“traditional” and digital organization (or, I love tagging and parentheses)

In response to:

Svenonius, Elaine. (2000) “The intellectual foundation of information organization.” Cambridge: MIT Press. Chapter 1.


Weinberger, David. (2007) “Everything is miscellaneous: the power of the new digital disorder.” New York: Holt. Chapter 1: The new order of order.

The reading selections are a natural pairing, contrasting traditional organization keys (author, title, subject) against the posibilities of digital environments where the content of the document can itself become metadata used to describe and search for the document. While it can be very convenient to be able to search for distinctive phrases from a text (article, song, book), there are still important economic and legal considerations. Access to material may violate copyright, or it might just be too expensive for an institution to create/maintain the infrastructure for such a system. It is, none the less, an exciting possibility. Additionally, these considerations are less often a factor when we are considering documents that are born digital or made freely available by creators (blog posts and other web content are at the fore). Also part of this is my favorite aspect of organization: user created organization, namely tagging. It allows for a tremendous amount of freedom in exstablishing organization criteria. For example, I have a large digital music collection. I use iTunes to organize and access my music, but I disappointed by the inability to tag songs. Certainly, I can develop and maintain my own genre categories (but not subcategories). I can search for or rearrange my music by performer, album, song title, number of times played. Yet there is not a practical way for me to tag songs to indicate that, say, a particular song includes a euphonium among its instrumentation (Naomi, by Neutral Milk Hotel from On Avery Island). Or what was that song with whistling by that Swedish shoe-gazer band from a couple years ago? (Young Folks, by Peter Bjorn and John from Writer’s Block, additionally, should that be Bjørn or Bjorn?). These are the sort of things I occassionally wish to know, yet I keep using iTunes because I am tied into the infrastructure (I own an mac and use an iPod, so this is the most practical program to store and access my music from despite its limitations). In other situations, having such an ability might be more important. NPR librarians actually do need to be able to quickly access information about tunes in their music library by these sorts of categories. A program might request a tune to use as a button between stories that is reminiscent of oranges, yet has a tinge of sadness and is instrumental (this was an example used by the media librarian at NPR’s Washington office when addressing the SILS DC group visiting this past fall).

Thorny issues:

  • While Svenonius has a point about the objective v. ontology element of database design, the IFLA objective statement seems to have been trying to be as flexible as possible in what I believe was at that time (1997), still a period of upheaval in the digital transition. There is a problem of being to open in definitions that needs to be weighed against being too cumbersome. I’m not sure if I agree more with Svenonius or the IFLA on this one, but it is important to keep in mind.

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