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What Kind of “World” is a Library? part two: Thinking, Ek-sistence and letting a World World

February 5, 2018

“Thinking accomplishes the relation of being to the essence of the human being.” M. Heidegger, Letter on “Humanism” in Pathmarks (Cambridge, 1998) 239.

A library is not a static environment into which the user enters like an explorer imbued with a sense of entitlement to master whatever or whosoever is “discovered.” That mode of thinking is a response to the challenge of enframed existence which conceals as much as, if not more than, it reveals. It makes the library a place where resources including the librarians are simply a standing reserve “inventory to be ordered and conscripted” by tools that are ready-to-hand (See: Mark Blitz, “Understanding Heidegger on Technology,” The New Atlantis, Winter 2014, 68). Something electronic communication, data provision and digital technology all do very well in cyberspace, and the world of “our library” should not be a dehumanizing video game simulation. Futurists at library conferences pronounced a decade ago, libraries should not try to compete with Google because they will lose. “Our library” must not care to even try. Not because it is a fool’s errand, or folly for a library to be thought of differently, counter-culturally or even perhaps anarchically. It is because human interactions with ideas, histories, arts, sciences, cultures, technologies, other realities and other people dissolve the false dichotomy of a subject to objects relationship. A library ought to be a shared environment of “others” where this freely occurs. A library certainly can be a place for exploration and discovery. Stewardship of a world, however, means empowering each human being in it to realize all the “things” and everybody there, including themselves, are indigenous. This is significant for determining: “What kind of “world” is a library?”

“All ways of thinking, more or less perceptively, lead through language in a manner that is extraordinary.” M. Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (Garland, 1977) 3.

Since world-forming our library must be real and not just a theoretical mental exercise, and administrators are often far too risk averse to shepherd an open and candid “blue-sky” discussion, librarians need to foment the dialogue about how our library admits the essence of the human being, i.e., ek-sistence. “World-forming” because human beings have a creative ek-sistence, within which each one dwells poetically. “Real” in the sense that we can inhabit ek-sistence not just fantasize about it. “Ek-sistence,” to use Heidegger’s neologism, because human beings do not merely exist. They are “destined to think” what it means ‘to be’ (Heidegger, Letter on Humanism, Pathmarks, 247). Libraries are relevant, not when they do reactive technology-chasing or even proactive agenda-setting, but when librarians cultivate thinking, provide paths for creative interactions, and make clearings for language. This last statement is offered as a step toward answering: “What kind of “world” is a library?”

All our heart’s courage is the
echoing response to the
first call of Being which
gathers our thinking into the
play of the world.

In thinking all things
become solitary and slow.

Patience nurtures magnanimity.

He who thinks greatly must
err greatly.

M. Heidegger, The Thinker as Poet, in Poetry, Language, Thought (Harper, 1971) 9.


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