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This I Believe: We Are Utopia (If You Want It)

This I Believe: We Are Utopia (If You Want It)

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Published by Steve Kemple
LIS-60600
LIS-60600

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Published by: Steve Kemple on Jul 26, 2010
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THIS I BELIEVE:
WE AREUTOPIA
(IF YOU WANT IT)
Steve KempleKent State UniversitySchool of Library & Information Science(LIS-60600)July 2010
The Highest to which man can attain is wonder; and if the prime phenomenon makes him wonder, let him be content; nothing higher can it give him, and nothing further should he seek for behind it; there isthe limit.
- Goethe
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There is no me, I do not exist. There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed.
- Peter SellersSeveral months ago I presented a paper as part of 
Creative Economy
, a series of discussions about art,labor, and economics, at CS13 Gallery in Cincinnati. Titled “The Cincinnati Time Store As An HistoricalPrecedent For Societal Change”, this paper examined the ideas of Josiah Warren (considered by many historians to be the first American anarchist) and his experimental utopian economic ventures inCincinnati in the 1820's as an alternative economic model of interest to “do it yourself” creative spaces.Especially in light of recent funding cuts to the arts, I suggested creative spaces might benefit fromexploring similarities between their own projects and utopian ventures such as those implemented by  Warren: “Such spaces exist on their own terms, incorporating a parenthetical economy implemented onthe basis of voluntary cooperation by their members. When there is a crisis in arts funding,... suchstructures have the capacity to offer buoyancy and resilience. As makers of spaces, what better way to put what we are doing than by 
building little Utopias
?” (Kemple 10).
INFORMATION IS INHERENTLY SOCIAL.
Just as the world is meaningless without people, so too are libraries. Ink could form onto countlesspages and screens flicker unendingly. But without people, such events are nothing more than formlessarrangements of substances and events. In such a case, meaning is dependent on there being someone tofirst encounter it, and meaning itself is a function of communication.
 Information is communication and communication is social 
. In this light, the field of library and information science is essentially social and
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As quoted by Alan Watts in
The Wisdom of Insecurity
, page 151.
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humanitarian. In
 Future Libraries: Dreams Madness & Reality
, authors Walt Crawford and MichaelGorman write: “In short, libraries exist to give meaning to the continuing human attempt to transcendspace and time in the advancement of knowledge and the preservation of culture” (Crawford 3).
THE FRAMEWORK OF WONDER IS THE FRAMEWORK OF UTOPIA.
In his essay “Positivism, Foucault, and the Fantasia of the Library: Conceptions of Knowledge and theModern Library Experience”, Gary P. Radford writes: “The fantasia of the library is the experience of thelabyrinth, of seeking connections among texts as well as their contents... one can work within this tocreate new labyrinths, new perspectives, and ultimately new worlds” (440). At heart, I am a wonderer. Because wonder is inherently social, I am compelled to share it withpeople. Children and young adults are especially receptive to this sensation; it is my conviction that suchexposure is among the most enriching a young person can have. A young person who learns to say,
Wow!
” will hopefully go on to become an adult who can say, “
Wow!
And a world full of adults who cansay, “
Wow!
” is a better world. By helping young people discover “
Wow!
” I am doing what I can to helpmake the world a better place.
THE HEART OF WONDER IS CONTRADICTION.
In this sense, every library is Utopia. And as technology allows us to further transcend space andtime, we draw nearer to the literal meaning of Utopia, that is, we draw nearer to being
no place
. At theheart of wonder is contradiction, which is also at the heart of our profession. If we are to truly maintainneutrality as an institution, so far as content is concerned, we must be comfortable with contradictoriness.This is not so radical as it may sound, as it is already incorporated into the everyday practices of contemporary librarianship: On the shelves of every library, there sits contradictory information,sometimes the space between them mere is mere inches; sometimes it is even within the same volume.Such is the essence of our Utopia!Contradictions also offer didactic value. A recent study at the University of California Santa Barbarasuggests that exposure to contradictory information has a beneficial affect on cognitive abilities. Althoughthe implications of the study are controversial, we can agree that the ability to reconcile such informationis a feature common to socially valued traits, such as creativity and intellect. By creating an environmentrife with contradictory information, we can achieve the classical goals of enriching minds, withoutresorting to such inevitably problematic practices as canonical prescription.
WE ARE UTOPIA! (IF YOU WANT IT).
 At the end of my talk at CS13, I presented the following maxims to the representatives of various localcreative spaces. I now address them to you, my colleagues in the field of library and information science:
 In the present global recession, we must remember that an economy is more than a model of commercial exchange: it is a belief system. To adopt an economic model is to appropriate anontology, a whole structure of meaning and valuation. We must remember this in no uncertainterms. In the present global recession, we must present economic alternatives, even wildly implausibleones, on the basis that change is far more subtle and complex than we had hoped. We must  present them in no uncertain terms. In the present global recession, we must seek collaboration, community, discourse, and contradiction, in hopes that our Utopias will become vicarious paradigms for a renewed economy. In the present global recession, we must accept that we may not comprehend the difference wemake, but must press on with our projects. And we must do so in no uncertain terms.
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