The world is more connected than ever before. The world is also better than it ever was before in many varied and important ways. In Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker (2018) shows how things have drastically improved for humans in myriad ways. The whole world is living longer, with 2015 bringing a global average life expectancy of 71.4 years (p. 53), 83 percent of the world is literate (p. 236), and people living in the United States have more leisure time than ever (p. 255) despite how we might feel otherwise. One of the more revolutionary outcomes of our modern age, though, is the advent and rapid growth of the Internet. According to Pinker, nearly half of the world has Internet access (p. 257). If one considers the combined facts of Internet access, leisure time, and literacy, we must be living in the greatest era of librarianship.

Steven Pinker gives a brief overview of the enlightenment ideals he thinks important to humanity’s future.

                Pinker (2018) makes the case that technological advancements have historically been linked to increases in global knowledge, and he points to studies that show the more knowledge a person has, the “less racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, and authoritarian” (p. 235) they are. Pinker specifically mentions the democratization of knowledge, claiming that “most of the world’s knowledge is now online rather than locked in libraries” (p. 238), but I think he is too quick to dismiss libraries and the role they play in helping people gain access to online knowledge. In his book Redefining Library Services, Michael Buckland (1992) lays out the important role libraries play in making online resources accessible, not just by having digital objects stored on the web, but by contributing to the work that makes those objects locatable. He states that “there is much greater opportunity to bring service to wherever potential users of library service happen to be” (p. 65), and, given the interconnectedness brought about by the Internet, those users are everywhere—and they are ready to access those services.

                By utilizing the Internet to bring far greater amounts of resources to far greater amounts of people, libraries play a unique and crucial role in helping with Pinker’s (2018) wish of bringing enlightenment ideals to a world that often feels rudderless despite such important improvements to general well-being. Casey and Savastinuk (2007) are right when they describe the problem of the “long tail” and how it relates to an outmoded way of thinking: libraries cannot constrain themselves, their collection, and their services to what can be physically held inside their physical walls. More importantly, Casey and Savastinuk are right to suggest harnessing the power of the Internet “as a tool that you can use to reach your users” (p. 34). Part of reaching users, though, is not simply having them use a library to access resources but to feel like they are participating in the exchange.

                Michael Stephens (2016) tells of a library in Colombia that helps its community store local history in the form of documents and photographs by digitizing them. This is the democratization of knowledge that Pinker (2018) says encapsulates “our ceaseless creativity and our fantastically cumulative cultural memory” (p. 261). But it is the exchange of knowledge that is most important. Pinker talks of how modern technology allows for a complete transformation of global education, and Stephens echoes this when he states that “understanding and empathy among cross-cultural partners in a technological environment is the key . . . to making change and promoting progress” (p. 81).

                Pinker (2018) states that “there is no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing” (p. 453), and there should be no better role for libraries to play than in helping people gain access to that ever important knowledge. Pinker hopes for a return to enlightenment ideals, of reason, science, and humanism, and he argues well for the benefits they have gifted humanity. Casey and Savastinuk (2007) show how libraries can better harness the Internet via blogs, social media, and other Web 2.0 inventions, and Stephens sums it up nicely by pointing out the need “to imagine these service models based on community enrichment and building connections” (p. 56). And I am excited to be here, now, in this MLIS program because I too want to change people’s lives.

Stephen Fry and Steven Pinker discuss the progress made, the challenges to come, and the importance of enlightenment ideals as we move deeper into the 21st century.

References

Agatan Foundation. (2018, September 21). Enlightenment explained by Stephen Pinker [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sMtw9mKHX0

Buckland, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. Chicago: American Library Association.

Casey, M., & Savastinuk, L. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford: Information Today.

How to Academy. (2018, February 24). Stephen Fry & Steven Pinker on the enlightenment today [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aT61w3Q6vI

Pinker, S. (2018). Enlightenment now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress. New York: Penguin Books.

Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. Chicago: American Library Association.

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