Philosophy at 2:30 am

Thought before collapsing into bed:

Librarians have always been concerned with informational objects that have metadata associated with them that enhance findability…for example, a Book and it’s equivalent Catalog card or MARC record. We’ve layered metadata on top of our physical objects for years. We’re only now in the very recent past began scratching the surface of metadata for digital objects.

When we digitize a book, which is the “object” and which is an instantiation of that object? What is Primary? Where is the Real when you have a physical book and the digital copy both in existence? And what does the metadata describe then? I think Plato may have some answers, maybe.

Or maybe it’s way too late for me to be thinking about this.

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

One reply on “Philosophy at 2:30 am”

It gets even trickier when the whole notion of abstraction itself (or “digitality”) gets challenged:
Personally, on the spectrum of how “real” our representations or manifestations of physical objects are — I side with the cognitive realists.

It’s not that our mental descriptions of things are less real than their physical counterparts – it’s just that they only exist in relationship to a mind. (That was Aristotle’s view too – and I think he one ups Plato on that point!)

After all, if we assume that there do exist patterns in nature that persist in physical form, then it is not exactly a stretch to suppose some sort of “mirroring” or potential layering of these patterns within our brains.

It is this “meta-conversation,” in fact, that makes up the bulk of human experience and our perceptions of the world – whether virtual or physical.

Or, I guess what I am trying to say is: Information is information, no matter how it’s encoded!

Of course, that sounds like a line from the Matrix . . .
(and now, we have returned right back to Plato!)

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