Archive for September 2014

Boundary objects or Herding cats?

We have received some fascinating manuscripts for Knowledge Organization recently. Some of them come from outside KO but with a bent toward information, others come from disciplines completely apart from ours. All of them speak directly to our domain about the phenomena that comprise our science. All of them were problematic in peer-review.

If we are going to thrive as a science principally concerned with knowledge, then we must be open to learning what others have to teach us about our own phenomena. There is, I suppose, a fine line between accepting work that does not fit into our discussion because it fails to acknowledge our domain, on the one hand, and work that in essence contributes to our domain even if the authors have naively underrepresented their intersection with our domain. Was that diplomatic enough?

We have to show these authors where the intersections are, we have to point out the boundary objects. Then we have to suggest how the papers can be reconfigured to speak more cogently to our domain. It is, curiously, the realization of epistemology within our science. It is how we approach true interdisciplinarity.

And then we have to take it one step further by stopping ourselves from wandering off aimlessly or turning our backs on new ideas just because they did not spring from within a culture of classification. We have to reach across those boundaries and invite conversation. It is hard work, but it is essential for the advance of KO as a domain.

Posted September 14, 2014 by lazykoblog in epistemology, interdisciplinarity, Uncategorized

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A knowledge organization tipping point?

Knowledge organization the activity–that is to say, classification, indexing, metadata and systems for their use–has been around forever. Academic development of systems for taxonomy trace to Linnaeus in the 18th century, indexing traces often to Callimachus in the third century B.C., cataloging rules have various forbears from the early printers to the French Revolution to Panizzi, Jewett, and Cutter in the mid-19th century. The application of scientific method to the problems of knowledge organization, arguably dates from the second decade of the 20th century when the Graduate Library School at the University of Chicago was created specifically for that purpose. It is from this stream that the science of fat-cards, for example, yielded understanding of sampling from frames with unequal probabilities. And it was the application of that method to the problem of instantiation in the catalog that helped unravel the problem of disambiguation created by KOSs that did not comprehend the parameters of instantiation.

Knowledge organization the science, articulated by Dahlberg in the second half of the 20th century is fairly recent but seems to be thriving, according to all accounts, with growing international conferences and globalization. There has been some confusion over the terminology. Is information organization the same as knowledge organization? Some authors say they are the same, some say there are slight differences. It doesn’t help that a key monograph by Svenonius uses “information organization” as does a core textbook by Taylor and others. Here is one potential tipping point. We must insist on the use of the correct terminology. We receive manuscripts for publication in the journal Knowledge Organization, believe it or not, that use the term information organization. We change it in editing; always. We have to insist, however, in all of the academic areas in which knowledge organization is seen either as a subset or a neighboring discipline.

My research group changed its name this week to Knowledge Organization Research Group, or KOrg for short. I was amused at the opening day of school two weeks ago when, during a doctoral orientation luncheon (which usually involves the whole school), all of our doctoral students stood up and announced they were studying KO. This week I chuckled (or should I say “lol”) when I pulled up the ASIST program and say an entire panel labelled knowledge organization. Two small wins. Not yet a tipping point.

The other place where this sort of precision is critical is in our insistance that knowledge organization and knowledge management are not the same thing. They are not, and they must not be confused. ISKO conferences must be clear about why they accept papers on that other subject (I’m avoiding the keywords here). Knowledge Organization, despite our emails to indexers and my editorials, continues to be indexed as that other subject. We must intercede, if we want to reach the tipping point. In the meantime, we have been adding keywords to our articles to give the indexers hints. (We are not using author stipulated keywords, which amusingly rarely are precise or even applicable. Instead we run each text through a term frequency tool that shows us which keywords really are in the text.)


Svenonius, Elaine. 2000. The intellectual foundation of information organization. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Taylor, Arlene G. and Daniel P. Joudrey. 2008. The organization of information. 3rd ed. Library and information science text series. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.

Posted September 7, 2014 by lazykoblog in KO

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