Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Small, medium and big IOPs

Thinking about the current state of KO -- and the future of KO research and practice, I would divide the KO universe of research and practice into three sets of information organization problems (IOPs):
  1. Big IOP. Organization and representation of large quantities of information for unrecognizable many people; people with with varied interests, beliefs, positions, knowledge, expertise, etc. The Web is the prototypical example of such an IOP, large academic and many public libraries are also Big IOPs. Interoperability issues and mantras are certainly Big IOP.
  2. Medium IOP. Information collections for particular, stated, clear, objective, specific purposes - to be used by people with particular, similar interests, beliefs, positions, knowledge, expertise, etc. which can be known, understood and articulated by those in charge of the collection or service. A company's intranet, web portal, store and some special libraries are typical examples. I would also think that some more specific Web services, like Flickr is Medium IOP.
  3. Small IOP. Individuals' information management challenges and collections. These IOPs are particular to an individual's (or a few individuals') personal information collection and will typically be managed by that same individual(s). The information could be email, documents, files, photos, etc., which will be collected, searched and used but individuals for their own usages.
The past 150 years of work in KO has, more or less, been focused on creating systems that could address the Big IOP with the development and research into universal classification and KO systems. There has also been a lot of work done on Medium IOPs - especially with the development of special and domain based systems and the development and research into techniques, methods and approaches to the design and development of specialized controlled vocabularies.

We have seen some interests over the years in Small IOPs, personal information management, and it could seem as if this area is developing into a specialized sub-discipline in information, with its own research agendas, etc.

Today KO is focused on the Big and Medium IOPs. I propose that these two sets of IOPs are quite distinct and we should really split them into two distinct areas of inquiry and foci... with distinct vocabulary, interests, and agendas. If we fail to do so, my sense if that we will not be able to meet the future challenges in KO -- we will not be able to fully address the real issues and prepare the next generation of KO professionals.

I see two main challenges:
  1. The universal systems and standards KO has developed for the Big IOPs will become more and more irrelevant... mainly because they have been developed with the assumptions for Medium IOPs in mind. I think that the sort of IOP that these universal systems and standards was createdy to address was much smaller in scale 150 years ago, even 40 years ago -- the IOP grew, and has grown tremendously lately... but we still tend to attack the Big IOP from the same approach as we did when the IOP was smaller. This is doomed. There may be financial and practical reasons why librarians want to kept these dinosaurs alive, but it is really only a matter of time before social computing applications will make them obsolete. There is also good reasons why librarians never really played a significant role in the organization of the Web... they had hammers but there were no nails. We need to educate students for a future where the dinosaurs of the past are long gone and we all collaborate on solving the Big IOP.
  2. Medium IOPs will grow in complexity, interests, importance, and demand. There are good reasons to develop robust KO systems for information collections and services that are used in particular domains, for particular interests, by specific people -- and there are demands for people who can tackle such challenges and the demand will likely grow. We need to educate students who master the challenges of designing and delivering KO systems and services that address Medium IOPs -- and we need research that increase our understanding of the such Medium IOPs. The answers are not to use the dinosaur systems of the past in new enviroments; the challenge is to take the knowledge and experienced gained in KO and develop that is the 21st century digital contexts.
I suppose this is a call to rethink KO research and education -- to think of KO education as first and foremost concerned with design; and not as users of systems... no reason to educate students to use systems that are only kept alive because that's all we know.... instead of educating students to be active players in today's digital future.

I would like to see more research and education on critical analyses of Big and Medium IOP KO systems, more discussions of methodological issues involved in design and implementation of Medium IOP KO systems, more historical analyses of societal impacts of Big IOP KO systems, more comparative analyses of other classificatory systems, etc., etc. Less focus on the dinosaurs...

Friday, June 6, 2008

Theories and applications

I just don't get it. Sorry.

Back in 1992 Sydney Pierce asked a question that has been in the back of my mind since I read her piece... she basically asked who are the Dead Germans of LIS -- meaning, in sociology there are a number of such Germans that all students in sociology read and are familiar with, so she asked, rightly, who are the Dead Germans of LIS? Pierce outlined the issue and asked a few scholars to suggest people for a list of Dead Germans of LIS (yes, they could recommend non-Germans as well). And then in the past few days participants on the jESSE listserv have been recommending good information science books...

The sad thing is that there really isn't a canon of Dead LIS Scholars who form the conceptual foundation for our field. The good thing that most of the works suggested are timeless, conceptual pieces that could form the conceptual foundation of LIS - though some of the works are more procedural and technical in nature and doesn't really have the ability to form the basis of a scholary field of inquiry...

But what I don't really get is our field's obsession with techniques, craftmanship, and application. I am currently at CAIS and while I enjoy the people [most Canadians :-)], the conference suffers from the typical informaion science syndrome of focusing on crafting systems... and often systems that aren't really used in the "real world"; it feels a bit like one has fallen into an artifical world of information scientists, who speak a highly technical langauge, with lots of reference to self-created problems and concepts and with very little discussion of real world problems and issues.

But the *really* sad thing, and the thing that makes me worry the most, is that there is virtually no discussion and debates about the ideas and concepts discussed in works mentioned in Pierce' piece and in the "good information science books" exchange... this is not specific to CAIS, most information science conference suffers from this syndrome... Though... a couple weeks ago I went to another conference, and the funny thing is that that conferences made explicit reference to many of the ideas and concepts discussed in the non-information science works mentioned in Pierce' piece and in the "good information science books" exchange... and they explicily debated many of the basic applications and issues which the information field cares about.

I think "we" are at a cross-road... we have two basic options:
1. We can be true to the advances we have made so far in information science and we can continue to work in our own discipline, advance information science vocabulary and understand the (self-created) problems at a even higher level.

2. Focus on the information problem in the today's world. Bring our work, our knowledge, our tradition to these problems and collaborate, interact and think with whoever is concerned about these 21st century information problems...

The first make sense; it's what we have set up academe to do. The latter sound like more fun... and we would be able to meet lots of people who share the foundational concepts and ideas which information science is build on... semiotics, epistemology, technology, networks, society, curation, human activity, language, interactions.... information.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Admissions to iSchools

One issue that we often discuss in information programs is the level of and kind technology skills students need, before they are admitted and after they graduate. [We don't often discuss what level of and kind of, say, philosophical training they need to be admitted and have after they graduate -- but that's a debate for another day.] At my school we say something vague about the level of "computer literacy" (sic!) for admission -- but I suppose, what we ought to say, is simply, something like "applicants need to be comfortable with the sort of digital tools that we are using in today's society"; I mean, it is tremendously difficulty, if not impossible, to actually describe the level of and type of computer/information literacy needed to be successful in this field and more importantly, things are moving so fast that what is important today is different tomorrow. Think about the young kids... my son, who is seven, will say things like "just google that and we will find it" and "no, don't just one word to google, let's try and use two words" - I mean, what will they teach him in information searching classes 15 years from now; certainly not what they are teaching in those classes today (or yesterday). And it is not just my kid -- it is everyone entering iSchools tomorrow... the teachers get it. Do we?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Shirky meets Colbert

Not particular informative -- but rather entertaining.

See for yourself.... here.

Friday, April 4, 2008


'Abortion' is back as a search term; the whole thing was a mistake... The dean has restored 'abortion' as a search term and launched a inquiry...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

When ‘Abortion’ becomes 'Fertility Control, Postconception'

Is has often been observed that if one wants to change the world, you change the categories of the world first – the American government has been pretty good at this tactics in recent years. A student in my class brought forward a recent example, which I think is quite telling – there is ravaging discussion [here, here, here, here] about POPLINE’s recent decision to make “Abortion” a stopword. Yes, a stopword, like: a, an, and the. POPLINE, an American service, is on their website described as “(POPulation information onLINE), the world's largest database on reproductive health, containing citations with abstracts to scientific articles, reports, books, and unpublished reports in the field of population, family planning, and related health issues.” -- and they have “recently made all abortion terms stop words.” The reason is that: “As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now. In addition to the terms you're already using, you could try using 'Fertility Control, Postconception'. This is the broader term to our 'Abortion' terms and most records have both in the keyword fields. Also, adding 'unwanted w2 pregnancy' in place of aborti*. We have a keyword Pregnancy, Unwanted and there are 2517 records with aborti* & unwanted w2 pregnancy.” Now, of course, there is a significant difference between “Abortion” and “Pregnancy, Unwanted” as POPLINE’s scope notes indicates (yes, correct, these are technically not *scope notes*, but *definitions* – but let’s take that fight with them another day…)

So this begs the question… when do we include some concept in a controlled vocabulary; we have usually talked about “warranty” (user, literary, structural, domain, etc.) – however, this example highlight a more important principle – the ethical dimension of KO. Regardless of whether one agrees with the politics behind removing the abortion category and thereby eliminating the concept from the vocabulary; one needs to ask what is wrong and what is right in this regard – and more importantly, one needs to ask, who or what determines what is wrong and right. I’d assume that POPLINE has decided that Bush and the American government is the ethical authority and that their doctrine decides what is wrong and right. Regardless of that fact that I think it is nuts to remove the term; I actually applaud POPLINE for taking a stand and suffer the consequences for this stand. I can think of many, many controlled vocabularies (Dewey, LCSH, for instance…) which are equal offensive, but are less open about their politics. POPLINE will, apparently, make a statement re this in a few days – it is going to be interesting to see if they actually are going to say something of substance and make ethical commitments.

Classifications are political instruments… all classifications make epistemological, ethical, and political statements; there is nothing new to this. The library blogshere seems to argue that POPLINE’s move is unprecedented and unacceptable… get a grip; what is the ethical assumption behind Dewey’s religion section? I don’t see any ethical justification in the introduction to LCSH…

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

FIS @ You Tube

Bill Mann--who is a student at FIS--has put together a series of brown bag lunch called In/formation -- the first of the these launched today, and I was invited to respond to some questions posed by students and faculty members; the conversations was recorded and I will post that as soon as Bill has finalized the editing of it. Anyway, one issue that came up was FIS' presence in various social computing sites -- and You Tube was mentioned as one example where FIS could have more presence; so I thought was post some FIS videos that already exist on You Tube at the moment:

One about is about what an archivist does -- it was created by students in one of Wendy Duff's classes:

An interview with Andrew Clement about net neutrality:

And, lastly, FIS' promotion video from last year:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Is she talking about librarians? Are libraries relevant in her world? (Probably not.) Will libraries become more relevant if we ditch all non-LIS educated faculty members from library schools and simply offer more courses on cataloging and reference? (Definitely not.)

Librarians and the fear of other disciplines

It is fascinating how an op-ed about the facts that more and more libraries are hiring people without an MLIS, how libraries are being run like "dehumanized supermarkets", offers the "chaotic disorganization of the largest Barnes & Noble", and how users and librarians prefer "less precise, more watered-down 'metadata' that has replaced what used to be cataloging", along with a flurry of messages on the jESSE mailing list, quickly identifies *the* two main sources for these phenomena:

1. MLIS programs have been "
invaded by faculty from other disciplines". Since people from "other disciplines" care more about getting tenure than the "principled professional practice of librarianship", MLIS programs apparently don't produce people who will standard guard of the forces that changes libraries these days... the reason for this is, according to several messages on jESSE, that students are steered toward more technology and programming courses, and away from traditional reference courses. Geez.

2. MLIS education have been broadened in scope at many schools, and now offers courses that are not restricted the practices of the traditional library institutions, but includes theories, concepts, and practices from a broad range of disciplines and areas. The fact that some schools have exchanged "cataloging" with "knowledge organization" and "reference" with "information resources and services" are, apparently, to blame for this change in library practice and users' expectations of library services. Geez.

I am afraid that the sad reality is that the profession will disappear quicker if LIS education only gave students the practical skills of cataloging and reference of yesteryear and restricts itself to the narrow defined scope of "libraries". The forces that are changing the library profession and libraries are forces in society at large and to pretend that we can save the library
profession and libraries by ignoring these forces in our education and practice is naive and shortsighted. LIS education needs to open up, broaden its scope, and welcome ideas and concepts from other disciplines to save its schools... and our research impact [but that is another discussion for another day].

Monday, February 11, 2008


While it may be fun to look at pictures of cats, bikes, and Taulov (my birth place) on Flickr - I find it much more enjoyable to browse the Corbis site; they have some truly amazing pictures, and their controlled vocabulary makes it possible to search the site -- my daily dose of cool pictures come from this site; I find the pictures just magnificent and the the owner often posts pictures of Toronto... One site that I just recently discovered is 20 Sites n Years, which is an amazing project... the owner has takes pictures of the same buildings and places every year since 1973. I find it pretty interesting to see how (and how little) the places and buildings change over the years -- but I also find it fascinating that the guy actually went back to the same places every year for 35 years... wow...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cataloging and beyond

The Library of Congress' Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control recently released their report., "On the Record": http://www.loc.gov/bibliographic-future/news/lcwg-ontherecord-jan08-final.pdf -- while the report is an interesting read in itself, it is noteworthy that the report only has a page and a half on LIS education for "present and future needs"... page 38 + 39. This short section is curiously vague in its language; it starts by starting:

"The educational preparation for catalogers, indexers, and other librarians and information professionals is not standardized across programs or curricula. Many LIS programs have shifted from teaching cataloging to teaching organization of information, although some programs continue to offer both." (p. 38)

I can hear two reactions to this:
a) "There you go, this just proves that LIS educators have no connection to reality; they are just interested in theoretical stuff with no practical bearings. LIS education is removing itself from the field and are ignoring its foundation"
b) "See this just proves that LIS education today values KO issues, but now expands the issues beyond the traditional library setting and equip students with a broad, inclusive education in information, incl. library issues"

Both are probably right. And both can point to this report as evidence for their claims.

However, the second paragraph goes on and claims that there has been a shift in the demand of KO skills from libraries to the "information industry" -- and is does say that LIS programs "tend to focus on the former, rather than the latter". Which correspond will with my experience in this area -- and does speak to the two radical different expected reactions to the first paragraph.

The thing is that we need room for both areas in LIS education. We need to continue to educate library catalogers; but we also need to expand the field and educate information architects, taxonomists, theorists, etc. etc. It isn't and shouldn't be an "either or"! But most importantly, we need to realize that the common foundation for this *isn't* library cataloging (or library bibliographic control) -- the common foundation has to do with categories, intertextuality, epistemology, interpretation, language, etc, etc. Both areas will come out stronger if we recognize this and rebuild and retool the KO field from such a foundation.

OK. Enough. Back to my "Introduction to Bibliographic Control" class...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Indexing vs. Classifciation

I have often heard people say that indexing is like adding labels to stuff and classification is like adding stuff to bins. I have never understood this. I mean, when you label a document you also place in a bin; if I index a book with "cats", I've also placed it in the "cats bin"; similarly if I place a book in the "cats bin", then I've also labeled the book with the "cats" term. I couldn't see the difference. Until today. Now I think I get it... Weinberger asks what the difference is between tagging things and thinging tags -- he can't see the difference between dragging a photo to a tag and dragging a tag to a photo. When I read this, I thought, well, in one activity you index the photo (dragging the tag to the photo) and in the other activity you classify the photo in a particular bin. Ah, so that must be the difference between adding labels to stuff and adding stuff to bins; between indexing and classification. Now I think I get it. Whew, just in time for semester start...

Off to daycare

Even wondered how Princes get to daycare? Well, in Denmark their dad, in this case Crown Prince Frederik bikes his son Prince Christian to daycare on a bike made in Christiania. I am not sure why, but I find this image refreshing and intriguing... I mean in a world of terror and color security alert systems, isn't it cool to have a crown prince bike his son to daycare on bike made in the part of town famous for its pusher street?

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Wissen of KO

I just reread Jesse Shera's wonderful piece on "Librarians Against Machines" from Science, May 12 1967; it is fascinating how relevant that piece is even today, 40 years later... When he says:

"That librarians were thus caught was largely due to the unfortunate fact that they have never given much consideration to the theoretical foundation of their procedures, nor developed a research program that would advance such theory or explain and improve its applications. Librarians know very well how to do what they do, but they never concern themselves to any great extent with why they do it. They understand the Können, but the Wissen has escaped them. Their discipline is a vast accumulation of of technical details rather than a body of organized abstract principles that can be applied in concrete situations, a body of knowledge that is known and understood by all members of the guild and one which the librarians themselves alone have created."

I can't help think that this sounds like something any thoughtful intellectual would say about the situation in KO today; I mean, most textbooks (and courses) in KO focuses almost exclusively on the how-to part,
the Können part, as if the goal is to produce worker bees who simply know how to fill in catalog cards. It does seem like too little attention, too little respect is given to transcending the tradition and bringing the field forward, as Shera says: "Lip service is given to creativity and innovation, but excessive departure from traditional course content may well be regarded with considerable suspicion". I suppose we will only generate real change, real innovation if we manage to educate a generation of KO people with a substantial understanding of the "body of organized abstract principles" for KO; that requires, of course, that such a body of principles exist... and that we are able to recognize them, if they existed.

Lastly, given the intertwined nature of today's information world, it is unlikely that "the librarians themselves" can create this body of knowledge -- the body of knowledge needed today (and probably also at the Shera was writing this) reaches way beyond the library and the library profession.