Being in school again has me thinking about what it means to know something. Not because of anything covered in any one course, but because of the fact of the courses themselves. When you’re out of school, if you read something, and you have reason to believe you understand what you’ve learned from it, you can act as if you know that information without too much hesitation. Of course that knowledge, like most knowledge, is provisional: you could be misunderstanding it, or the source itself could be wrong. Just because you believe you know something doesn’t mean you’re beyond correction. You might qualify your statement when you present that knowledge – “I remember reading a study” – and you might ask someone with more expertise if what you know is true, but you generally don’t feel as if you need some sort of external approval to demonstrate that you really know it.
It’s different in school, where there are systems of evaluation set up to periodically evaluate your knowledge. Read a book about subject A outside of work and there’s not much you have to do aside from finish the book to believe that you’ve learned and now know something additional about A. Read the same book for class and you might have the same belief about your knowledge – but until you’ve finished the coursework evaluation process, it will seem less settled.
Why am I bringing this up now? Aside from the fact that I’ve been struck by how differently I approach what I know depending on whether it’s part of an education program or not and simply think that is interesting, I am also going to be writing a bit about subjects related to my program. So I want to emphasize that this blog reflects the fact that I am in the process of learning. There are certain risks involved in showing one’s learning process in a public forum, but I hope that in writing about what I am learning, I’ll be able to give others at least a partial idea of what the library and archives fields are about. You can learn along with me.
For example, if I don’t have time to get into details, I tell people I’m in library school. People usually know libraries and they have some understanding of what librarians do, so library school doesn’t sound like anything that out of the ordinary. But I’m not just in library school; I’m also in an archives program (it’s a joint degree, so I’m in both). And people are less familiar with archives and what archivists do. I plan to write a post about the difference between the two – that is, between libraries and archives – but it turns out that the definition of an archive is quite particular – as is the definition of a record – and something that you have to learn carefully, even if you know, under general knowledge, what archives are, have done historical research in them, and don’t find the idea of “archives school” completely foreign to you.