Knowledge and Wisdom: a practical distinction

One of the interesting discussions that I had in class at St. John’s was the difference between knowledge and wisdom. The example that was given was if a patron (mathematician) asks for a complicated math equation. The librarian looks it up and tells it to the patron. The equation itself is Information. The recitation of the equation by the librarian is Knowledge. The patron hearing, understanding and absorbing the equation is Wisdom.

In effect, it is the difference between hearing something and understanding what it means. Anyone can recite music notes but not everyone can understand what the notes mean and play or sing the song. In this example the notes are information, the person reciting the notes has the knowledge, and the person who can play or sing the song has the wisdom.

Here again comes Stephen’s Lighthouse with a great visual presentation of this idea. It seems many of us are unsure of the distinction between these terms.

Librarians and Archivists usually have vast pools of knowledge they have access to and remember large amounts of information. But that does not mean that they have a lot of wisdom. They may understand very little of their information. That is why I believe it is so important for librarians and archivists to continually be learning and growing in their understanding of information of many different types. The librarians who do have the wisdom stand out. They can converse intelligently with patrons and others about the information and this makes them better information specialists.

This does not always apply, but sometimes it bothers me when I hear library professionals instructing or discussing information with people when it is knowledge to them and not wisdom. It can feel like it does when I am talking to my 8 year old nephew and he very gravely informs me of his knowledge and thinks he has wisdom. He tells me things like, ‘It’s not so far from New York to California,’ and here I sit, a driver who debated driving that far and nixed it due to the distance and time it would take and someone who has flown the distance and knows how far it really is. What do I say to him? Do I tell him how ridiculous it is for him to be telling me that I can drive the distance because it is not that far?…


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