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": -- 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.