Archive for the ‘knowledge organization’ Tag

Teaching epistemology

For years students and colleagues rolled their eyes any time I said anything about epistemology. Once, famously, a paper submitted for a major international conference was accepted with revisions, one of which was to explain what that was because the readers (all holders of PhDs mind you) didn’t know what epistemology was, and (apparently) were unable to look it up or otherwise figure it out. Sigh.

But then epistemology became an important part of the science of knowledge organization, originating in papers by diverse scholars, leading to panels at international ISKO conferences and eventually even two anthologies (Smiraglia and Lee 2012; Ibekwe-SanJuan and Dousa 2014). Epistemology, how we know what we know, is one of the two major poles in a domain-centric knowledge organization.

So the question arises, how can we teach it without getting everybody dizzy from eye-rolling? I took a stab at it recently and I think it worked out nicely. In my introductory course in KO I often begin class discussions by asking the students to post an observation about some thing that has some order. This time around I got everything from a grandmother’s farmer’s market vegetable table to how big-box hardware stores hide microfiber cloths. I enjoy responding to each post, pointing out the nature of the organization–hierarchy for the vegetables, for example. It helps to point out to them that everything everywhere is organized in some manner, not just libraries.

This time I followed up with a secret epistemology discussion by asking them to post something they absolutely knew for sure. I gave them a couple of examples: “I know George Washington was president because it’s history I was taught; I never met the man. I know the speed limit on Lincoln Memorial Drive is 30 but I’d better drive 70 or people will plow into me or drive me into the lake. I know this because it happens to me daily. Of course, we have here examples of historicism and empiricism (okay, facetious empiricism, but if you live in Milwaukee you’ll get it). They did a great job. Here’s a table of a few of the things they came up with:

fastest routes to campus empirical
swimming must blow air out your nose empirical
Rush has 3 members … historical
death and taxes historical
difficult to buy a car with manual transmission empirical
get out of the pool if there’s thunder and lightning pragmatic
yellow mustard eases pain of small burns empirical
pick from the back when shopping pragmatic


I think it turned out well, and although we didn’t go further into epistemology in this introductory course, it allowed me to reference this discussion at the end when they were exploring the heirarchies in DDC numbers assigned to specific resources, which subtly makes the point about the role of epistemic stances.


Ibekwe-SanJaun, Fidelia and Thomas M. Dousa, eds. 2014. Theories of Information, Communication and Knowledge: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Dordrecht: Springer-Netherlands.

Smiraglia, Richard P. and Hur-li Lee, eds. 2012. Cultural Frames of Knowledge. Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag.

Domain analysis of KO

I’ve been taking little bites of domain analysis of KO, working my way through conference proceedings, and as CFPs allow, taking other bites as well (the legacy of Two kinds of power was one, and north American pioneers was another). This year I presented what was supposed to be a meta-analysis at CAIS. Unfortunately, CAIS has got this new procedure whereby you don’t really write a paper, so, there’s no paper, sorry. Just an extended abstract.

Here’s the citation, and the abstract of the abstract:

“Domain Coherence within Knowledge Organization: People, Interacting Theoretically, Across Geopolitical and Cultural Boundaries.” In McKenzie, Pam, Catherine Johnson and Sarah Stevenson eds., Exploring Interactions of People, Places and Information, Proceedings of the 39th Annual CAIS/ACSI Conference, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, N.B. Canada, June 2-4, 2011.

Domain analysis is the study of the evolution of discourse within research communities. Domain analytical studies of knowledge organization are here drawn together for meta-analysis to demonstrate coherence of theoretical poles within the domain. Despite geopolitical and cultural diversity, the domain shows theoretical coherence.

Here’s a colorful visualization of the intension and extension of the domain. It shows us coherence within the domain, despite geographical distinctions. There also a shift from emphasis on universal bibliographic classifications to increasing granularity as the Internet imposes new challenges, from 1993 onward.

Hjorland’s Lifeboats (originally posted 1-5-2009)

Birger Hjorland and his colleagues have created several lifeboats. You can find them here:

Here is a note from Dr. Hjorland (isko-l 9-03-2006):

The site is intented both to be my own working space, a source for my own students, and a source for everybody that might find it useful for their own research, teaching and practical work.
As you see it is overall very comprehensive and ambitious. It is not however finished, and it is not intended ever to be finished. It is intended to grow, to function as my own memory about bibliographical references, links, full-text sources, definitions, quotes and data that I encounter in my reading and scanning and which I believe I will need in the future (or might be helpful, in student projects etc).

Some parts of it will, however, be relative finished. When I prepare lectures, I place bibliographical references, definitions, quotes and data for the students and provide a list of the pages I am referring to in my teaching. This way, I hope to gradually build up a textbook, or some textbooks of an interactive nature.

If you consider when a single entry is dated you will observe, that many entries are updated very often. If a student ask a question, if i read something in a journal, if somebody discuss with me (or send a friendly or an angry message) I often update some entries. Of course this is a very demanding task, and I always need to do more work, that time allows me to do. So, please do not be angry because you feel something is missing, but suggest how you would like it changed.

Signed contributions from you are also welcome. The intention is to make a tool that might help bring us forward by working together. I believe such a tool is much needed.

NASKO domain analysis (originally posted 6-19-2009)

Greetings from rainy Syracuse. This is a small group (around 20 people at any given moment), but the program and the business meeting have both been fascinating. The 10 papers are all really pithy. Based around the concept of North American pioneers, the proceedings are here: As part of my paper developed using author co-citation analysis of North American KO authors I ran up a quick co-citation analysis from the 10 papers: there were two clusters–Smiraglia, Miksa, and Shera in one; Hjorland, Mai, Tennis, Olson, and Bates in the other–the conceptual basis of the clusters seems to be bibliographic classification and fundamentals of KO. The link between the clusters stretches from Shera to Hjorland (which I thought was fascinating). The cluster on faceting (La Barre, Cochrane, Richmond, Ranganathan) dropped off while I was trying to make the map readable; when I have more time I’ll run it again. Anyway, stay tuned ….