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2009-02-25

Do As I Say, Say As I Do

The word or the act—which came first? To do something and then speak of it later is to describe. To utter a statement and make it so is to create.

And God said, "Let there be light": and there was light.... And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
God created and Adam added the tags. Myths and parables, but highly descriptive of the human condition. Even that phrase, descriptive of the human condition, which is further evidence that the Bible was composed by human and not divine hand, presents a quandary: If god had to say it before it was so, didn't he already in effect name light as the prelude to its creation? It would follow that he did the same for the fowl and beasts he created but supposedly left for Adam to name, no?

It's in that dichotomy, between description and creation, that the fundamental basis of the notion I espouse—the fusion of librarianship and design practices—might be fatally flawed, because the act of design is the act of creation. It is the act of stretching the bounds of people's expectations to provide them things they never thought of before, but once given, could never again imagine living without. (Or, to paraphrase Henry Ford, if he'd asked people what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse.)

The role of the librarian, on the other hand, is to describe. Much like the journalist, the lexicographer, or the historian, the librarian is an archivist, a recorder and guardian of some segment of our collective knowledge. The librarian is by definition a describer after the act.

However, this rabbit hole doesn't end there, because if we consider the nature of language and the fact that its structures—its grammar and punctuation, its diction and word order, even its alphabet—help to form, refine, and limit our behaviors and thought patterns, then it would follow that even in our descriptions, we're predefining the things that we have created and have yet to create.

So, do the principles of design still apply to librarianship?

4 comments:

The.Effing.Librarian said...

it's one of those paradoxes like "does an index of all indexes include itself?" are these roles mutually exclusive even if they exist in the same time and space? what if God said, "let there be, um, light" would that be better (since the pause represents spontaneous creation and not premeditation)? language is a tool, just like air or water or earth-- just because we think in language, it doesn't make the language part of the creation process, only a tool to make the creation explainable to others.

librarian@play said...

True, language is a tool. But so is a paint brush. A painter who uses a brush isn't creating something? And anyone who writes or speaks for a living would certainly argue that language is part of the creation process. And even when language is not an integral part of the object being created, language used before that act of creation signals intention, and thus becomes a part of that act.

Steve said...

This begins to sound like an intro into a debate over linguistic determinism.

librarian@play said...

From my perspective, it's no debate at all. How one's language is structured - grammatically, alphabetically, punctuationally - does, in fact, influence how one thinks. People reared under the Roman alphabet think fundamentally differently from how other people reared under Cyrillic or Asiatic character-based scripts think. Neither is more or less correct or better, mind you. Just different.