Does chaos have any place in a library – other than as a negative or entropic force which must be subdued by the librarian?
The traditional view is that libraries are places of order, where we organize information and hence give it meaning and make it more usable. I vaguely remember the days before the internet and each library was its own closed system. Then it was obvious that each library had to apply order to its collection, otherwise, what was it for?
With the internet and online databases and search engines, all that changed. There is still a need for order in libraries, there always will be. Even if there were no books or physical items, online information still needs to be interacted with in some shape or form.
But now there’s another need. It’s not a need for chaos, that would just cancel out the need for order. It’s the ability to work with chaotic systems, which requires some tolerance and ease with chaos.
Please indulge me with this little allegory. Once upon a time, all libraries existed on solid orderly land. With the internet, there has been a thawing and now chaotic waters are encroaching on our space. I can only think of 3 ways of responding to this. One way is the flight response – accept the loss of our territory. Retreat to the mountain tops where the flood will never reach. Another way is to fight the flood. Using whatever tools available, build dikes to protect the traditional library from the chaotic waters which are an anathema to us.
Flight is a defeatist response which will leave librarians a diminished shadow of what we used to be. There will still be some librarians, in the same way that there are still some stonemasons and blacksmiths. Fight is even more dangerous. It may seem to work for a time, but there is no way of controlling the flood. Should the strategy fail, should the dikes be breached, we will all be swept away.