Although experts in postmodern theory cannot agree on a strict definition of the term “postmodern,” many aspects of postmodernism appear in different cultures. As stated in the Mission Thread section of the Atlas, some postmodern thought may be recognized in the reference interview. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, two main roles in postmodernism are the “expert” and the “philosopher,” both of which serve roles within the reference interview. The expert knows both the breadth and limitations to his knowledge, while the philosopher learns what is known and must be gained through questioning.1 By seeking to better understand these roles, the librarian can become more comfortable and adept in the reference process and in the creation of searching tools and guidance tools. Understanding how people seek information is also integral to creating good cataloging and classification systems for its constantly changing users, especially considering the increasingly global community many large libraries now serve.
Appropriately, the growing trend of postmodern thinking in overall academia are leading to further research and rethinking of traditional librarian tools. Postmodernism reinforces the idea of constant change and adaptation to increase knowledge in people and to improve the process by which people can gain access to appropriate information. As such, American librarians are looking into how they can better adapt systems of organization (such as the Dewey Decimal Classification system) and reference transactions to serve increasingly diverse patrons. Many academic libraries are beginning to form research help areas such as Bird Library’s Learning Commons at Syracuse University, where students may find guidance and help in learning to better search for and identify appropriate resources for projects. As the world changes, the reflective and adaptive nature of postmodern thinking encourages libraries to adapt to better serve their patron base.
• Where in the library can postmodernism most appropriately be applied? Are there good systems in place in certain facilities that may not benefit from “overanalysis”? In certain libraries or societies, many patrons may have adapted well enough to the current system that they could navigate it better than they would be able to with such a severe change.
• How does one introduce postmodernism appropriately and accurately to “traditionalist” librarians? Might there be those, like a former English student, who are frightened by the very word? What kind of “cushioning” might one use to prevent fear? “Postmodernism” is a broad concept and presents quite a few problems with definition and presentation. In fact, most of the Web sites I consulted to find a basic definition of the term were either too broad or were so full of philosophical jargon that they were difficult to understand. Most librarians may become confused if the concepts are not presented correctly.
Bodi, S., & Maier-O’Shea, K. (2005). The library of babel: Making sense of collection management in a postmodern world. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 31(2), 143–150.
Annotation: Bodi and Maier-O’Shea explore the repercussions of postmodernism in the organization and management of academic library collections, from providing multiple access points to providing a more information-centered environment in libraries because of the changing culture of universities and colleges and the increased movement toward an experience-based management philosophy. When academic libraries shift toward postmodernism, should they still simply support the school’s curriculum or should these libraries also change toward the overall learning outcomes emphasized by the school (if the two differ)?
Cullen, R. (1998). Measure for measure: A post-modern critique of performance measurement in libraries and information services. Proceedings from the IATUL ’1998: The 27th International Association of Scientific and Technological University Libraries Conference. The challenge to be relevant in the 21st century, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.
Annotation: Cullen uses postmodern theory to analyze how most modern libraries perform assessments and deconstruct the traditional modes of assessment available to librarians, asking whether the “tried-and-true” methods of the past are providing enough accurate data and whether libraries are making vital enough changes called for by the data collected. She also makes suggestions on how to bring current evaluation practices up to a greater and more effective standard for libraries and information services, including tailoring the library’s mission to reference the need it serves in the community before considering how well the library lives up to its community’s expectations.
Deodato, J. (2006). Becoming responsible mediators: The application of postmodern perspectives to archival arrangement & description. Progressive Librarian, 27, 52–63.
Annotation: Deodato attempts to explain the growing influence of postmodernism on the archival community. He acknowledges the effect of the postmodern mindset on selection and appraisal of new artifacts and attempts to further the incorporation of these values into the description and arrangement of artifacts through addition to traditional finding aids and expanded records concerning them. Deodato also provides some beginning guidelines for creating a more comprehensive record of the artifacts in a collection that not only acknowledges the social conditions under which the writer of such a record created it but also allows for future changes that may help users understand the collection and artifacts more thoroughly because artifacts can seldom be objectively identified due to their socially constructed identities.
Taylor, M. J. (2002). I’ll be your mirror, reflect what you are: Postmodern documentation and the downtown New York scene from 1975 to the present. RBM, 3(1), 32–52.
Annotation: Taylor discusses the nature of the contents of libraries as a reflection of culture, questioning the nature of such a reflection of culture. By deconstructing the concept that a library is the repository of culture, Taylor explores the quality of the cultural reflection through possession of artifacts, asking whether the significance or meaning of the artifact is affected by its incorporation into a larger collection. When looking into the reflection of a culture, he says, one must remember that the viewer is reflected as well, and the view of an item by any one person (or group of people) is inherently biased. Ensuring that both the archive (or library) workers and the patrons of an archive (or library) understand and recognize this idea is the only way to provide a better understanding of the artifacts contained there.
1. Aylesworth, G. (2005, September 30). Postmodernism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism