Constructs in Knowledge Organization Systems: Rhythm in Time, Intention, and Form
Tennis, Joseph T.
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In the context of the International Society for Knowledge Organization, we often consider knowledge organization systems to comprise catalogues, thesauri, and bibliothecal classification schemes – schemes for library arrangement. In recent years we have added ontologies and folksonomies to our sphere of study. In all of these cases it seems we are concerned with improving access to information. We want a good system.And much of the literature from the late 19th into the late 20th century took that as their goal – to analyze the world of knowledge and the structures of representing it as its objects of study; again, with the ethos for creating a good system. In most cases this meant we had to be correct in our assertions about the universe of knowledge and the relationships that obtain between its constituent parts. As a result much of the literature of knowledge organization is prescriptive – instructing designers and professionals how to build or use the schemes correctly – that is to maximize redundant success in accessing information.In 2005, there was a turn in some of the knowledge organization literature. It has been called the descriptive turn. This is in relation to the otherwise prescriptive efforts of researchers in KO. And it is the descriptive turn that makes me think of context, languages, and cultures in knowledge organization–the theme of this year’s conference.Work in the descriptive turn questions the basic assumptions about what we want to do when we create, implement, maintain, and evaluate knowledge organization systems. Following on these assumptions researchers have examined a wider range of systems and question the motivations behind system design. Online websites that allow users to curate their own collections are one such addition, for example Pinterest (cf., Feinberg, 2011). However, researchers have also looked back at other lineages of organizing to compare forms and functions. For example, encyclopedias, catalogues raisonnés, archival description, and winter counts designed and used by Native Americans.In this case of online curated collections, Melanie Feinberg has started to examine the craft of curation, as she calls it. In this line of research purpose, voice, and rhetorical stance surface as design considerations. For example, in the case of the Pinterest, users are able and encouraged to create boards. The process of putting together these boards is an act of curation in contemporary terminology. It is describing this craft that comes from the descriptive turn in KO.In the second case, when researchers in the descriptive turn look back at older and varied examples of knowledge organization systems, we are looking for a full inventory of intent and inspiration for future design. Encyclopedias, catalogues raisonnés, archival description, and works of knowledge organization in other cultures provide a rich world for the descriptive turn. And researchers have availed themselves of this.
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