knowledge center?

[written 05/24/04]

hello world.

i really didn’t like how the word librar* is being replaced by all these slick-sounding-and-yet-totally-vague phrases. one concrete example: renaming a library a ‘knowledge center.’ grr, i don’t like that! so with that feeling in mind, i went searching for why this lovely cozy old word ‘library’ was being replaced by the cold vague ‘knowledge center.’

having loved etymology for years now (and one day i will own a copy of the oed!), i’m happy to reprint the origins of the word library (according to take our word):

Chaucer certainly can be thanked for recording the earliest known instance of the word in English .. about 1374. At that time the word referred simply to a room in a house where books were kept for reading. It derived from the French librairie “bookseller’s shop”. The French word came, via vulgar Latin libraria, from Latin librarius, an adjective meaning “concerned with books”. The root of librarius was liber “book”, and that word came directly from liber “bark of a tree”. Some etymologists suggest that this was because bark was used as an early writing material, but others think that the Romans simply had a tradition that bark had been used for such a purpose. Cognates are Russian lub “bark” and Lithuanian luba “board”, and there are cognates in the Romance languages, as well, having the meaning “book shop”.

looking for the origins of the term “knowledge center” proved a little trickier: no dictionary definition, no wikipedia entry. in 1984, barbara moran wrote an article entitled “Academic Libraries: The Changing Knowledge Center of Colleges and Universities”. i couldn’t find any earlier references to the term.

my interest in this whole changing terminology came about from the latest american libraries, where they mentioned that the university of nevada at reno just recieved millions of dollars to build a knowledge center. their website surprised me a bit: not only totally web compliant but, although the new center is several years from being built (2008 is the projected date), they already had all this info up, such as why a knowledge center. cool, so what’s their definition: “It is only through analysis of—and reflection upon—data and information that knowledge is created. The Knowledge Center will contribute to new advances in various disciplines by making knowledge creation easier.” hmm, sounds kinda buzzwordy to me, but ok, knowledge creation it is.

if i type in “knowledge center” on google, the first thing that pops up is monsanto’s own biotech knowledge center. of course, this in of itself means zip (if it was called a library, i would still think monsanto sucks.) but once i started looking through the list of all the knowledge centers around, i noticed that almost without exception, all are corporate. why? when did this start?

what is the difference in calling it a “knowledge center” over a “library”? why not call it an “information center”, since information is much more value-neutral than knowledge. after all, information to me means ‘consciously trying to be objective, so i can make up my own mind’. knowledge on the other hand is something i seek from those older than me, more experienced, who i trust.
maybe it’s all semantics, who cares anyway, blah blah. and really, as long as it’s publically supported with money, staffing, etc then i really don’t care. but i still can’t help and not like new gadget-y sounding name. library means books, and more. knowledge center means boring facts and lists and uncomfortable seats. maybe i’m just getting old though. hm, i’ll think on this a bit, and reorganize it later tonight.

btw, see wikipedia’s list of famous libraries and this barcode decoder and, so pretty but also so modern! and shiny! seattle’s new library and, last but not least, this new article on bolivia via zmag.

~ andrea