presupposes a theoretical formulation, which would relate the objectives of the library to its operations in a consistent, logical pattern." Nitecki (1995: part 2.2.1.) also states that the "Philosophy of librarianship is a pursuit of truth, principles guiding action, and theories explaining reality: what is known, how it is put to work, and for what purpose it exists." Foskett (1962: 5) states that librarians' outlook may depend " ... upon the function that libraries carry out, the purpose for which they are established."

Librarians' philosophical approaches suggest that they are relatively closer to a practical philosophy. Quoting Houle (1946), Mukherjee (1966: 9) says:

" ... a philosophy of librarianship should be a practical philosophy, contrasting it with the philosophy of nature, which seeks to re-discover what nature is ....a philosophy which is practical achieves valid meaning only in terms of its operation...[It] has its fullest meaning when it is evolved by and operates to guide the actions of an individual librarian or a group of librarians, who are working together in a single institution."

On the other hand, Brewerton (2003: 50-51), starting with the views of Blackburn (1999), states that philosophical answers to the "why" of anything can be given on a high, middle, or low ground:

"The high ground approach would question the question....Pure reflection has no real...

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