In an earlier blog, I asked, “what does librarianship look like with Jesus Christ as an epistemic focus?” This idea comes from the works of Esther Meek (2011) where she states:
Most telling is the fact that ordinary Christians display a disconnect between truth as propositions and a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Christians distinguish studying information about God (sermon or seminary) as over against their personal relationship with Jesus. Christian believers know that the relationship is the most important thing. But the default prevents people from seeing how that relationship can be central to what we think knowing is – how knowing and being known by Christ could be central epistemically. Not that information about God, even mistakenly so-conceived, isn’t good for the soul, rather it is that Christians’ all-important relationship with Jesus isn’t considered knowledge, because it isn’t information. It is thus effectively left untapped for their epistemology, let alone accorded centrality (p. 62).
Perhaps before diving into this question, we need to begin with asking: “is there any connection between librarianship and epistemology?” In other words, will how I view knowledge impact my understanding and practice of librarianship? While there is some variance in opinions regarding specifications of their connection, there is firm agreement about their relationship (Budd, 1995; Dick, 1999; Shera, 1970). In other words, how an individual views knowledge will impact (to various degrees) how they practice librarianship. For example, Kuhlthau builds her work, Seeking Meaning, largely on a constructivist epistemology. In other words, she feels (and constructivism argues) that librarians play a critical role in learning because knowledge is formed in a social context. Through that social context, librarians can play a critical role in helping patrons make sense of all the information they are gathering (Kuhlthau, 2004, p. 89). Kuhlthau’s (2004) work shows how a perception of knowledge can play a critical role in how librarians serve and view the profession.
I should note that while I am not in full agreement with constructivism and some of its premises, Kuhlthau (2004) provides an excellent display of how some components of constructivism (particularly the social aspects of knowledge) can impact librarianship. Simply because I do not agree with all aspects of constructivism, does not imply that I should rejects all facets of it and subsequently also outright reject Kuhlthau’s work. Constructivism has a very healthy emphasis on both learning as an active process through which knowledge is attained and the role of the student/learner in that process. In other words, learning should not simply be seen in a context where the learner is a passive recipient. In fact, seeing the learner as an active participant and not as a passive recipient aligns quite well with covenant epistemology. Covenant epistemology argues that knowing connects truth with life, that is, it recognizes that the purpose of acquiring knowledge is to engender obedience to the covenant that binds God and His people (Naugle, n.d.).
With these connections established, what does a Christ-centered epistemology look like? I would like to suggest that covenant epistemology may provide a biblical framework for knowledge and could provide an intriguing epistemological foundation for a faithful librarian. Covenantal epistemology argues that an individual attains knowledge for the sake of responsible action. It connects in a radical way knowing and doing, epistemology and ethics, belief and behavior, else the consequences be hypocrisy, guilt, and personal disintegration (Naugle, n.d.).
How would this view of knowledge impact a faithful librarian? In other words, what would librarianship look like with a Christ-centered epistemic focus? First, if knowledge is attained for responsible action, it aligns with some facets of pragmatism, which tends to argue that common sense and experience are key instruments for epistemological production (“Pragmatism”, 2021, para. 38). One of the challenges with this may be that there are times when knowledge pursuits may not directly link to responsible action. For example, I have done some research on learning theories. While I am still at the beginning stages of this research, it likely will not have much immediate or direct impact. However, I am hopeful that a better understanding of how college students learn (part of learning theory) may help me (and our library) serve students better. While this process of learning and growing does not have immediate impact (similar to many learning scenarios), it is being pursed with the hope to take responsible action based upon my learning. Even studying the most obscure topics can lead to transformation (which I believe is the ultimate objective for knowledge and learning).
In this context, faithful librarians should be eager to help students learn and grow, because knowledge leads to transformation. This understanding has a potential to pair discipleship with much of what we do as librarians. How? If knowledge is a key instrument in transformation, our interactions with patrons can play a key role in enabling them to develop intellectually and spiritually. Subsequently, when provided an opportunity to assist a patron, perhaps faithful librarians should eagerly anticipate these interactions because they provide contexts (be they ever so brief) to mentor and teach, leading students to more learning and growing in all facets of life.
Budd, J. M. (1995). An epistemological foundation for library and information science. Library Quarterly, 65(3), 295-318.
Dick, A. L. (1999). Epistemological positions and library and information science. Library Quarterly, 69(3), 305-323.
Kuhlthau, C. (2004). Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services (2nd ed.). Libraries Unlimited.
Meek, E. L. (2011). Loving to Know: Introducing Covenant Epistemology. Cascade Books.
Naugle, D. (n.d.). What is Knowledge?: Biblical/Hebraic Epistemology. Summer Institute in Christian Scholarship, Dallas Baptist University. http://www3.dbu.edu/naugle/pdf/devo_7.pdf
Pragmatism (2021). In E. Zalta (Ed.) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pragmatism/
Shera, J. H. (1970). Sociological foundations of librarianship. Asia Pub. House.