Dr. Paul Sturges discusses the Insatiable Search for Truth

July 07, 2015

Paul Sturges in Japan

Part Two of our interview with SLIS visiting Allen Smith Scholar

This year the School of Library and Information Science was fortunate to have Dr. Paul Sturges as the visiting Allen Smith Scholar, which honors the memory of distinguished teacher and scholar Allen Smith. Scholars are exemplary practitioners, educators, or researchers renowned for their work in reference, oral history, or the study of librarianship and information service in the humanities. Dr. Sturges, Professor Emeritus, Loughborough University, and Professor Extraordinary, University of Pretoria, spent much of his career teaching library and information studies in Africa, and is a leader in global LIS research and practice. He currently travels throughout the world lecturing on Intellectual Freedom, consulting, and researching. He has been awarded numerous positions of note and received the IFLA Medal in 2011. Dr. Sturges spoke recently on his updated findings related to freedom of expression at Doshisha University in Kyoto City, Japan and Aoyama Gakuin University in Shibuya near Tokyo, Japan.

This is the second installment in our conversation series with Dr. Sturges.

In your presentation “Murder, Sex and Magic,” you address the schism between providing services, assisting people seeking information, yet being acutely aware of not diminishing the established information-seeking methods in the developing African nations in which you taught and traveled.

If you interfere with their mentality—like from the French, mentalité, which is a belief or mindset, but not a mind set—you virtually sabotage the whole enterprise. You have to build up from what is there. You do not come in and say, “These indexes we have are just fabulous; we have got the tools.” I do not think that approach to librarianship works anywhere: “let us teach you how to use our tools.” Yet this has often been librarianship in the past. I found it especially ridiculous in developing countries: the idea that your literature and your ways of finding things would be universally relevant.

Of course, this critique is a little out of date, because the Internet empowers the user. It responds to you in a way that traditional library systems do not. It also offers this wonderful serendipity. It can take you to unexpected corners if you let it. In my current research on blasphemy, I discovered something via a Google search and Wikipedia that had tremendous resonance for me. What I had to then do was go back to contemporary scholarly content. It gave me a task, which is one way the Internet can work brilliantly. It can take you into things, but that does not mean it can do everything for you. You still need conventional scholarship as well.

It can also take you to research outside of your discipline, which may involve methods unfamiliar to library science. You need to be prepared to examine those methods, and possibly use them yourself. For example, an anthropological or ethnographical approach has not been used much in library and information science, and certainly not in any purist sort of way; I tried to play with that when talking about magic and mysticism. I tried to embody a journalist covering the same story and report it as I found it.

To read the full interview visit the InfoLink, where you can also read the first part of the interview.