Friday, August 05, 2005

The Public Good

Some interesting pieces, loosely joined by the notion of the public good.

In the Scan, we wrote about the decline of support for the public good, as is evidenced by declining tax-based support to publically funded programs and institutions. And somehow, I missed a relevant book that must have come out right around the time I was reading and researching for the Scan: relevant not only because its subject is exactly this topic, but even more so because the author is a librarian at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

Dismantling the Public Sphere: Situating and Sustaining Librarianship in the Age of the New Public Philosophy is by John E. Buschman, and (from the back cover) "presents a thorough examination of librarianship and the social and economic contexts in which the profession and its institutions operate. As a basis of analysis, Buschman employs critical education scholarship and the research of Jurgen Habermas, whose seminal work on the public sphere--the arena in which the public organizes itself and formulates public opinion--serves as the meta-framework..."

And it is indeed a scholarly work which is perhaps why it has not been more widely discussed among librarians. Habermas is enough to daunt hardy souls, not because of what he says but how he writes--at least how he is translated from German. But from my quick scan before I started reading, and from reading so far, I'd say this book should be more widely read among the profession. Which of course could be because Buschman's very first chapter comments on the "crisis culture" in librarianship, something I mentioned too, in the last chapter of the Scan, more indirectly, mind you, than Buschman.

[T]he crisis stems from the simple fact that we have been declaring crises in the field for thirty years. Further, we seem unable to clearly identify what we mean or effectively address the problems we identify. [Buschman, p.3]
One trend that was evident in this scan was that for at least ten years, all those bright people have been writing and speaking eloquently about possible futures. Yet,not much has fundamentally changed. [Scan, last page of final chapter....the web version's pages are unnumbered!]

And in related posts, first David Weinberger and then Mark Federman discuss ubiquitous connectivity as a public good, here and here which fits right in with Habermas' ideas about the development of the public sphere--which, interestingly introduces (IMO) the concept of "the third place" without calling it that. And is also related to the rise of blogging as a form of public discourse!

Isn't it great when you come across works that Explain Everything!

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