[Full disclosure: I personally know and greatly respect the author of this text. I have met and talked with her at 5 conferences from 2006 to 2009 (4 ASIST Annuals and the 1st NASKO). I have seen her present and moderate panels and have read some of her articles. While the topic of her book is of great interest to me, with my current level of involvement in the field, if it had been written by most anyone else I probably would have skipped it.]
The first thing I want to say about it is that it is edited quite well. I wanted to say that up front as it is increasingly difficult to be able to say that any more. There are a few minor issues but I am sending those directly to the author.
- Part I. Traditional Structures for Organizing Knowledge
- Ch. 1. Introduction to Structures for Organizing Knowledge
- Ch. 2. Historical Perspectives and Development of Structures for Organizing Knowledge
- Ch. 3. Standards and Best Practices
- Ch. 4. Disciplinary Uses and Applications of Knowledge Structures
- Part II. Personal Structures for Organizing Knowledge
- Ch. 5. Structures for Organizing Knowledge in Personal and Professional Contexts
- Part III. Socially-Constructed Structures for Organizing Knowledge
- Ch. 6. Social Knowledge-Organizing Behaviors and Socially-Constructed Structures for
- Organizing Knowledge: Research and Discussion
- Ch. 7. Extending Our Thinking: Creating a Structure for Organizing Knowledge from Various Threads
- Ch. 8. Thinking Ahead: Are We at a Crossroads?
According to the Preface, the book:
“Explores and explains how we organize knowledge by looking at three broad questions: (1) How do people organize objects in personal and professional contexts so that they make sense and are useful? (2) What roles do categories, classifications, taxonomies, and other structures play in the process of organizing? (3) What do information professionals need to know about human organizing behaviors in order to design useful structures for organizing knowledge” (xv-xvi)?
It is organized into 3 major threads:
- Traditional Structures for Organizing Knowledge
- Personal Structures for Organizing Knowledge
- Socially-Constructed Structures for Organizing Knowledge (xvi)
The intended audience is LIS students as well as the practicing professional. It” is not meant to be a “how-to” guide for developing, applying, or implementing …; rather it is designed to present a conceptual discourse and to inspire thinking about taxonomic behavior, or how and why people organize knowledge, in various contexts. It also serves as a textbook on the historical development of structures for organizing knowledge and the current interdisciplinary theories and research related to the creation and application of structures for organizing knowledge” (xix). “A secondary audience for the work is that of researchers in library and information science and related fields” (xix).
So, basically, it serves as a textbook. Personally, I see it serving as an excellent foundation for a structures of info/knowledge organization course. Mind you, I do not mean a basic information/knowledge organization course like many LIS schools require, although it could work there also. In my opinion, the basic course should be broader than the contents of this work.
In a follow-up course, one which looks at the various structures in which information and knowledge are organized, this book would excel. Flesh it out with some other readings ranging from the highly philosophical (Svenonius or Beghtol, perhaps), to some stuff on XML/RDf and related technologies such as open data and open linking, and even some “how-to” articles depending on what kind of projects and assignments the course included and you would have a great and highly flexible backbone (depending on which supplementary readings used) for an advanced course in the structures used for information organization across time and domains. Of course, the text itself suggests many possible supplementary readings depending on which aspects of the text and the research it covers one wants to stress.
This book fits in a kind of middle ground, I want to say. It is neither a “how-to” as the author said, nor is it any where as deeply philosophical as Svenonius’ The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization. With some judicious selection of supplemental readings one could fashion at least a score of courses around this topic but with highly different focuses.
Def: organizing structures (for our purposes) as “either a physical or a computerized information space that represents an entity or collection of entities, and the patterns and relationships between entities, within the context of the life experiences, connections, understandings, and applications of the organizer” (8).
“[C]an also think of them as ways to recognize, observe, and make sense of the information being organized within the structure” (8).
The author rightly points out that “The differing perspectives on the concepts of information and knowledge remain the most problematic and passionate discussions in the field of information science” (9) and then goes on to cover only two, although she did point to what I would agree is “perhaps the most comprehensive overview of the debate and varying perspectives presented by multiple disciplines in their attempts to define information and knowledge” (9). Since the book is not a text on either information or knowledge this is legitimate. As much as would like to see other views covered in this section, it is not in the scope of this text to do so.
Part I, Traditional Structures for Organizing Knowledge, contains four chapters looking at (1) some definitions and scope, (2) historical perspectives and influences on, and kinds of, structures for organizing knowledge, including contributions from philosophy, natural history, and cognitive science, (3) standards and best practices, including the standards development process, and (4) various disciplinary uses and applications of knowledge structures, focusing particularly on biology, library and information science, and the social sciences.
Part II, Personal Structures for Organizing Knowledge, contains one chapter which looks at personal structures for organizing knowledge, but splits this into the two contexts of the personal (home, mostly) and the professional (work).
Part III, Socially-Constructed Structures for Organizing Knowledge, contains three chapters and looks at (1) social knowledge-organizing behaviors and systems, such as social bookmarking and cataloging sites (delicious, Flickr, LibraryThing) and tagging, more generally, (2) a review so far and (3) some thought exercises on how we might combine the threads of the traditional, personal, and social.
Each chapter begins with a list of questions as “Focus Points” and ends with some others as “Thought Exercises.” References are placed at the end of each chapter.
I have no comments on the index as I had no cause to use it while reading the book or in writing the review, although it does appear rather thorough.
I think this book could serve well as a textbook for an introductory class on information and knowledge organization, but that it is far better suited to a follow-on course focusing more specifically on structures for organizing information. This is, in my not so humble cataloger, metadater, taxonomist, indexer, et al., heart of hearts an extremely important topic; one which I wish far more LIS students took seriously.
If you are a practicing professional or an LIS researcher needing to think more broadly about knowledge organizing structures or are looking for an entrée into the current literature on tagging and knowledge organization (KO) or those of personal information management (PIM), human-computer interaction (HCI), and human information behavior (HIB) as they pertain to this topic then this book would serve you as a valuable resource.