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The words “knowledge” and “information” are sometimes used interchangeably, but the connection between them is complex and problematic. Knowledge is a mental product gained from engaging with information. All educational subjects, scholarly disciplines, occupations, and activities produce knowledge as well as information. Because libraries encompass potentially all subjects, professional vision in librarianship would benefit from an examination of knowledge that transcends the methods and topical concerns of individual disciplines. An interdisciplinary (or transdisciplinary) framework in which to view knowledge was pioneered in the post-Sputnik age by Fritz Machlup and Michael Polanyi. Their insights have stimulated scholars to develop research, publications, and curricula in many fields, spawning somewhat disconnected literatures. Radical changes in the practice of research and inquiry have prompted some to question the continuing applicability of received ideas about the foundations of knowledge. The moment seems opportune to consolidate the disparate strands of scholarship about knowledge into an integrated project. Like other “studies” fields that have productively assembled around key issues that fall between the cracks of traditional, mature disciplines, knowledge studies (a term possibly coined by Julie Thompson Klein, but not adopted by others) could foster cross-fertilization and creativity by linking individuals who approach knowledge from different angles. This essay traces the genealogy of knowledge studies, relates it to emerging literatures on the organization of academic disciplines and on the changed higher education environment, and suggests topics and approaches pertinent to library professionals and educators.


This work was originally presented at 13th Annual International Conference on Knowledge, Culture, and Change in Organizations, Vancouver.

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