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.