Nomads of Knowledge: Librarians in search of Answers
In making a journey, it is important to set an itinerary. In order to make the trip grand, it is important to leave the destination open. We’re not talking about Ulises. But if we’ve learned anything from the trajectory that has brought us to Knovvmads: it is that getting lost always has its rewards. During the months of confinement, the world continues to endure as a result of COVID-19, those of us who exercised, in greater or lesser measure, a connection to the internet became accidental tourists.
In Ann Tyler’s novel, The Accidental Tourist, the protagonist writes travel guides for people who don’t like to travel. These tourists transit through cities wanting only to re-create that which is familiar, impervious to any local charm. This is precisely the opposite of our aspirations.
We are, and we wish to be nomads of knowledge. Travelers, from our devices or on-board any means of transportation, fleeing common places because they aspire to discover new horizons.
But what if we are destined to be accidental tourists? Everything appears to point in that direction: the fragmentation of sources, the increase in cultural and information offerings has not led to a society of understanding; in any case, to the evasion of knowledge (and to the dumbest in the majority of cases).
When in 2017, the writer Patrick Ness, came up with two Carnegie Medals (awards given by Britain’s Librarians) he made some declarations that are worth remembering: Librarians are tour guides for all of knowledge.
It’s a great responsibility to be guides to an infinitely vast continent as knowledge. In the library of the twenty-first century do we want tourists or travelers? More importantly, as library professionals, are we tourists or travelers?
On TripAdvisor’s home page, they publish a guide on travel trends every year. According to 2019’s guide, the rankings were led by family trips, followed by study travel that includes immersive cultural and thematic experiences, open air activities and or sport and gastronomy themed travels. 2020’s trends guide is likely to produce a significantly different ranking given the circumstances.
Reviewing which trip with immersive experiences accumulated the most reservations for Americans: it was a course for gladiators. Ninety-four percent of the reservations were for the purpose of learning how to become a gladiator like Maximus in Ridley Scott’s film. It was followed by classes for salsa in San Juan, surfing in Sydney and pottery in Cambodia.
Where are the figures like Lawrence Sterne, Alexander von Humboldt, Ida Pfeiffer, Lord Byron, Henry James or Stendhal?
Along with the Nineteenth Century there came a fervor for travel. After centuries of adventures on land and sea in search of new markets and continents to annex and exploit; science and understanding accelerated those pursuits. There’s a fixed halo of romanticism like a daguerreotype of the times that we keep. But the beauty of the sepia tones should not distract one from the truth.
The numerous scientific expeditions from the Royal Geographic Society and other Geographic Societies sought understanding, yes, but they were primarily looking for financial benefit. That zeal for understanding was consequently responsible for numerous genocides, species extinctions, and the condemnations to poverty of many territories.
Immersed in a century no less passionate than the past, more than ever we are impelled to continue traveling in pursuit of knowledge. Doubtlessly for an understanding that delivers a financial benefit, but not at an unsustainable cost.
The TripAdvisor portal has served to popularize concepts like ‘economy of reputation,’ even more so. On the positive side, the consumer’s opinion is an instrument of control in a society of consumption (that is much more immediate than the vote we place in the urn every four years). On the negative side, it’s an open forum for slander.
Fortunately, libraries and librarians are highly valued in the economy of reputation, although not quite so in terms of popularity. But now, more than ever, is not the time to rest on one’s laurels; even if they were Julius Caesar’s very own. This reference, although applied with a shoe horn, is not entirely gratuitous, because we return to the Gladiator School that holds the TripAdvisor record for reservations.
Understanding, no matter how immersive the experience, is not achieved by dressing up like ancient Romans and emulating a Hollywood movie. In Thomas Edward Lawrence, known to most as Lawrence of Arabia, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, wisdom sent the unwary a call to visit its home. It is often necessary to throw caution aside to reach, if not wisdom, some understanding.
“You can be cosmopolitan without ever leaving the library, Jorge Luis Borges was, and you can be provincial while travelling.”Juan Arnau Navarro
We all fall into this at some point or another. We are accidental tourists navigating the Internet looking to shore up our own beliefs; hostile to anything that contravenes the ideas on which we rely. This is illustrative of the antithesis of understanding.
It is for this reason that Knovvmads is born of the desire to expand horizons with a defined course. The more uncertain the times, the more imperative it is to secure your sails to achieve a successful passage. Knovvmads depart with a history that dissipates temerity. Success for more than a decade in the business of library services, Infobibliotecas is guarantor for Knovvmads.
And, it’s about elevating libraries as social centers and cultural centers at the same level as other cultural industries. If the library’s spaces, services, professionals, users, products and offerings have been adapted to modern needs, the mediums that reflect this new reality should be at the same level.
It’s possible the environment and the circumstances that separate an information professional from Wisconsin from one in Madrid or Florence could appear to be many. On closer observation, the differences disappear. We all move with one objective: to inquire, in the most trustworthy way possible, about the world in which we move. In Knovvmads, as the nomads of knowledge we are, we have an advantage.
The advantage of contemplating the horizon from a privileged observatory as libraries happen to be.
If you are a Knovvmad, subscribe.