Alex Wright and W. Boyd Rayward’s articles shed light on Paul Otlet, a man that paved the way for many of the conceptual frameworks and ideas about the organization of information that we have today. Although both authors stop short of stating Otlet’s influence on the creation of the World Wide Web, Otlet’s foresight about the possibilities of networks and linked data is incredible nonetheless. He understood the importance of the uniformity of data in that “if cards and sheets were standardized, especially as to size and weight, then it became possible to create collaboratively continuously expanding databases in these formats” (Rayward 293). This may seem like a simple concept, but the standardization of data is extremely important and an issue that we struggle with today in the case of metadata interoperability. Another of his prescient ideas was “conceptual maps” that “played in simplified, visual form, the intricate relationships of the concepts embraced within various subject areas” (Rayward 294-95), sounding very similar to the linked hypertext context of Wikipedia. Most incredible, however, was Otlet’s view that information should be universally accessible by all, a vision which the Web is facilitating.
Visionary Paul Otlet’s even forecasted today’s search functionality, calling it “consultation.” According to Rayward, Otlet wanted to “liberate” content from just the metadata of bibliographic files—to bring forth “what was of value or use in the content of documents by dissection or decomposition” for analysis and synthesis. This seems a prediction of text data mining: full-text searching to discover patterns and trends and to reveal new ideas across texts.
Here’s a visual of the Mundaneum from The New York Times:
I really appreciated this quote from Weinberger’s “The Geography of Knowledge.” Throughout these readings—and throughout this entire class—we have focused on different ways to organize information and the issues that arise due to the inherent subjectivity of every system. It seems, like Weinberger says, that there is “no end to it,” no possible solution to remedy the subjectivity of knowledge organization and the inevitability that culture will change and the system will become outdated.
Again, it seems necessary to instead focus our attention on education. If Dewey’s system is flawed and obsolete and born from a place of accidental closed mindedness, as Weinberger (and many others) have suggested, then rather than focusing only on teaching children in school how to find books, we should invest in teaching them the complexities of the system. We have no choice but to acknowledge the failures openly and often in order to learn from them and to grow.
With electronic systems, it seems possible to establish a catalog interface setting that displays the many iterations of a subject or topic in order to layer an item record with the historical and the current. The New York Public Library Map Warper comes to mind when considering this concept. Rather than look to adjust the now-incorrect geography of an old map—of both physical locations and of knowledge—perhaps it is best to layer the pieces in order to demonstrate change over time.
I’d like to think that there are visionaries among us, like Paul Otlet or Vannevar Bush, who can imagine seemingly fictional systems that one day become reality. Hopefully the next version of the cataloging system will allow readers to reflect on the past while improving the connections between items for unprecedented access.
Necessity is the mother of invention is the expression that resonated in my mind as I read through this week’s readings that focus on the origins of knowledge organization and the development of information science. The huge increase in information following the industrial revolution and the mechanization of the printing processes meant new ways had to be created to organize the incredible expansion of the knowledge base. Melvil Dewey and Paul Otlet are two of the most important figures to rise to this challenge. Dewey, an easy figure to ridicule these days for his bigoted views, views, however, that continue to inform and influence a classification system still used in ninety-five percent of public school libraries in the US according to Weinberger’s figures, and Paul Otlet, who Alex Wright claims as the forgotten forefather of Information Architecture.
Of the two, Paul Otlet certainly holds most interest and has more currency as we move towards a semantic web of knowledge, and both the Rayward and the Wright pieces give fascinating accounts of the ambition and vision of the man who would create a system of Universal Decimal Classification, a system that went beyond Dewey to incorporate Ranganathan’s facets and foreshadow perhaps our current fixation with an information environment where, as Wright puts it “ social context in information is as important as topical content”.
The Alex Wright article on Paul Otlet describes his position that documents can only be understood in relationship to other documents. This is a tenet of the Universal Decimal Classificaiton philosophy and it harkens back to some of the ideas we first read about in the Buckland articles on the nature of information. At its most essential, Information is a difference that describes a difference. A document, as a vessel for information, has value defined by its relationship to (difference from) other documents. Social context, the significant feature of UDC cataloging, becomes intrinsic to document-hood in this understanding. That information scientists continue to wrestle with the definition of information is not surprising. What is surprising is how Otlet’s classification system seems to presaged have organization problems that have only recently emerged. At some point in his project, Otlet must have recognized that “an intellectual cosmos illuminated both by objective classification and by the direct influence of readers and writers” would have to be ‘outsourced’ to institutions and user groups that transcend the library and archive. His apparent attention to detail makes it hard to believe so little of his Mundaneum survived temporal challenges.
I loved Sarah Calaghan’s blog post “How is a scarf like a dataset?” I thought the analogy was quirky, but true, and it boiled the complex idea of describing, organizing, and managing data into some easy-to-understand concepts. For me, the most important piece of insight from her post was the aside:
(As an aside, I didn’t keep all the metadata about how I made the scarf and what yarn I used for it written down somewhere, which meant that when I came to write this post, I needed to work it out all over again. In other words, metadata should be collected from the start and stored somewhere safe, regardless of what it’s describing!)
What a valuable piece of information about data management! “Metadata should be collected from the start and stored somewhere safe, regardless of what it’s describing!” I feel like printing that out and hanging it on the wall of my office. I know I’ve mentioned my project before, but I’m currently trying to reorganize a massive amount of digital files, and the lack of metadata for the majority of this data has made its management a near-impossible task.
I thought that the Penn State guidelines for data management were incredibly helpful in providing the necessary steps to properly organizing a collection of data. I thought all of the elements listed in the data planning example chart were so important to the complete process of data management. I really hope to use these guidelines in my own project while I consider metadata creation, metadata extraction, data registries, long-term file storage, and all the other steps involved!
The concept of a ‘data curator’ really stood out in the Bryan Heidorn article as a dynamic expression. As material is now digital, mass information output makes preservation a layered task and as the Bryan Heidorn article points out, “libraries are among the only institutions with the capacity to curate many data types.” Having technical skills and tools helps with only one step, determining information worth storing is a major component.
Even so, we are still in early stages of understanding how digital media can be archived to prevent future readability in an age of rapid technological development. Still, Heidorn believes libraries have “organizational culture” necessary to approach and harness this project.
This article influenced me to find out more about the UK Digital Curation Centre, “founded to solve problems in digital curation”, and a few other sites mentioned. I recently studied the MIT Laboratory for Social Machines, which considers the impact of online social platforms. Projects of the sort will help with an aspect of data curation, as we begin to understand the impact of new media.
It is quite mind-blowing just how much data humans are now capable of producing and, as access to the technology to create more data grows, the amount will only increase. The case for Librarians to take on the role of Data curation is elegantly made in P. Bryan Heidorn’s The Emerging Role of Libraries in Data Curation and E-Science paper.
Curation of the data is within libraries’ mission, and libraries are among the only institutions with the capacity to curate many data types. The data are critical to the scientific and economic development of society.
As most of us are already all too aware, we live in an age where the need to upgrade, back-up, sort and store our own digital materials is ongoing and seems never ending – be it photographs, emails, (or readings for courses), the need to curate personal digital materials: organize, preserve or perish is the new mantra in a bid to archive and still have access to our memory prompts. And so too with data that is research based and possibly holds the key to a scientific breakthrough either on it’s own (requiring discoverability) or if linked to another piece of data. The benefit of data sharing, as argued for on the: What is Data Management? page of the Penn State University Libraries site is an aspect that particularly appeals given my group’s project on linked open data and the many benefits to society of living in an open data world.
Heidorn lays out the mandate for libraries to preserve data from federally funded research by adapting the logic behind the concept of the library as a public good. It makes sense that grant-seekers should have a plan to manage not just their reports and analysis but the data that led to their findings. Academic libraries are singularly equipped to assist in this kind of strategy and their involvement in the preservation of important, non-replicable data is better than that same data being misused or lost. I would like to see an examination some of the economic factors that might come into play as complicated data stewardship becomes the de facto responsibility of academic libraries. Heidorn mentions release restrictions on data, and the NIH has specifically targeted the counter-productive embargoes placed on research published in exorbitantly expensive science journals. Host universities for academic libraries already get bit twice in the current publication model: once as sites for research being conducted and again as subscribers to the publications in which the research gets initially published (which they are strongly encouraged to make available). I expect that the data management plans required by government funding agencies are reviewed with a requisite understanding of the additional funding required to enact them. But it also seems as though academic libraries have some leverage to ask scientific journals to account for some of the cost.
I really enjoyed Opening Artists’ Books to the User by Myers and Myers. Even though not every cataloger or librarian will deal with art books, I thought this article did a great job of providing specific examples of dealing with special collections cataloging. I’d like to echo many of my classmates and say that many of the points Myers and Myers make–from contacting the artists to subjective descriptions of “aboutness”–reminded me so much of Jenna’s discussion of zine cataloging.
Though lacking clear-cut standards for cataloging art books can be frustrating, it seems that art books necessitate an open environment because of the diversity of the artwork, the artists themselves, and the interpretations of the viewers. I know Starr has mentioned this in class before, but when I was doing research for a project at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the summer, I often found browsing the shelves to be one of the most effective ways of finding interesting sources. This also brings up the inherent visual nature of art books that can’t quite be communicated through the textual descriptions in a catalog (or anywhere else).
One of my favorite elements of the Myers and Myers article was the lengthy example of the Alpha to Omega cataloging problem. I thought it was really helpful to learn about a particularly difficult item to catalog and then see different interpretations and compare them. If I were developing an institutional protocol for cataloging art books, I think I would prefer inclusivity of description information even if “the cataloger risks misrepresenting the artist’s intention and furthermore veers into interpreting the work.” I think it’s a bigger issue overall if access to the book is limited because of a lack of information, rather than attempting to keep the catalog record free of subjectivity and interpretation.