Romance to Mysterioso

Another long-term project recently came to fruition in a publication. Some time ago Bill Rosar (Journal of Film Music) got me thinking about silent film music cues as a form of knowledge organization. Over a fairly long period of time I acquired a digital copy of one of the two secondary sources of such cues, Rapée’s Encyclopedia of Music for Pictures (1970 [1925]. New York: Arno Press). The research had multiple stages–we turned the cues into a spreadsheet, then into two taxonomies, one that represented Rapée’s internal syndetic structure and another that made conceptual sense in 21st century terms. We compared these for analysis. Then we ran the taxonomies against the content of the van Houten catalog of the Eyl Collection of silent film music (van Houten, Theodore. 1992. Silent Cinema Music in the Netherlands: The Eyl, Van Houten Collection of Film and Cinema Music in the Nederlands Filmmuseum. Buren: Frits Knuf Publishers.)

The article recently published shows the results of that analysis; here is the abstract:

This article reports the study of the population of a taxonomy of silent film
music terms compared to a population of silent film music cues. The purpose of this
research is to contribute to the ongoing project stream digitizing large databases of silent film cues. The three phases of research were: (1) Erno Rapée’s Encyclopedia of Music for Pictures was converted to the form of a taxonomy; (2) the musical topoi in the catalogue of Ido Eyl’s collection of silent film music were similarly compiled and analysed; and (3) both sources were compared to narrate the population of cues based on the taxonomy.

Although the subject of this particular research clearly is silent film music and cues as a form of knowledge organization, the methodology used is the latest example of my research stream in the population of knowledge organization systems.

The article title is: From Romance to Mysterioso: The Population of a Taxonomy of Topoi in the Eyl Collection of Silent Film Music = De la romance au Mysterioso : la
population d’une taxonomie de Topoi dans la collection Eyl de musique de films muets.

My co-author is Joshua A. Henry, who has become a master of taxonomy I must say.

The article is published in Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science 42, nos. 1-2 (2018): 135-51.



I wrote an article about concepts, and it was recently published after much ado of various sorts, so I want to bring it to the attention of anyone who might happen on this blog.

A good while back I was working on a collaborative project that involved a lot of conversation about concepts, and I said at one point something along the lines of how interesting it would be to see what early information science pioneers thought about concepts. I actually proceeded soon after that to acquire the entire run of American Documentation in digital form from the ASIST Digital Library, and I carried out various analytical procedures using what might today be called basic text mining. I gathered every instance of the stem “concept” and its relatives, and so on. The details are in the article of course.

Along the way I realized what I was looking at was more than just a community comprehension, but that there was a sort of background story as well. I tried using the analysis to lead me to clues about the discourse, and that’s where I found some exciting influences. No spoilers here–it’s in the article.

Here is the abstract:

Concepts are central elements of knowledge. This article reveals some of
the historical contours of the use of “the concept” in information by delving into
the evolution of the use of the term in American Documentation, the first formal
journal of information science in North America. Discourse in American Documentation
about “the concept” was critical to the development of machine searching to
have a concrete definition of a concept. Metaphors used to visualize the role of
concepts range from multidimensional arrays to lights shining in the darkness of
semantic space.

The article is “The Evolution of the Concept: A Case Study from American Documentation = L’évolution du concept : une étude de cas tirée de American Documentation.”
Not to worry it’s all in English. It appears in Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science 42, nos. 1-2 (2018): 113-34.

Posted May 12, 2019 by lazykoblog in concepts

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Summer reading

I discovered a great little book earlier this summer and I commend it to anyone interested in knowledge organization, but especially to those who understand the relationship between the order and structure of knowledge, and the order and structure of everything. The book is The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018). It’s one of those amazing little books (240 double-spaced pages including its index, and also easily handheld at a mere 19.5 cm. tall) but also densely packed with information. I will leave it to others to review the book. What I want to do is just reflect a bit about ideas the book brings forward.

The first is that we do not really understand what is meant by “order.” We think of time as something sequential, carefully ordered and entirely quantifiable. But what do we mean when we think of “order”? Sequence? Did one thing happen before another? How do we know? Rovelli opens (p. 5) with the challenge that “somehow our time must emerge around us, at least for us and at our scale.”

Critical to scientific thinking is (p. 11) “the ability to understand something before it’s observed is at the heart of scientific thinking …. The ability to imagine, reflect and explain something we have not yet seen is the essential intellectual method of science. Thus, to understand time or its order we must be prepared to understand and reflect outside of our own experience, to imagine.

After carefully deconstructing our understanding of time, Rovelli begins to build a more reasonable theory, one that actually synthesizes apparently conflicting points of view, again the essence of science. Among his assertions:

-(p. 96) “the world is a network of events. On the one hand, there was time, with its many determinations; on the other, the simple fact that nothing is: things happen.”

-(p. 119) “there is no need … to choose a privileged variable and call it ‘time.’ What we need, if we want to do science, is a theory that tells us how the variables change with respect to each other.”

-(p. 152) “‘indexicality’: the characteristic of certain words that have a different meaning every time they are used, a meaning determined by where, how, when, and by whom they are being spoken. Words such as ‘here,’ ‘now,’ ‘I,’ ‘this,’ ‘tonight’ all assume a different meaning depending on who utters them and the circumstances in which they are uttered.

-(p. 153): “if we give a description of the world that ignores point of view, that is solely ‘from the outside’—of space, of time, of a subject—we may be able to say many things but we lose certain crucial aspects of the world. Because the world that we have been given is the world seen from within it, not from without. Many things that we see in the world can be understood only if we take into account the role played by point of view.”

-(p. 160): “it is entropy, not energy, that drives the world” … energy is conserved … neither created nor destroyed … what makes the world go round are not sources of energy but sources of low entropy.”

-(p. 194): “a present that is common throughout the whole universe does not exist … Events are not ordered in pasts, presents, and futures; they are only ‘partially’ ordered. There is a present that is near to us, but nothing that is ‘present’ in a far off galaxy. The present is a localized rather than a global phenomenon.

-(p. 201): “physics helps us to penetrate layers of the mystery … but in our search for time … we have ended up by discovering something about ourselves … perhaps the emotion of time is precisely what time is for us.”

At the risk of oversynthesizing, I think I can go so far as to say that I see in this writing confirmation of what I have laconically told students for years, what we do in knowledge organization is impossible. There is no order other than perception, indexicality can have no order because it is entirely dependent on point of view, and if space and time are the same, there cannot be two different facets that represent them unless we admit that we are representing neither but only our perceptions of “here” and “when.” On the other hand, science is a critical tool for comprehending the “network of events” that constitutes observable reality. And the presence of networks means there are potential pathways.

(Ironically, I don’t now recall how I discovered this book, it does not occur on any reading list for knowledge organization that I have seen. I suppose it must have been suggested to me by Amazon or Google!)

False taxonomy

In The Economist for June 23rd 2018 a fascinating article appeared in a column headed “French Connection” and titled “Forget McKinsey: A Gallic Intellectual is the key to controlling how businesses are perceived.”

I was surprised, then, to discover as I read along, that the entire article was about the power of taxonomy. Lights went off in my brain and I was very excited to see something about the actual work of knowledge organization appearing in the pages of The Economist.

My excitement was short-lived, however, as I got all the way to the end of the article finding absolutely no mention of the domain of knowledge organization, ISKO, and no reference to any of the very active authors in knowledge organization in general and not even to any of those writing about taxonomy.

The article describes how businesses variously make use of taxonomies, not only in the conduct of their day to day business but also in controlling how they are perceived–“digital” and “high-tech” are exciting and “traditional” is not, or so it seems from the article. The French connection, such as it is, is through Foucault, who is explicitly named. Of course, many of us in KO-land cite Foucault, teach Foucault, and regularly introduce new students to the intracacies of The Order of Things and The Archeology of Knowledge. Sigh ….

In this morning’s opening keynote at the 15th International ISKO Conference in Porto, Portugal, David Bawden pointed to just this article as an example of how ubiquitous knowledge organization is, thus reminding me I had been carting the actual paper article around with me for two weeks waiting to feel like blogging about it. (Bawden’s talk was titled “Supporting truth and promoting understanding: knowledge organization and the curation of the infosphere,” and it appears on pages 17-22 of the conference proceedings).

One reason I had not yet posted on this was that I’m of two minds about it. First, I am offended that The Economist‘s author did so little research that ISKO and KO and all of our large and growing body of literature was utterly ignored. Shame on The Economist.

But of course, it also is up to us in ISKO to raise the bar a bit and make our voices heard outside of our own tribe. How to do this is perplexing. Even as we now talk about the silos of disciplinary academia still we cling to our own pretty tightly. More sighs ….

Well, let us enjoy the fact that the stuff of our labor made it into a business column in an international news magazine. But let us also accept this challenge to do what we can to see that we heighten awareness of our existence and productivity as a domain.

Some proper references:

Bawden, David. 2018. “Supporting Truth and Promoting Understanding: Knowledge Organization and the Curation of the Infosphere.” In Challenges and Opportunities for Knowledge Organization in the Digital Age: Proceedings of the Fifteenth International ISKO Conference, 9-11 July 2018, Porto, Portugal, ed. Fernanda Ribeira and Maria Elisa Cerveira. Advances in Knowledge Organization 16. Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 17-22.

Foucault, Michel. (1966) 2001. The Order of Things: An Archaelogy of the Human Sciences. London: Routledge.

Foucault, Michel. 1972. The Archeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language. Trans. by A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon Books.

Posted July 9, 2018 by lazykoblog in ISKO, KO, taxonomy

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some useful bibliographic references

When I first began to teach a seminar in knowledge organization at LIU in the 1990s I began preparation for the course with the reading lists from a seminar in bibliographic control that I had team-taught with Arlene Taylor at Columbia University. I added quite a lot to it, of course, and proudly presented the hefty document to my new students. Every year after that I updated the bibliography, making it ever more terrifying with each update. When I first offered the seminar at UWM in 2010 I discovered the heft of the document was putting off students. (Although, in my defense, I always had offered it as a reference tool and it never was the entire required reading list.) I stopped maintaining the list after that. Not too much later, The Elements of Knowledge Organization (Springer 2014) was published, and I decided to retire the bibliography because it was, essentially, the reference list from that book.

This spring I taught the seminar in knowledge organization at UWM. At some point in the semester I told a version of this story, and at the end of the course a couple of the students asked to see the list. So, I updated it. I decided I ought to offer it here, as a reference list, for anybody who is trying to grasp the finer points of the basics of knowledge organization. You will see contents cover classical texts in descriptive cataloging and subject analysis as well as classification and more contemporaneous topics in knowledge organization, such as interdisciplinarity and domain analysis.


Smiraglia_Basic KO Bibliography 030618

Posted June 13, 2018 by lazykoblog in bibliographic control, bibliography, KO

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Plenty of places for traditional thesauri

In 2015, ISKO-UK held a very thought-provoking conference on the future of the thesaurus; the sessions were so popular the papers were turned into a special issue of Knowledge Organization (v. 43 no. 3 2016), with the title “The Great Debate: ‘This House Believes that the Traditional Thesaurus has no Place in Modern Information Retrieval.'” The upshot was generally favorable with regard to the future of thesauri, especially as they increasingly play roles in the semantic web and enterprise search.

I teach a course in thesaurus construction almost every spring (this year it got moved to summer) and the students always do a remarkable job of creating thesauri of use–I think this is really the important part, that their thesauri are useful–in a variety of domains. This year’s crop included everything from beer to Eurogames. All students are required at the end of the course to make a brief presentation to the whole class–the presentations form the basis for an evaluation exercise that is the course capstone. This year, three students prepared Youtube presentations. With their permission, I invite you to see what these new places for thesauri look like.

Linda Anderson: syntax/ syntactic analysis

Lisa Glover: Better Ways of Working (US Bank)


Erik Johnson: Magic–The Gathering Pro Tour Amonkhet

Posted July 13, 2017 by lazykoblog in teaching

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Digging Into the Knowledge Graph

I am gratified to be among those receiving research grants from the 2016 fourth round of the Digging Into Data challenge, sponsored by the Trans-Atlantic Platform for the Social Sciences and the Humanities ( Our project is called “Digging Into the Knowledge Graph”; principal investigators include, besides me, Andrea Scharnhorst of the Royal Netherlands Academy of the Arts and Sciences and Rick Szostak of the University of Alberta. A brief abstract of our project is available here:

I am sure to be reporting here often about the specifics of the project so I won’t take space to do that now. What I want to say, for those who read this blog, is that this fairly compact project represents a major step up in research profile for the knowledge organization community. We are among a group of fourteen international projects being funded to explore making more effective use of “big” data. And we are proposing to use knowledge organization systems–both existing systems and systems we plan to develop–to do so. From our proposal, just as a teaser, is this exciting line: “This project aims for nothing less than to provide means of support for [the] self-organising process of knowledge creation.”

Pretty exciting stuff, if I do say so myself.