In “Teaching the Radical Catalog,” Emily Drabinski discusses Sanford Berman’s issue with LC subject headings as a protest against the outmoded language used for classifications. She describes Berman’s political claim against the LCSH as “in some ways a limited one” because he focused on language and he did not take issue with the classification structure being used, which establishes a hierarchy that falls from the primary facet to the subsequent ones. It seems to me from Berman’s introduction to Radical Cataloging that his challenge to LC is bit more nuanced even if it is pragmatic. He briefly touches on topic, genre, and other access point failings in LC-originated copy and he advises libraries to “undertake more local enhancement and revision” to these records. Berman did not take on the single-subject limitations directly, but it does seem like his arguments for granular clarity in the terminology assigned to records has an indirect purpose toward the kind of pedagogy Drabinski promotes. In other words, I think that he recognizes the fluid politics of language and as a result that the task of making cataloging divisions more accurate and conducive is never complete. The volume and scope of his corrections suggests his acceptance of the fundamental limitations of all classification systems.
I enjoyed Steckel’s ode to S.R. Ranganathan, partly because I love the personal details shared about this lion of the library world. 13 hour days, 7 days a week with just enough time to pound out 60 books on what I am guessing was a very worn typewriter. I too appreciate his 5 laws of Library Science and was delighted to learn this week that he put his favorite number to good use and came up with PMESH. Anecdotes like his divine inspiration after seeing an Erector Set are literally the stuff of legends (Dex at Straight Dope tries his hand with the eureka moment “Dui” had at church.) and his insight is profound:
Rather than creating a slot to insert the object into, one starts with the object and then collects and arranges all the relevant pieces on the fly.
I get that Ranganathan’s faceted CC is more “hospitable” than enumerative schemes like LC, and that flexibility is needed to adapt to changing ideas of classification, but I had trouble visualizing what a physical library floorplan looks like in the CC world. The CC record example in Chowdhury made me scratch my head when thinking how to retrieve a book and I figure that a more in-depth explanation of the non-linear APUPA pattern may be in order. Until then I may have to hold off on my own Ranganathan tattoo.
I appreciated that all our readings this week demonstrated the logic and notation used in different kinds of taxonomies, but I wished they had used concrete examples to explain the import of the differences between them. For instance, the definition of hospitality in the article on Ranganathan made sense on its own, but I wasn’t convinced that that advantage of colon classification would outweigh the inconvenience to users of needing to learn a scheduling order that’s dictated by the unique judgment of an institution, or else look up each facet to determine which one is treated as the genus that contains the other facets according to that institution’s classification system. In more abstract terms, a sequence of facets linked by colons still seems like a hierarchy in a practical sense in that subsequent facets in a sequence are grouped together under the preceding ones, but without predictable logical links to them.
Melville Dewey–respect won and lost in three pages. I had to learn the Dewey Decimal System every year of grammar school but knew very little why it was developed or anything about the person. I am firm believer that one is either part of the problem or part of the solution–so reading that he developed this system in response from working in a library–I admire this (also I thought it was interesting that he developed a need for efficiency as a result of thinking he was going to die). I know when I am working, I am always looking for the most efficient ways and creating systems/processes for me to accomplish my work. I though it was a great article–I do love how the Dear Abbey setup (question/answer). The article builds up the man and his creation, then hits you with reality–he was a jerk, no saint for sure.
I really enjoyed the Ranganathan article, so much so, that I want to read more about him and work. The article highlighted two of his major accomplishments: Colon Classification (what little was written about it–I do not think I could fully wrap my head around it) and the 5 laws of Library Science (I think is awesome–simple and direct and I think I have found my new mantra for my new career).
I really appreciated the breadth covered by our readings this week. I was drawn at first to Hjørland’s piece because the title is a question I’ve had in my mind since starting library school. How much will people rely on how items are cataloged in libraries if they are using the Internet to search for things? I stopped myself from reading this piece first and started instead with the readings that tackled the foundations of classification. I appreciated Steckel’s article on Ranganathan and his methodologies for “classification, management, reference, administration” and other subjects, as well as the Straight Dope piece on Dewey. Both provided succinct backgrounds on two of the biggest names in this discipline. It was also interesting to get a perspective on Dewey from an obvious fan; I feel like the majority of what I’ve been exposed to so far has been largely critical of the Dewey Decimal System. Though I can see the flaws of DDC and the Library of Congress system, I’m happy to view both of these systems through many lenses to get a better picture of how they are useful and how they can be improved.
After getting a better understanding of the history of classification and the true necessity of it in order to organize knowledge, I returned to Hjørland. Early in his piece, he talks about the abandonment of classification by the Royal Library in Copenhagen and the State Library in Aarhus. The reasons those two Danish institutions left cataloging behind center on their belief that global services, like WorldCat, make it possible to obtain disseminated MARC records for items, while large scanning projects will eventually make full text of “all available content” possible, and user tagging “will somehow act as a substitute for professional indexing and classification.”
My reactions to these ideas are on both sides of the argument. As a future librarian, I’m somewhat appalled at the idea of banking on scanning projects that may not happen for many years (or at all based on copyright issues) and user tagging to accurately depict information about items that will be useful for all patrons. Anyone who has used social media can understand what a bad idea relying on the general public for the only information about something could be! On the other hand, I think it’s smart of libraries to acknowledge the modern user and to realize that most people will encounter WorldCat via Google before the individual library’s OPAC.
I’ve come away from these readings with more respect for the foundations of cataloging, while also appreciating the challenge of incorporating these (possibly antiquated) rules into the digital world.
While I admire Ranganathan’s warm and fuzzy treatment of knowledge, I found his faceted system to be a bit unwieldy. The example shown by Tunkelang shows us the breakdown of colon classification’s ability to get very very very specific. With all of these ways PMEST can turn out, it’s hard to imagine how this might look on a physical shelf. It seems general subject books could end up far from their counterparts, for example, a book on the mouth and a book on the tongue could be so far apart with all the minutiae in between. I imagine this system would work well in very specialized libraries for users who know what they need in all the PMEST categories, but for libraries that serve the general public, finding a general subject book would be daunting just glancing at those lengthy call numbers. Colon classification seems, with all it’s detail and searchable terms, more like a record system, rather than a classification/retrieval system.
I have become entirely enamored with Ranganathan’s PMEST. In light of Steckel’s article, I looked up how colon classification actually looks in practice, and wow no. That’s hard. L,45;421:6;253:f.44’N5 (example from the Wikipedia article on colon classification) is too much. In any case, I do really like the idea of facets like that in cataloging, and perhaps am swayed by the way they are named. They sound so broad and world-encompassing, emphasizing those things about information and knowledge.
I do still enjoy the Five Laws of Library Science, but have talked about them a lot over a few classes. That said, Steckel did a good job extending them into the realm of websites. I feel like it’s almost more obvious and easy for the internet, however, as making information accessible is a lot of why the internet exists. “Books are for reading” is a reminder better addressed to physical collections, in which we might be tempted to limit access for preservation or other reasons. The “library is a living organism” is also not as obvious in physical collections as it is on the internet, as libraries must integrate different technologies, where inherent in the internet is that it is moldable and ever-expanding. It was good to see the connection between the laws and digital information made explicit, however.
I had a hard time not maintaining a strong bias against Melvil Dewey in the article “What’s so great about the Dewey Decimal System?” as my first real reading on him was several years ago in the Bitch Magazine article “From the Library: Outing the Father of Librarianship” which concerns his more problematic behavior, as noted in the final paragraph of the biographical section of the assigned article.
And again, bias for the rest of this article! Neither DDC nor LC are particularly good for cataloging in a law library (though they generally use LC), because of the intersection of issues a book might cover and the discretion involved in putting it in one section. NYU had previously developed their own cataloging system for the law library that they are now converting to LC. I’ll admit – I so rarely used physical books in law school that I hardly noticed. However “The Library of Congress places much emphasis on cross-referencing. Battles comments that “those nesting, cross-referenced rubrics make up an epistemological labyrinth unto themselves” really does make it a more ideal classification system for law, in which subjects, international criminal law, for instance, potentially many subjects.
This week the historical context was very interesting. I find that helps me ground me and get a fuller perspective the “system of systems.” I find it interested that no can agree on a system and the individual fiefdoms all seem to rule according to what they deem best.
The Back and forth of DDC and LCC in the Straight Dope article was helpful to lay one against the other and compare.
Interesting filter to lie on top and look at: “The two systems were developed around the same time, give or take a decade or so. Both were based on the perception of knowledge and the relationships between academic disciplines extant from 1890 to 1910. Both are enumerative systems covering all topics, all disciplines, and all fields of knowledge. Both are updated regularly. Both use a “controlled vocabulary,” that is, a list of preferred terms for cataloging. systems reflect the bias of a nineteenth-century U.S. outlook, then a “Western” outlook, and reflect a “white, male, Anglo-Saxon Christian view of the universe.”
Ranganathan’s Colon Classification with its universal approach directly challenges the DDC and LC systems. His system, philosophy and approach to knowledge organization stem from a more holistic approach. The five laws are very thought provoking and make sense to me. I especially like the idea: “Rather than creating a slot to insert the object into, one starts with the object and then collects and arranges all the relevant pieces on the fly. This allows for greater flexibility and a high degree of specificity.” I am sorry to miss tonight’s discussion – I am working, but it would be an interesting.
During last week’s in-class Omeka work, I suggested that we create categories and identify content to fill each one. My teammates opted instead to find a large selection of relevant items and then classify. Indexing vs Facets? According to Steckel, “Rather than creating a slot to insert the object into, one starts with the object and then collects and arranges all the relevant pieces on the fly. This allows for greater flexibility and a high degree of specificity.” Are there generational differences in how we order and retrieve information and subsequently think and learn?
PBS’ new mini-series How We Got to Now categorizes the history of modern life and innovation around six themes: Clean, Time, Glass, Light, Cold, and Sound. This is a good example of a classification scheme that organizes information and generates new ideas, per John Dewey’s “Knowledge is classification.”
And, I find Ranganathan’s Five Laws to be pertinent for many areas of digital scholarship: website architecture as discussed by Steckel but also content management strategies and academic publishing.
- “Information” is for use. Web content, journal articles, e-books available online whenever and wherever.
- Every user, his information. Portals and content curated and classified for different audiences; user-centric.
- Every information, its user. Content integrated and interoperable across sites and resources.
- Save the time of the user. Content catalogued with rich metadata on digital systems, distributed by proxies.
- The information collection is a growing organism. An ever-changing universe of content and creators responsive to digital disruptions — from open science initiatives to the internet of things.