A Periodic Broadside
for Arts and Culture Workers
2003. Vol. 7, No. 3.
A Library as Material Culture
Clayton FunkText, Reader, Reading
A library cannot be confined to a building or a book. It becomes a part of its community and has no single meaning frozen in time. Each user creates their own purpose for the library building and its materials. The library institution and its building becomes an institution of multiple typologies for each user and, therefore, generates particular aspects of culture that tie the library into the material life of the community. The same may be said of the life of the library staff. In a recent planning meeting for a library renovation, a library staff worked through many management issues, which had to be settled before the building plans could be finalized. What appeared to be a staff working through a discernment process of what kind of building they wanted was really the process of working towards what kind of library organization they wanted to be. It has been shown that the design of a physical space is evidence of intelligence at work at the time of design1 and the same may be said of an organizational design. As all designs come from mental structures, they can be discussed as two sides of the same “coin.” The users of the building carry out the programs for which the building is designed, and the building is the intermediary between its users and the reasons they come there.
Weiner and Boyden2 discuss the design and construction of library buildings that sustain a community over time. As a commitment to the future of their surroundings, the authors argue that buildings cannot deplete natural resources, cannot create waste, and it must be recognized that they hold and preserve cultural artifacts for future generations. To sustain the community and the future of the library institution, the authors argue for essential design considerations of proper light levels, air quality, and energy efficiency. The neglect of these concerns bears unwanted social, environmental, and economic consequences.Management
The second group of articles was on management theory and practice, in social science literature. All deal with one or more aspects of organizational change. The most important articles for this discussion call for methods of management that relate directly to the changes that could occur in preparation for and during a library renovation, with the trends articulated in the first group of articles. First, Sims5 defines the varied forms of change that can occur in an organization, mostly around the support of ethical behavior from leaders, policy, and the structure itself. In this way, an organization could develop a healthy personality for processing problems and everyday work, which would also be necessary in formulating goals for a successful renovation. Second is the continuous learning, or self-renewal organization, wherein organizations develop a process of discourse among all staff, who employ reflective methods to improve their job performance. This can be coupled with theories of architectural design, such as in Harris6 and Abel7, who argue in similar ways that buildings can teach users how to use them, a point that supports Harrington’s call, above, for self-service in library architecture. Reflective, self-learning management approaches can test the physical limits in a building because the social program of the building never remains static, and the building’s plan must be flexible. An example of such flexibility is held in Harrington’s call for fixtures on wheels to make furniture rearrangement easily adaptable to a change in job needs.Architectural and Social Theory
The third group of readings draws from three monographs on buildings as dynamic technologies, and the relation of a building to its functions, given by the designer and user. First, an important work by critic and historian Lewis Mumford specified that the automation of functions in buildings, made them into machines. These mechanized aspects of buildings created a kind of “technocracy” that mediated the functions of buildings and the life of the organizations inside them.11 The essence of any automation—automatic doors, elevators and climate control—results in the timed behavior of their users. As people wait for elevators, and adjust their habits to interior temperatures, libraries also run by the clock. Business hours begin and end by the clock, materials are loaned according to rules of the calendar and the clock, and computers, from data processing to back up, are based on a clock.Notes
1. Jules David Prown, “Mind in Matter: an Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method.” (Winterthur Portfolio, 17, no. 1, Spring 1982): 1-19.Bibliography
Abel, Chris. Architecture and Identity: Responses to Cultural and Technological Change. 2nd ed. Oxford: Architectural Press, 2000.
Text, Reader, Reading: Remarks on the Ground of Literate Culture
1. Text: Creating the Program
ITis a commonplace, dating back to Plato, that writing is storage. We write in hopes of giving continuity to our transitory thoughts over time, but in a sense it is a vain hope. A thought is not a particular thing in the world, but partakes of the nature of a generalization, something which cannot exist as a stone does, but exists at best as a potential whereby events may be brought about that resemble other events because a system (or mind) requires for its continuation that there should be such similarities. Philip Sidney, writing in the 1500s, noted that this gulf between ontological particularity and epistemological generality holds true across all disciplines:
There is no Art delivered unto mankind that hath not the workes of nature for his principall object, without which they could not consist, and on which they so depend, as they become Actors & Plaiers, as it were of what nature will have set forth. So doth the Astronomer looke upon the starres, and by that he seeth set downe what order nature hath taken therein (157).That is, the astronomer sets down an observation, in hopes of finding the order in heavenly things, but is ultimately deceived if he takes the observation as having any direct relation to the order, if any, that is actually present1 in the heavens:The Astronomer with his cousin the Geometrician, can hardly escape, when they take upon them to measure the height of the starres. How often thinke you do the Phisitians lie, when they averre things good for sicknesses, which afterwards send Charon a great number of soules drowned in a potion, before they come to his Ferrie? And no lesse of the rest, which take upon them to affirme (168).So that those who work in knowledge do not work in the world, whatever that may be, but in a constructed world, building a model which it is hoped is like the world, and from which we, as readers, may take away what we will. Sidney is arguing in favor of fiction, by the way, and suggests that the poet's model, in not asserting itself to be about particulars in the world, may have distinct advantages. The fiction writerworketh, not onely to make a Cyrus, which had bene but a particular excellency as nature might have done, but to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyrusses, if they will learne aright why and how that maker made him (157).This is programming. The Cyrus that is to be bestowed is an encoded Cyrus, awaiting downloading by the reader.
2. Reader: Operating System
We hope to convey something, such as Cyrus, or rather an idea of Cyrus, from one place and time to another, from person to person. Notice the responsibility that is placed on the reader: "if they will learn aright." In Sidney's social context, there was thought to be a universal standard of conduct and knowledge, rooted in the pervasive presence of the state religion and in an educational system that had little to go on beyond the Judeo-Christian scriptures and the Greek and Roman classics (still true for many of us today), so that the "fit reader" would be apt to be one whose goals in reading did not clash with what Queen Elizabeth I, and the power apparatus she represented, would wish them to be. Today's fit reader of Sidney is perhaps the historian of Renaissance thought or literature, who will put the text to different uses than Sidney or his contemporaries could have envisioned. But the take-home message for us today in his insight is that there is in a sense never a particular in writing, only the general; the replicability of the text is its defense against the ravages of time for that very reason. It is, in a sense, not there, not in a book, which is paper that degrades, nor on a disk, where the iron oxide may degrade, but in code, which we decode word by word, sentence by sentence, from whatever medium has been used as its substrate. Not there, because in the physical world there are no generals, only particulars, whereas in conceptualization, we have if not only generals, then in our individual minds particular conceptualizations which we take for generals.
And more by sentence3 than by word. All this might be easier to grasp if we understand that there is a reason why most words in dictionaries have more than one definition.4 We cannot know, when we walk into a classroom and see the English word "fault" on a blackboard, whether the preceding class was on geology or ethics. But if the word has been used in an entire sentence, then perhaps we may guess (unless we read only, say, Chinese).
When we write for an "intended audience," we are hoping that a majority of our readers will be equipped to download, compile, and run our program in a satisfactory manner. Thus it may be appropriate to consider the reader as analogous to an operating system.
3. Reading: Download, Compile, Run
It appears to me that a (codex) book, as a phenomenal object occupying a place on the space-time continuum prior to its being seen by a reader, is no more than compressed vegetable fiber and a quantity of tacky black dye derived from vegetable matter either directly, or remotely (from coal tar). But once it is presented to those with education appropriate to a particular interpretation of the object, it becomes something more: a nexus, a bridge where the act of reading flows the work, incrementally, to the reader. It is a storage device, just as we think of it, but it does not store the work, it stores the means of access to the work, containing, in the placement of shaped dried droplets of dye, a coded program to be run. We open the book, we look at the page, our eyes travel, in cascading saccades, left to right or right to left, or perhaps top down, depending on the language from which the program is derived. Sentences are downloaded, absorbed in a temporal sequence into memory, in such a way that the thoughts, images, or clusters of thoughts and images which the program calls forth (uniquely in each reader) are compiled in a way analogous to, but not necessarily identical with, phenomenal experience of the sensory-derived "real world."6
We easily look upon a text, in book or file form, as a stable object (at least until the author gets round to messing with it again), but it is not. The continuum is comprised of both space and time. Not only do substrates deteriorate (paper, film, disks, CDs), readers also change, even as they are reading. Unlike other operating systems, readers are modified by all programs (texts).
1. Sidney's strength is that he argues for "poesie" by arguing a reinterpretation of the epistemological ground of knowledge. That his insight has implications beyond "poesie" is corroborated by remarks since made by others whose field of consideration is the sciences and not literature.. . . metaphor has the same general properties as reality; reality is not thought or understood otherwise than by metaphor. (Bachelard, 64)2. Readers familiar with Predicate Calculus here may be thinking, "oh, but this should be a discussion of modus ponens and modus tollens; and he's being much too simplistic here." If I were a brilliant person I would undertake an argument that Predicate Calculus might indeed be a model for the next fruitful direction in literary criticism, with a look at discourse as possible-worlds theory. But I will leave this to the philosophy professors. I'm interested in shaking a few readers from the superstition of textual essentialism, but don't claim to have a coherent theory of my own. If you will read Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid I believe you will, yourself, think more useful thoughts than any you find in this essay. But even that author makes no claim beyond the tentative.
Bachelard, Gaston. The Philosophy of No. Trans. G. C. Waterston. New York: The Orion Press, 1968.
See also Richard's Commonplace Book <http://epud.net/~bears/common.html>.
Clayton Funk is a webmaster for distance education in the Department of Art Education at The Ohio State University. He moved to OSU from New York City, where he was an art educator at SUNY, New Paltz and a librarian at Teachers College, Columbia University. He has published articles about the history of art education and mass culture, and is also interested in the relation of informal education to the material culture of architecture and the invisible "architecture" of the Internet.
Bear holds a B.A. and M.A. in English
and an M.S. in Arts Management from the University of Oregon. He is the
circulation and personnel supervisor of the Document Center of the University
of Oregon Libraries. He has authored several books of poetry, two of
which were nominated for the Oregon Book Awards, and has a novel in progress.
He is editor of CultureWork,
and also editor of Renascence
Editions, an Early Modern electronic book depository. Richard maintains
an independent small press
in Pleasant Hill, Oregon.
CultureWork is an electronic publication of the University of Oregon Institute for Community Arts Studies. Its mission is to provide timely workplace-oriented information on culture, the arts, education, and community. For links to other sites of interest, see the ICAS links page. For previous issues of CultureWork, visit the Previous Issues page. Prospective authors and illustrators please see the Guidelines.
Opinions expressed by authors of CultureWork broadsides do not necessarily express those of the editors, the Institute for Community Arts Studies, or the University of Oregon.
©2003 The Institute for Community Arts Studies unless otherwise noted; all other publication rights revert to the author(s), illustrator(s), or artist(s) thereof.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org