making the library relevant

The library.

Remember those? 

In the event, you are too young to remember what a library is here is the definition: 

“A library is a curated collection of sources of information and similar resources, selected by experts and made accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing, often in a quiet environment conducive to study. It provides physical or digital access to material and may be a physical location or a virtual space, or both.”

I remember my local library very fondly. 

It was a large monolithic stone building with two large green lions in the front. The stairs were wide, steep, and seemed daunting. 

I remember walking through the rotating doors only to be greeted with a “good morning, good afternoon, or a good evening” by the librarian. It was quickly followed by a, “Is there something I can help you find today?” 

The building always had this very distinct smell. It was a combination of wood, leather, concrete, old glue with a dash of sweat, and a sprinkle of staleness. It was a smell that always made me smile because I knew I was in a place full of knowledge. 

I can remember the large oak cases filled with all the books you could only use within the building. The references, the dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other very old historical documents. I remember the back wall of floor to ceiling books. I remember the floors with rows upon rows of metal bookshelves, holding odd-shaped paper bound rectangles with weird tiny little numbers on the spines often with decimal points. 

I was always mesmerized by libraries. It was this sacred place that housed knowledge. The place that you could go, for free, and take a book (or several books at one time) home with you to read for free. All you needed was a card with your name, address, and phone number on it and the promise that you would bring the book back within the next 10-20 days.

It was one of the “errands” I enjoyed the most as a child. Going to the library to check out books for the week. 

Fast forward to my college years and I remember the first time I heard the “Bzzz, grsh, swrsh, zzzz, dat dat dat, bing” coming from my computer and phone in my dorm room. I remember thinking it was the coolest feat in the world, to be connected to a network of computers and to have access to the same amount of information that was held in that old building called a library.

I remember hearing about this new site called Google and their original mission: 

“To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Which over the years has morphed into the latest mission: 

“The relentless search for better answers continues to be at the core of everything we do. Today, Google makes hundreds of products used by billions of people across the globe, from YouTube and Android to Gmail and, of course, Google Search. Although we’ve ditched the Lego servers and added just a few more company dogs, our passion for building technology for everyone has stayed with us — from the dorm room, to the garage, and to this very day.”

So why is my trip down memory lane relevant to your Sunday? 

To be reminded of the importance of what we learned as small children in that library, the Dewey Decimal System. 

Those weird tiny little numbers of the spines with decimal points?

That is the Dewey Decimal System. This classification introduced the concepts of relative location and relative index which allow new books to be added to a library in their appropriate location based on the subject. The classification’s notation makes use of three-digit numbers for main classes, with fractional decimals allowing expansion for further detail. Numbers are flexible to the degree that they can be expanded in a linear fashion to cover special aspects of general subjects. 

The classification allows any book to be found and returned to its proper place within a library. The system is used in over 135 countries and more than 200,000 libraries. It is also used on WorldCat which is an online library collaborative. 

I want to call specific attention to the 800 class. Philosophy and theory are listed as 801. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and concordances are listed in the 803 section. The 810 is American Literature. Poetry is listed in 811 while Drama is in 812. Fiction, better known as short stories and novels, that describe imaginary events and people are listed in section 813. 

If you review sections on Old English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese they all have sections dedicated to Fiction. 

The majority of the world today uses Google as its default when seeking information.

Despite a top result being influenced by ad placement, search history, websites that we frequent, our geolocation, and an algorithm, many of us take the top results as the absolute truth. 

Yet there is a difference between information and knowledge. 

Information is nothing more than a signal or character representing the refined form of data. 

Knowledge is the sum of what is known: acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation. It is the state of understanding the difference between fact and fiction. 

Google has done a wonderful job of organizing the world’s information and making it accessible to everyone. The challenge is that many of us are not aware of what would be categorized by the Dewey Decimal System as 813 (American fiction) or what would be classified as 807 (education, research) or what is simply just content scraped from the internet with no classification at all. 

“To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”

~Lao Tse

We need to remember as we are reading, listening, searching, watching, and discussing that just because we found it on the internet does not mean that it is knowledge. Often the majority of what we digest in the digital space is merely a signal of refined data that has been amplified by someone (or something) based on our habits. 

It is not the truth or the knowledge we seek. 

Remember your library. Remember the Dewey Decimal System. Remember that seeking the truth, gaining knowledge, and attaining wisdom is work. 

Information is scaled mediocrity. 

Knowledge builds wisdom.  

Wisdom seeks truth. 

Seek truth at the N of 1. 

Please email your comments, thoughts, questions, or ideas to me directly at You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.


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