Wednesday, April 16, 2008


In the months I have spent thinking about information organization and creating this project I have become more convinced than ever that organization is an essential part of the work of information professionals. Not all that I have discovered, thought about, or discussed with others is reflected here, but the main ideas are. As I read the thoughtful comments my classmates contributed, I realize several things. They bring a vast amount of experience and variety of interests to the discussion and they are the front lines in the world of information. As I listened to peers, read the thoughts of information experts and veterans in the field, and examined my own experiences working in libraries, this is what I concluded: Organization must be logical, practical and functional; it must make sense to patrons; it must be standardized and transferable; it must be cost-effective.

I don't know if the future of organization will mean a total reorganization of bibliographic control or bidding Dewey a fond farewell. I am pretty sure it will continue to take advantage of technological advancement and will become evermore user-centric. I am interested in learning more about the Semantic Web and all its possibilities. I do know that the future of organization, like all areas of the library and information sciences, depends upon our ability to adapt to the changing needs of information seekers. The services we provide, organizing the information of the world (for it is information professionals who truly do this), as well as creating, storing, disseminating, collecting, and preserving it, are not theoretical exercises in information management. They affect the daily lives of the people we serve. We must do our job well.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The future of organization

How will we organize information in the future? Will humans continue to design, create, and use highly sophisticated organizational systems and databases, or will we rely more and more on the "good enough" algorithms search engines provide us with? Will our search engines become highly sophisticated organizational and retrieval tools?

Taylor recognizes that it has taken centuries, since the development of the printing press, to arrive at the state of organization we have now. She believes that the principles that have guided organization to this point will be built upon, that organization will continue to be a priority because it is human nature to organize (Taylor, 2004).

Brad Eden, Associate University Librarian for Technical Services and Scholarly Communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara says, in Information Organization Future for Libraries (2007), "the era of the library OPAC is over" (p. 6). This is not, he claims, because catalogs are not a useful tool for organization, but because they are too expensive to create and maintain. Eden has a number of ideas about the future of organization, from "reinventing the OPAC" to "3D information visualization, mass digitization, Library 2.0, and metadata related to digital resources" (p. 7). He argues that librarians have got to take the future of organization seriously if we want our institutions to remain viable in an increasingly competitive information world.

Some involved in information organization believe that the "Semantic Web" is going to play a huge role in the future of organization. The Semantic Web is a term coined by Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The Semantic Web is a vision of a web of information that not only is useful to humans, but can be manipulated and organized by computers as well. This is not a new Web, but an extension, and ideal, of what we already have. By describing information in a way that makes sense to computers, the computers will then be able to do much of the organizing of information that is now done by humans. This enhanced Web will be created with technologies that already exist, specifically, eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and the Resource Description Framework (RDF). Another component of the Semantic Web will be the ontology, "a document or file that formally defines the relations among terms" (Berners-Lee, Hendler, & Lassila, 2001). These ontologies will include taxonomies which define classes and subclasses of information and relationships between terms.

Is this starting to sound familiar? Watch out Dewey.


For more information about the Semantic Web visit these sites and articles:

The Semantic Web by Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler and Ora Lassila (Scientific American)
A More Revolutionary Web by Victoria Shannon (International Herald Tribune)
Semantic Web Tutorial
The Semantic Web: a Primer

Organizing Online

"The Internet has been likened to a library where all the books have been dumped on the floor and there is no catalog" (Taylor, p. 13).

I am sure that the idea of organizing the Internet and digital information is daunting to even the most enthusiastic of information professionals. Dedicated and forward-thinking professionals are doing just that, daunting though it may be. From search engines to digital libraries, online information is being organized. Who has undertaken this project?

Can't we just leave it to Google?

Google's stated corporate mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" (Google, 2008). How realistic is this mission? According to a UC Berkeley study, How Much Information?, published in 2003, the Internet contains about 532,000 terabytes of information (I'm sure this figure is much higher today). Google, and other search engines, are only able to access about 170 terabytes of this information. These 170 terabytes represent the "surface Web," that is, the Web that is publicly accessible. Approximately 92,000 terabytes make up the "deep Web," which includes online journals and scholarly publications that must be paid for. The rest, approximately 441,000 terabytes, is represented by email and instant messaging ("How Much Information?," 2003). Given these numbers, it seems unlikely that Google is going to be able to organize all of the world's information anytime soon.

What are librarians doing?

Librarians, compulsive organizers that we are, have played a significant role in organizational efforts. Librarians have been involved in compiling webliographies, bibliographies of Websites. They have worked on creating Dublin Core: "simple [metadata] standards to facilitate the finding, sharing and management of information" ("Dublin Core,"2008). Librarians at OCLC
have created Connexion, the company's Web-based cataloging interface. Connexion's use of "pathfinders," also called webliographies, allow librarians to organize both digital and traditional resources ("Pathfinders," 2008; Taylor, 2004).

Librarians have also been involved in the creation of digital libraries. Digital libraries are more related to a traditional library than they are to the Internet. Essentially, digital libraries allow users online access to the resources they would have access to in a traditional library. Digital libraries organize information "with such tools as metadata, XML/RDF schemes, ontologies, and taxonomies" (Taylor, 2004, p. 17). For more information on digital libraries, see the timeline I created: History of Digital Libraries.

Great efforts will continue to be made in organizing the Internet and digital information. And yet, I still wonder, is all of this effort necessary? Does the Internet need to be organized? Is it really possible?

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Model of Organization

I have created this model from Hagler's The Bibliographic Record and Information Technology (1997) as well as Taylor's The Organization of Information (2004).
Hagler relates organization to the idea of bibliographic control. Bibliographic control, he says, is the "sum of all the practical operations a librarian undertakes to organize documents and their descriptions so that relevant ones can be located most directly and efficiently in answer to any users expressed need" (p. 13). These operations can be expressed in a model of information organization.

Note: the term "information package" was coined by Arlene Taylor in her book The Organization of Information (2004).

Visit this link to see the model I have created:
Information Organization, a Model

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Dewey Debate Continues...

Have our traditional organizational systems, like the DDC, outlived their usefulness? Is it time to reinvent the wheel? The Dewey debate rages on, and the Perry Branch Library makes an appearance in this video.

(In case you weren't convinced that YouTube has a video for every possible topic you might want to find...)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Just Say No to Dewey?

Many of you have probably heard the story of the public library in Arizona that has scorned the Dewey Decimal System and any other formal classification system. This library, the Perry Branch of the Maricopa County Library District near Phoenix, has decided to do away with Dewey. In case you haven't heard the story, the gist is that they have decided to organize their materials by subject. Of course this is how Dewey works as well, but here's the difference:
there are no numbers present in the call numbers, just a description of the subject. The motivation is to make the library more like a bookstore, which apparently the public feels more comfortable in than libraries. What does this actually look like, though?
I spent a little time on the library's website trying to get an idea of what these call numbers might look like. Here's what I found:

Fiction books use simply the author's last name and are organized by genre.
3001: the Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke is shelved under CLARKE, but this isn't so radical for fiction collections, is it?

Here's where things get a bit different: nonfiction.
A book called 101 Ways to Use Your First Sewing Machine has the call number CRAFT.
One called Working in Music and Dance is labeled BUSINESS CAREER.
One more. The Everything Music Reader is filed as MUSIC HOW TO.

This library and has received a huge amount of flak from its peers in the profession, though patrons haven't even noticed the change according to Marshall Shore, adult services coordinator (Whelan, 2007).

Here are some of the responses from library professionals, submitted as feedback to the article in School Library Journal, Arizona Library Ditches Dewey.

From Gary Green (UK): " It's a brave move and can see both the benefits and drawbacks...Im [sic] my library authority we've been shelving non-fiction stock in topics for over 20 years. Within these topics we shelve by Dewey number. It works well, although we do have the odd dilemma!"

From Heather Moss (Baltimore, MD): "I wish I could visit the Perry library and see how this works for myself. I just played with their website and it seems like it would be difficult to find things. For instance, if you look up the cookbook called Vegan With a Vengeance, the Perry branch has it shelved under the very generic heading "Nonfiction Cooking." If all of the cookbooks were shelved alphabetical by author in my public library, it would be a recipe (hardy har) for disaster. I am trying to keep an open mind about Perry trying something new, but I fail to see how it's an improvement."

From Deborah Stafford (Germany): "Using Dewey does shelve books by TOPIC, that is the whole idea of Dewey! For a library not to know that is unexcusable. All they had to do to make it more user friendly was to replace the Dewey number signs with topic signs. It is all a matter of signage."

From Isobel Williams (Australia): "How is shelving under "Topic" different from Dewey? Except that you have made up the topics?"

Another interesting article reporting on this library was published in the NY Times: Dewey? At This Library With a Very Different Outlook, They Don’t

What do YOU think about this?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Classification: Systems of Organization, or How Libraries Do It (Part I: The United States)

Let's look at some of the systems that libraries use to organize their collections.

First, let's define classification. Greer, Grover, and Fowler (2007) define classification as "a system for organizing knowledge" (p. 112). Many classification systems exist in the world, some are used very broadly, others are specific to a particular library, especially a library with a small, highly specialized collection.

Libraries in the United States generally use one of two systems to organize the materials in their collections: the Dewey Decimal Classification System or the Library of Congress Classification System. These systems are also used around the world.

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) System:
Melvil Dewey was born in 1851 in upstate New York. Dewey was greatly influential in the field of librarianship, founding the American Library Association, the Library Journal, and the first library school at Columbia University. He is most famous, however, for the classification system that he created in 1876 while working at Amherst College.
His work at the college library sparked an interest in the organization of library materials and he published his ideas in A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloging and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library, which became known as the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system (Byers, 1998).

Dewey's system classifies information by subject, with 10 primary categories, the "hundreds" (e.g. in the 100s section you will find materials on philosophy and psychology; in the 200s, Religion; the 700s, Art, etc.). Each category is then subdivided by tens and ones and then decimals (you knew there were going to be decimals in all of this, didn't you ?) creating numbers that lead to more and more precise subject listings.
In the United States, the DDC is primarily used in school and
public libraries.

The Library of Congress (LoC) Classification System
The Library of Congress classification system was developed at the turn of the 20th century to classify the holdings of the Library. The Library's original classification scheme was created by Thomas Jefferson. Between 1815 and 1890 the collection grew from around 7,000 books to almost 1 million. By this point, the collection had outgrown the scope of Jefferson's system, and the decision was made to develop a new system (Chan, 2007).

While the DDC uses numbers to classify information, the LoC system uses a combination of letters and numbers. There are 21 broad categories, like Dewey's hundreds divisions, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. (The letters i, o, w, x, and y are not used).
The Library of Congress Classification System is used primarily in research and academic libraries (and at the Library of Congress, of course!) ("Library of Congress," 2008).

Friday, March 28, 2008

Background: the history of organization

Before discussing how information is organized today, it is important to understand something about how information has been organized historically.
Early organizers of information first made simple lists and bibliographies of documents. Later, complex cataloging systems were employed. Here is a brief history of organization, from antiquity up to the twentieth century.

2000 B.C.E. A Sumerian Tablet Contains Bibliographical Information

The oldest known bibliography is list of 62 titles recorded on a 4,000 year old Sumerian tablet found at the ancient Babylonian city of Nippur. The purpose of this list is unknown, but it has been speculated that it is the remnant of a catalog (Taylor, 2004).

1500 B.C.E. Hittite Tablets Include Colophons

A colophon is information found at the end of a text that, in ancient Hittite texts, included the name of the scribe, the title, and a serial number for the tablet. This serial information organized the tablet in its series (Taylor, 2004).

650 B.C.E. (approximately) Royal State Library of King Ashurbanipal at Nineveh Created

Around the mid-7th century B.C.E. King Ashurbanipal, a "military and literary visionary" ("Ashurbanipal Library," 2008) created a library, which eventually consisted of approximately 25,000 clay tablets. These have been excavated and cataloged by The British Museum and are responsible for much of what is known about Assyrian literature and scientific thought ("Ashurbanipal Library," 2008).

300 B.C.E. (approximately) Founding of the Library at Alexandria

The Library at Alexandria is often considered the greatest collection of information in antiquity. It is important in the history of the organization of information because the library gave birth to cataloging and librarianship. The first cataloger was a man by the name of Callimachus of Cyrene who was the successor of Zenodotus of Ephesus, the first librarian. Callimachus created the first subject catalog of the library's holdings, called the Pinakes, cataloging over half a million scrolls (Brundige, 1995).

Note: The Library of Alexandria was destroyed, but a new, incredibly modern library has been built in Alexandria. Visit their Website at

Bibliotheca Alexandrina "The New Bibliotheca Alexandrina is dedicated to recapture the spirit of openness and scholarship of the original Bibliotheca Alexandrina. It is much more than a library ..."

1250 C.E. (approximately) Registrum Librorum Angliae Compiled

During the middle ages in Europe libraries were almost nonexistent outside of churches and monasteries. They were generally small (less that 500 volumes) and did not require cataloging. During the 13th century, however, an unknown cataloger began the Registrum Librorum Angliae which is a "union list of holdings of English monastery libraries in which, in a quite modern way, each library was assigned a number for coding purposes" (Taylor, 2004, p. 52).

1389 C.E. Complex Catalog Created at St. Martin's Priory, Dover

This list cataloged the materials found at St. Martin's Priory. It lists the call numbers of the works, the contents of each volume, and a "catalog of analytical entries" (Taylor, 2004).

1494 C.E. Johann Tritheim Publishes His Catalogus Illustrium Virorum

After the invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century, life became much more interesting for those interested in bibliographic control.

A Benedictine monk, Johann Tritheim was also a bibliographer and librarian. His work included the Catalogus Illustrium Virorum, a bibliography of 2000 works by 300 different German authors (Taylor, 2004).

1605 C.E. First Library Catalog Published

In 1598 Sir Thomas Bodley undertook the project to rebuild the Oxford University Library, which had been sadly neglected. While building up the collection, Bodley took care to create a comprehensive catalog of the materials he acquired. In 1605 he published this catalog so that scholarly communities would know what materials were available in the library (Clapinson, 2002).

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

1791 C.E. First Card Catalog Created in France

After the French Revolution the French government found itself in possession of a vast number of library holdings which had been confiscated. The government decided that a system for cataloging these collections was necessary and sent instructions to various libraries to create card catalogs. The cards in the catalog were created with confiscated playing cards! The cards contained the information found on the title page of the book and were filed by author's surname. When in order, the cards were strung together on a thread (Taylor, 2004).

1839 C.E. A Modern Cataloging Code is Created

In 1831, Anthony Panizzi was appointed as assistant librarian at the British Museum. Panizzi had strong views about cataloging which he set down in a formal cataloging code called the "91 Rules" (Taylor, 2004, p. 56). Panizzi's 91 Rules later became the basis for the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules. Kilgour includes Panizzi in his list of the nine innovative librarians of the past century and a half (1992).

1876 C.E. Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalogue Published

Charles Cutter worked first at Harvard College's library and learned cataloging from Dr. Ezra Abbott, Harvard's head cataloger. In 1868 he became the librarian of the Boston Anthenaeum. In Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalogue, Cutter became the first cataloger to create guidelines for subject headings and introduced the idea of describing items in the catalog. Cutter also worked with Melvil Dewey to create the American Library Association. Stromgren, in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, writes this about Cutter:
"During his tenure at the Athenaeum, Cutter introduced several
practices still familiar today, including loan cards placed in a pocket
glued to the inside of rear book covers, an inter-library loan
program, and home deliveries to housebound patrons" (2004).

Charles Cutter, painted by W.H.W Bicknell in 1906.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Background: why organize?

It seems obvious that information professionals do not organize information for the simple pleasure of doing so. We organize with a purpose and for a reason. Arlene Taylor, in her book The Organization of Information (2004), discusses the two primary reasons we organize information: retrieval and posterity.

Information, in-and-of itself, isn't useful until someone wants to retrieve it and put it to some use. Organizing information for the purpose of retrieval is called "bibliographic control" (Greer, Grover, Fowler, 2007, p. 64). The reasons a person may want to retrieve a bit of information are as varied as information itself, but information professionals have to anticipate what information their clients may want to retrieve and organize it in such a way as to be easily accessible to those clients.

Similarly, we may organize information for purposes of posterity. There may be no immediate need for the information, but again, we anticipate a future desire to retrieve this information. Museums, archives, and libraries have recognized this need and have stored information for posterity for many years (Taylor, 2004).

Monday, February 25, 2008

Background: information professionals, who are we?

According to Greer, Grover, and Fowler in their book, Introduction to the Library and Information Professions, the information professions include "those professions which are engaged in the creation, organization, diffusion, and preservation of information and knowledge" (p. 12). Professionals in these fields might be librarians, archivists, records managers, information scientists, information entrepreneurs, information resources managers, or information systems specialists (Greer, Grover, & Fowler, 2007). There are many jobs which fall under these broad categories, but my purpose here is not a lengthy examination of the information professions.

Although the jobs of professionals in this field may vary dramatically-- a children's librarian's work is vastly different from that of a corporate records manager, for example--Greer, Grover, and Fowler (2007) assert that there are several characteristics that all information professionals share. These include the fact that all work with a specific population with specific information needs, that all manage an organization, staff, budget, etc. which serves as the link between information and the client, and that all are responsible for "the design and management of an information system encompassing a database" (p. 11).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The purpose of this blog

The purpose of this blog is to discuss the ways in which information professionals organize information, both today and historically.

How information is organized depends upon who is organizing it, the type of information, the purpose of preserving the information, who will be accessing the information and the manner in which it will be retrieved. Each of these areas must be taken into account when thinking about organization.

This blog is being created in partial fulfillment of the course requirements for LIS 6260, Information Science in Librarianship. I am a graduate student in the MLIS program at the University of South Florida.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Maiden Voyage

This is the beginning of my blogging journey "to understand the things that are" or at least to understand the ways in which librarians organize information, whichever comes first.

“You are not the child of the people you call mother and father, but their fellow-adventurer on a bright journey to understand the things that are.” Richard Bach in There's No Such Place As Far Away.

Information Organization