Monthly Archives: May 2013

So, what is dialogue?

What do I mean when I talk about dialogue in libraries? It’s about time I start to flesh out the idea. But that fleshing out is going to be a long process over the life of this blog. As I wrote in an earlier post, I hope this blog can be a place for these ideas to develop through dialogue. I want to put some thoughts out there, and then based on my experience, on things I read, and on conversations, I want those thoughts to grow and mature.

So then, let’s start with the word dialogue. If you were to look it up in a dictionary, you might assume I am simply talking about conversation between two people, and in some ways that is spot on. (It’s also the technical term, for the written lines of two people conversing in a play). However, I’ve started to think about dialogue as dialectic. That is more of a philosophical approach to dialogue. If you are someone who has taken an Intro to Philosophy class, you probably encountered this when you studied Socrates and Plato. If you keep moving through the history of philosophy, you find the term employed in Hegelian and Marxist thought. Dialectic basically takes conversation, or at least the interaction between different ideas, and gives it purpose, a way to seek truth. Or another way to think about it is to say dialectic meshes conversation with reasoning and logic, again, as a way to seek truth. I have been exploring some other modern philosophers, such as Hans-Georg Gadamer, who talk about dialogue and dialectic in their work.

After that paragraph, dialogue sounds pretty straightforward, as long as you have a basic philosophy background. If you know anything about Socrates and Plato, you probably don’t have any problem with thinking about dialogue as a process of question and answer. As for Hegel and Marx, dialectic as a historical process also is relatively easy to understand. However, I have found that dialogue can be an elusive idea. I come up against tough questions like these: In what ways do people communicate? (I for one think it is OK to say that dialogue happens between an author and a reader through written work). Is it OK to talk about truth as the end goal of dialogue when much current thought revolves around relativism? Does dialogue only happen between people? Does dialectic have to be reduced to logic?

That last question is especially important for how I view dialogue in relationship to libraries. I personally think about dialogue more in association with the relationships it fosters than in the technical workings out of a formal argument. Both can have the end goal of truth. And this leads to another question related to libraries: Is truth our goal in libraries? New Librarianship, promoted especially in The Atlas of New Librarianship, emphasizes knowledge creation. That sounds awfully close to truth, but still so far away.

These are the seeds of discussions that I want to keep exploring in future blog posts. I think it’s OK to have more questions than answers at this point. I hope others will provide their own thoughts for this blog to build on.