Conversation Among Equals

At the end of my post on “Listening to Proposals”, I said that librarians are experts on libraries, and thus, might seem to know best how to “fix” libraries. I argued there that librarians should be willing to listen to other points of view, and this leads me to a question: Does dialogue work if the two conversants involved are not equals in knowledge of the topic?

Here is an everyday example: When two acquaintances discuss a basketball game, but one knows nothing about the game and the other coaches a basketball team, can they actually have a dialogue? Or might that turn into something more akin to a lecture?

Scholarly communication largely assumes dialogue between equals. Through peer review and within disciplines, authors and readers are on somewhat equal footing. However, what about communication involving a student and an expert? A common subject unites the student and the author in that reading, but does this commonality actually place them on equal footing? Presumably, that article was chosen because the author was more of an expert than the student. Does scholarly communication then not always function as dialogue?

Questions like this reveal power relationships in information that might not be immediately obvious. I pose the questions not because I have an answer, but because they complicate what I consider a foundational concept. Clarifying the answer could benefit librarianship in numerous ways.

So, does anybody have thoughts about this?


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