Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Libraries as metaphor

Found this via the LibLicense discussion group. An interesting read and worth a look.
Roger Schank | The Library Metaphor

Libraries have been around for a long time. For generations, knowledge was contained in libraries, or so it seemed. But, in fact, this was never true. It didn’t matter much, until recently.

Concomitant with the idea that knowledge is contained in libraries is the idea that knowledge is found through search. In the old days, when people actually went to libraries, there were card catalogues, which were created with arcane notions such as the Dewey Decimal System that helped searchers find books that had been properly catalogued. But we don’t need that stuff anymore, because we have Google. Search has gotten easier, but real knowledge hasn’t changed.

The problem is that both the library metaphor, and the search metaphor have misled us in serious ways. The consequences of that will take a moment to explain.

When everyone agreed that libraries contained all that mankind knew, educational systems evolved in such a way that mastery of what other people had written passed for education and hence erudition. Thus we have the Great Books and the original conception of universities as places to read what great thinkers had written. The concept of testing to see if one had learned what these greats had written follows from this of course. Given that information retained from books can be measured, as can the sheer number of books read, school became a kind of competition to see who had retained the most. The winners go to Harvard.

Behind all this is the idea of the mind as a kind of library. Libraries are where knowledge is stored, so the mind must be a particular kind of library and education must be about filling the library.

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