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portal: Libraries and the Academy 2.3 (2002) 492-493

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Book Review

A History of Information Storage and Retrieval

Knowledge and Knowing in Library and Information Science: A Philosophical Framework, John M. Budd. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2001. 360 p. $70.00 cloth (ISBN 0-8108-4041-3); $38.50 paper (ISBN 0-8108-4025-1)

I once attended a meeting that involved librarians and faculty from campus writing programs. There were unexpected communications problems that resulted from the writing faculty's elaborate theorization of their work and the lack of such theorizing among the librarians. Finally, after several false starts, the director of the campus Writing Center leaned across the table and said, "you folks in the library need to articulate your epistemology." This event marked my first exposure to what John Budd calls the "unexamined life of LIS"—a resistance within librarianship to theoretical constructs in favor of practical solutions that address isolated challenges. In direct response to this lack of useful theory, Dr. Budd, Associate Professor in the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri-Columbia, has given us a book that sets as its primary goal the articulation of an epistemology for library and information science.

Budd has before him a formidable task. His goal is to provide a philosophical and historical framework for knowledge and understanding in library science. He covers almost four hundred years of Western thought—from Bacon to Descartes to Kant to Hume, Mill, and Marx—and as he traverses this history, Budd provides us with a discipline-orientated inquiry into what constitutes knowledge in LIS. The first half of the book is devoted to the evolution of what the author calls "scientistic determinism." This tradition, best exemplified by the physical sciences, sees the [End Page 492] world as an objective reality for which rigorous laws exist. The process of discovering and articulating these laws constitutes knowledge and knowing within the tradition of scientistic determinism. Budd ultimately rejects this model, and, in the second half of the book, he surveys alternative epistemologies and knowledge that have emanated from them. In this useful section, he points out the strengths and weakness in various research models and critiques specific articles in and out of the LIS field.

This is a broad, conceptual book, and it is not without its flaws. Some will be dissatisfied with the historical survey, deriving as it does almost entirely from the great thinkers of the West. The content is dense and abstract, and distinctions between theories and models can be slippery and are not always well articulated. The rigorous student of philosophy might not be satisfied with many of Budd's conclusions, especially the casual way he reconciles incompatibilities between social relativism and scientistic determinism. Finally, it is not always clear that Budd is an impartial arbitrator of the theories he describes. He is inexplicably hard on specific lines of inquiry, and in the latter half of the book, he dismisses whole schools of philosophical thought without adequate justification. Toward the end, he makes a forceful argument for phenomenology as the most suitable epistemology for LIS, a move that makes his earlier exploration of philosophical traditions seem disingenuous.

Still, this is an important book, primarily because it accepts the challenge within LIS to develop an examined life. Budd obviously cares deeply about his topic, and he wants to create a debate around the question of meaning in library science—a question he rightly perceives as central to the field's credibility in academia. Problems of proof are central to disciplinary understanding, and plenty of work needs to be done to understand how various lines of inquiry will contribute to understanding libraries in all their complexity. This book will appeal to those who care about library and information science as an academic discipline, and it will serve as an important starting point for discussions about the ongoing maturation of the field.


James Elmborg
The University of Iowa



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