Democratization of knowledge

Democratization of knowledge

The democratization of knowledge is the acquisition and spread of knowledge amongst the common people, not just privileged elites such as clergy and academics. There are both positive and negative societal aspects to it, which are particularly worth considering in light of the advent of the digital age. Libraries, and public libraries in particular, play a key role in the democratization of knowledge, as they provide open access of unbiased information to the masses.


The printing press was one of the early steps towards the democratization of knowledge.

Another small example of this during the Industrial Revolution was the creation of libraries for miners in some Scottish villages in the 18th century.[1]

WorldHeritage is rapidly turning into a real-time reference tool in which public entries can be updated by anyone at any time. This phenomenon—a product of the digital age—has greatly contributed to the democratization of knowledge in the post-modern era. At the same time, it has raised a number of valid criticisms in this regard (see Reliability of WorldHeritage page). For instance, one could draw a distinction between the mere spread of information and the spread of accurate or credible information. WorldHeritage may thus be a more reliable source of information in certain spheres, but not necessarily in others.

In the Digital Age

The democratization of technology has played a major facilitating role. WorldHeritage co-founder, Larry Sanger, states in his article,[2] that “Professionals are no longer needed for the bare purpose of the mass distribution of information and the shaping of opinion.” Sanger’s article confronts the existence of “common knowledge” and pits it against knowledge that everyone agrees on.

In terms of democratization of knowledge, WorldHeritage has played a major role. For instance, WorldHeritage has attracted 400 million viewers across the globe and has communicated with them in over 270 languages.

Google Book Search has been pointed to as an example of democratization of knowledge, but Malte Herwig in Der Spiegel raised concerns that the virtual monopoly Google has in the search market, combined with Google's hiding of the details of its search algorithms, could undermine this move towards democratization.[3]

Role of Libraries

An article written in 2005 by the editors of Reference & User Services Quarterly calls the library the greatest force for the democratization of knowledge or information.[4] It continues to say that public libraries in particular are inextricably linked with the history and evolution of the United States, but school library media centers, college and university libraries, and special libraries have all also been influential in their support for democracy.[4] Libraries play an essential role in the democratization of knowledge and information by providing communities with the resources and tools to find information free of charge. Democratic access to knowledge has also been co-opted to mean providing information in a variety of formats, which essentially means electronic and digital formats for use by library patrons.[5] Public libraries help further the democratization of information by guaranteeing freedom of access to information, by providing an unbiased variety of information sources and access to government services, as well as the promotion of democracy and an active citizenship.[6] Dan Cohen, the founding executive director of the Digital Public Library of America, writes that the democratic access to knowledge is a profound idea that requires constant tending and revitalization.[5] In 2004, a World Social Forum and International workshop was held entitled "Democratization of Information: Focus on Libraries". The focus of the forum was to bring awareness to the social, technological, and financial challenges facing libraries dealing with the democratization of information. Social challenges included globalization and the digital divide, technological challenges included information sources, and financial challenges constituted shrinking budgets and manpower.[7] Longtime Free Library of Philadelphia director Elliot Shelkrot said that “Democracy depends on an informed population. And where can people get all the information they need? —At the Library.” [8]

Scientific knowledge

The website eBird has been described as an example of democratization of scientific knowledge, as it enlists amateurs to gather data on biodiversity for use by scientists.[9]

See also


  1. ^ For example, in Leadhills in 1741 and in Wanlockhead in 1756.
  2. ^ “Who Says We Know: On the New Politics of Knowledge”
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Wallace, D. P., & Van Fleet, C. (2005). The Democratization of Information?. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 45(2), 100-103.
  5. ^ a b Cohen, D. (2014) An evolving, essential role for libraries.
  6. ^ Ryynänen, Mirja (n.d.). Democratization of Information: Information Literacy.
  7. ^ Kademani, B.S. (2004). Democratization of Information: Focus on Libraries. Rapportuer- General’s Report.
  8. ^ Quotes about Libraries and Democracy.
  9. ^ "The Role of Information Science in Gathering Biodiversity and Neuroscience Data", Geoffrey A. Levin and Melissa H. Cragin, ASIST Bulletin, Vol. 30, No. 1, Oct. 2003