Bill Nye once observed, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” Knowledge is not an exclusive trait even though people often mistake it as such. Perhaps certain kinds of knowledge are “elite,” but Bill Nye is right: everyone knows something you do not. I have read before that true knowledge knows its own ignorance (I think Confucius said this). Basically, knowledge is realizing all the information in the world that you do not know. A few weeks ago we discussed in class whether or not we felt like we knew more now than ever. A fellow classmate stated that as age increases the expansion of an individual’s world increases and as it does so, one begins to feel like they actually know less and less. Knowledge cannot be bottled, it cannot be canned, or put on a microchip; it really cannot even be simply defined. There are many types of knowledge, ways of applying knowledge, and ways of growing knowledge. The closest thing to “storing” knowledge is in strange markings that we call letters.
Luckily for librarians, humanity made the switch from carving markings in stone to writing in books. Then came the printing press and soon after, relatively speaking, the personal computer and the Internet. I remember at a point using encyclopedias to do research, learning to use a Dewey decimal system, and handwriting citations on index cards without using any type of aid. Kids today will not know this world. They will not know the struggle of life without Google to help with that tricky homework problem or know books in which you actually have to TURN the page to find what you read in the table of contents and card catalogs will be completely foreign (heck, it has been so long since I used one that I had to look it up to ensure this was the right name!). Unfortunately, because of this, kids will not realize the power that they have right at their fingertips nearly 24/7.
The questions posed as part of our class this week: who should preserve knowledge, who should have access to it, and who should bare the cost of this are nearly impossible to answer in this day and age because of widespread access. We are all responsible for assuring that the next generation has access to all the information that we have. Society as a whole must protect information from over censorship that would change the lesson imparted to future generations. The storage and preservation of knowledge is the responsibility of all. The answer to who should have access to knowledge should be a given: anyone who wants access. Right now, most have the ability to find information. No, not everyone knows how to find credible information but most have access to it. Google Scholar has helped with the availability of scholarly information to the public. As for shouldering the cost… Well, there does not seem to be a good answer for this. Should everyone chip in? Do billionaires like Google and Bill Gates bear the small burden with their large fortunes? It seems like the preservation of certain kinds of knowledge continues to be a priority, especially to those who read, write, and research. Whether the knowledge is preserved between two covers or in a microchip, it is saved. Funding for information that the world finds important or interesting almost seems to grow on trees. However, one’s view of our ability to preserve “knowledge” depends heavily on what one considers knowledge. If one of the thousands of dying languages is something in need of preservation, then there is cause for concern. If a story of a young boy with a lightening scar living in a magical world is of concern, then there is most definitely funding and nothing to worry about!
Knowledge can be defined simply as information. Knowledge can be defined in a more complex way as an abstract idea that can take many forms. The knowledge that we find important is an even more intricate way to think of the concept. Regardless of how one defines it, knowledge has become more and more widely accessible with the advent of technology. Large amounts of information are stored for less and less money. At this point the questions posed are not really as important as they used to be. It seems all but the funding are straightforward answers. Yet there is still the elephant in the room: Are we choosing to preserve the wrong knowledge? Will future generations benefit from the choices we are making or will we look back and regret the decision to save J.K. Rowling’s magical world over the tongues that will soon be lost forever?
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