Visual language: or a new wander

In which I begin a new intellectual wander amongst the idea of visual language, particularly in comics, or at least that is how I got interested in it in a roundabout way.

My son and my friend Dave will probably laugh at me as this is the kind of thinking they’ve both done for much of their lives. They are visually arty. And musically. I am neither.

Past wanders

I am not sure that I am going to continue homebrewing and I am, after my last session of doing so, seriously reconsidering my beer judging. But those are different stories. This is about a new rabbit hole. “Psst, over here. “


As my Thursday AM coffee shop book, I am currently reading Smits, Rik. The Puzzle of Lefthandedness. Translated by Liz Waters, Reaktion, 2011, and it is fascinating! At least to a left-hander from a family of left-handers. Old enough that my parents were “seriously discouraged” from using said left hand and that even my doing so was looked down on, at the least, at school. Yes, I smeared a lot because that stupid non-smearing way to supposedly hold your pencil was dreamt up by a right-handed zealot with a sadistic streak. [That’s my story.]

Anyway, fascinating book! It is a series of 38 essay-ish pieces (I am about halfway through) about left-handedness but also about the concepts of left and right and their symbolic meanings, and so on. Sort of like 38 takes at tossing a dart at the dart board of the topic from 38 different points in space from all around the target. So, thus, not a coherent, long-form, argument, but a truly interesting way to break off into related topics.

The last couple chapters I read started with one on left and right in the murder genre of Western painting. Because of course “we” have one! ::sigh:: Then there was one on the violence towards women—almost always sexual—in Western painting. This also included the object of the male gaze, the “harlot.” Next was one on left and right in married couples portraits, and single portraits also, which also translates into where the woman stands in a traditional church wedding and which side she exits on, etc.

Interspersed throughout these chapters were talk about how all this depiction of movement [arriving vs departing, messengers with good news versus bad news, etc. transferred to most other forms of art and much of culture, including the stage, the silver screen, comic books and graphic novels, advertising, and so on. Much of this was also looked at cross-culturally; in literate cultures, much hinges on direction of writing and reading.

The point

All this really got me thinking as I have been reading so many graphic novels, comics, and some manga and I am often lost by the artwork and I am self-aware enough to know that sometimes it isn’t simply me or bad art but that I just don’t understand the conventions; especially true regarding manga and other forms of Japanese comics/anime.

Neil Cohn

Over the past weekend I discussed this with my wife and she started poking the Interwebz and found the the following article: Cohn, Neil. Comics, Linguistics, and Visual Language: The Past and Future of a Field. Accessed 6 Mar. 2018.

Yesterday I got a chance to print it and read it and it was mind-blowing how perfect it was for me. It isn’t exactly a practical lexicon of comics art, if you will, or not at all, which is what I sort of wanted: something to the point without being overly theoretical or way too wordy or …. I wanted the perfect “document” for me. This is a very close second and, in many ways, better, in that it provides a great entry into what I am looking for.

The article is exactly what the title purports to be: Comics, Linguistics, and Visual Language: The Past and Future of a Field. It shows why “a language of comics” is the wrong object of study and that it is actually “visual language,” akin to “spoken” and (I forget what he called them, but) “manual,” that is signed languages.

Lots of great citations, as he has a good lit review early on, and then looks at the topic from most angles of study in linguistics, covers the research done in that area and the research needed, along with what the proper questions and concepts are in that area, and how they map, if at all, and whether that matters, to other forms of language (for instance, photology versus phonology).

Scott McCloud

The heaviest cited piece he uses is: McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. First HarperPerennial edition, HarperCollins Publishers, 1994, of which he says, “…, contemporary works on comics in a linguistic light—both in America and abroad—have exploded since the publication of comic artist and theorist Scott McCloud’s (1993) graphic book Understanding comics.” and “McCloud’s approach has permeated nearly all linguistically-driven studies since its publication” (4). Ten total cites to it. The author has 20 cites to his own work. But that is spread across 11 different titles versus one. [Not saying that isn’t fair as he seems mighty prolific. I still need to check out Cohn’s website,] But McCloud’s book seems to be the object to engage with in the article and in linguistics and comics since 1993.

When I looked up McCloud’s book to see if we had it at COCC—which we did—I saw that we had a 2nd McCloud book so I grabbed it too when I went up to get Understanding comics. It too is a graphic novel, McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. Harper, 2006. And next to it was another early classic, also cited by Cohn, so I grabbed it as a possibility: Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist; [Incl. New and Updated Material. Norton, 2008.

 I have read his fiction graphic novel, The Sculptor.


Of course there is language to this kind of thing but at what level of analysis and so forth? Or is it all practical versus theoretic and where and how have they influenced each other? I need a Wissenschaft on visual language.

Seeing as I do not have one—although that linguistics article went a long way towards portions of theory, and McCloud’s books, along with possibly Eisner’s, will hopefully provide some great practical knowledge—I will have to construct my own.

But that is par for the course:

“Wissenschaft incorporates science, learning, knowledge, scholarship and implies that knowledge is a dynamic process discoverable for oneself, rather than something that is handed down. It did not necessarily imply empirical research.

Wissenschaft was the official ideology of German Universities during the 19th century. It emphasised the unity of teaching and individual research or discovery for the student. It suggests that education is a process of growing and becoming.” (Wikipedia, “Wissenschaft.” Emphasis mine; spelling mistake Wikipedia’s)

I love Wissenschaften since they are, amongst others things, intellectual histories and that is my favorite kind of history by far. I also agree with the philosophy of education.

A New Wander

I have been needing a new rabbit hole—a new intellectual wander—and I do believe I have found it. No idea how far I will go but there are still a handful of citations to look into from Cohn’s article. I mean, seriously, how could I, with my assorted background(s) not read “Impossible Objects as Nonsense Sentences”? A title like that is like an opiate to me. And I have a few books to begin with; two of which are nonfiction graphic novels, my favorite kind.

Ottaviani & Purvis – The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Purvis (illustrator)

Date read: 15-16 August 2016
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Challenges: 2016gnc, 2016nfc

Cover image of The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Purvis

Hardback, 234 pages
Published 2016 by Abrams ComicArts
Source: Central Oregon Community College Barber Library [QA 29 .T8 O772 2016]


I enjoyed this, just as I enjoyed Ottaviani’s Feynman, which I read in 2012. I also just marked most of his books as To Read in Goodreads.

“I still work as a librarian by day, but stay up late writing comics about scientists.”

I didn’t know he was a librarian too!

Aha! That’s right. “He now works at the University of Michigan Library as coordinator of Deep Blue, the university’s institutional repository.[1][2]” [per Wikipedia].

The book consists of some prefatory material, 222 pages of graphic novel, an author’s note a bit over a page long, an annotated 3-page bibliography and recommended reading, and 6-pages of notes and references.

The graphic novel proper consists of the following sections: “Universal Computing” (pp. 1-66), “Top Secret Ultra” [think Bletchley Park] (pp. 67-152), and “The Imitation Game” (pp. 153-222) [links are to Wikipedia].

Highly recommended! If you know about Turing, and have, like me, perhaps read his papers on universal computing and the imitation game (philosophy and applied computer science undergrad), then this is still a great resource with all of the notes and references to specific works that might be of particular interest to you.

If you know little to nothing about Turing then this is a great introduction. Far better even than the recent (2014) movie, The Imitation Game, with Cumberbatch and Knightley. The presence of actual citations and sources are the basis for this claim.

This is the 41st book in my 2016 9th Annual Graphic Novel/Manga Challenge Sign-Ups

This is the 20th book in my Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader

This is actually way past 20 nonfiction books for me this year; I simply have failed at reviewing quite a few, or finishing reviews, which is essentially the same thing. Many were started.

Books I Want to Read

I am going to try out something I just found a couple weeks ago that a friend of mine, Angel Rivera, does at Alchemical Thoughts. He calls it “Items about books I want to read.” Seems he has been doing it a while now. He frequently has a link to a review from the media or something similar. Sometimes it’s just what he has to say about why he’s interested in reading it and a link to the record for the book in WorldCat.

It is to help remember why I marked something as “to read.” Seeing as how some things sit for years on the “to read” list, recording more about how I came across something in the first place might help. Hopefully, if I continue this in the future, it will be a bit more timely.

I really have no idea why many of the following books are on my list but some have been for a while. In most cases I do not know for sure how they came to my attention. Some came via Angel above. Many from Goodreads. Some as modern classics (Berlin & Kay).

Many of these are in my Reading goals for 2015 post; some are not.

Beer and Brewing

John J. Palmer and Colin Kaminski – Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers (Brewing Elements) I have read two of the four books [Hops; Malt] in this series and they were both excellent. Looking forward to this and a bit intimidated by Yeast also.

Max Nelson – The Barbarian’s Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe Not sure where I first heard of this but I have several citations to it marked in multiple sources. That is, lots of people have cited it; some heavily. I got it for my birthday last year from my son and daughter-in-law.

“… presents a large amount of the evidence for beer in ancient Europe for the first time, and demonstrates the important technological as well as ideological contributions the Europeans made to beer throughout the ages. The book provides a fresh and fascinating insight into one of the most popular beverages in the world today.” [back cover blurb]

Ian Hornsey – Alcohol and its Role in the Evolution of Human Society Same for hearing about this one. Although in this, I have read some by the author so I know I want to read it. Besides, isn’t that a fascinating title? Bought self a copy late May 2014.

“This book, Ian’s fourth to be published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, unites archaeology and anthropology, plant breeding and industrial process, together with so many other disciplines besides. It is nothing short of revelatory and thoroughly up-to-date in our fast-moving world; this represents a Herculean effort on the part of the author.” [from Foreword by Arthur Edward Guinness, Earl of Iveagh (vii)]

Terry Foster – Brewing Porters and Stouts Two of our favorite styles. I want to design and brew an incredible Imperial stout, amongst other beers. But that is my ultimate aim. Well, something particular is what I have in mind.

Language and Related

Berlin & McKay – Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution This is a modern classic in several fields. It has wide-ranging applicability and has been cited far and wide. Cannot begin to say when I first heard of this but probably finishing up my undergrad (after retiring from the Army) in one of my cognitive science or philosophy courses.

Literature and Literary Theory

J.R.R. Tolkien – Tolkien on Fairy-stories This was recommended by Candy Schwartz to Sara and I a couple years ago. We were in Sioux City at the time and it came via Twitter, I believe.

Western World History / History

William H. McNeill – The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community I have been aware of this book since I read and reviewed The Pursuit of Power and have owned a copy for a couple years now perhaps.

Roy Porter – The Creation of the Modern World: The Untold Story of the British Enlightenment Recommended by Dr. Matthew Pangborn who I took Enlightenment Literature from at Briar Cliff my second-to-last term there before moving to Bend.

Certain Kinds of Histories

Urling C. Coe, M.D. – Frontier Doctor: Observations on Central Oregon and the Changing West My friend Jon Abernathy of Bend Beer, Hack Bend and The Brew Site recommended this as have several other sources (people & paper). To better understand life in Central Oregon in the earliest parts of the 20th century. Purchased a copy.

Hanne Blank – Straight: The Surprisingly Short History Of Heterosexuality No idea where I found this but here’s a review I came across sometime.

Elizabeth Abbott – A History Of Celibacy This and the rest in this group were probably suggested by Goodreads recommendation engine. Why not? They could be a lot of fun. Most will come via libraries.

Hanne Blank – Virgin: The Untouched History

Elissa Stein – Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation

David M. Friedman – A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis

Marilyn Yalom –  History of the Breast

Stephanie Coontz – Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage

Karen Essex – Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend


Alex Wright – Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age I had Boyd Rayward for a couple classes in library school (eat your hearts out!) so I know who Otlet was. Also have read many of Boyd’s writings. Looking forward to this. Lest you wonder why I’m going on about Rayward regarding Otlet, here’s his entry from the index: 12-13, 57, 71-72, 104, 177, 225, 301. Rayward also shows up in other entries such as:

Otlet, Paul

as Rayward’s dissertation subject, 12

Just a tad important in bringing Otlet to light.

[Boyd was one of my angels at GSLIS. Might not be here if not for his gentle care.]

Robert J. Glushko, ed. – The Discipline of Organizing I think I learned of it when Ed Summers marked it “to read” in Goodreads in late April 2014. I got a copy for Christmas 2014 from my son and his dear wife. This is definite geek material for me. I hope I enjoy it.

Susan Cheever – Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction I believe I found this at a used/antiquarian book shop in Omaha. One of downtown Omaha’s finest features actually, in two librarian’s opinions.


So. Maybe this will happen again. Hopefully in a more timely manner so I can do better at knowing where/how a title came to my attention. I am trying to do a better job recording them but not convinced succeeding.

“Technology,” definition, history, and multiple uses of a term

In Fall 2005 I took a class with Prof. Chip Bruce on Pragmatic Technology. One of our assignments was to:

Produce an analysis of one keyword of your choice (see Raymond Williams, Keywords A vocabulary of culture and society. Revised edition. New York: Oxford University Press) for examples. This keyword is not just an index term as in the bibliography, but a core concept for the field. The analysis is a short essay (1-2 pp.) on the definition, history, and multiple uses of a term, which is central to understanding a text or a field of study.

I chose “technology.” This assignment represented 10% of our grade.

I found this little piece the other day while poking around my hard drive and decided I was going to put it here for assorted reasons, if only primarily for myself so I might find it easier in the future.

LIS590PT Fall 2005  Keywords Assignment  Mark Lindner  14 Sep 2005
“Technology,” definition, history, and multiple uses of a term

Plato distinguished Techne (art) from empiriae (knack) as having a logos, a rationale which “necessarily includes a reference to the good served by the art” while knack consists of “rules of thumb based on experience but without any underlying rationale” (Feenberg).

Feenberg argues that we moderns have lost the connection between techne and the good.  “We can still relate to Plato’s emphasis on the need for a rationale, a logos, but we’re not so sure it includes an idea of the good. In fact, we tend to think of technologies as normless, as serving subjective purposes very much as did Plato’s knacks” (Feenberg).

What is the history of technology in between, and is Feenberg correct?  The OED lists several senses of technology that are of relevance to us:

1. a. A discourse or treatise on an art or arts; the scientific study of the practical or industrial arts. (1615 BUCK Third Univ. Eng. xlviii)

b. transf. Practical arts collectively. (1859 R. F. BURTON Centr. Afr. in Jrnl. Geog. Soc. XXIX. 437)

c. With a and pl. A particular practical or industrial art. (1957 Technology Apr. 56/1)

2. The terminology of a particular art or subject; technical nomenclature. (1658 SIR T. BROWNE Gard. Cyrus v.)

Oxford American lists the etymology of technology as from the Greek, tekhnologia systematic treatment, from tekhnê art.

Thus, as far as standard English usage goes technology was earliest applied to language about, or the language of, the practical or industrial arts.  Over time this meaning shifted to the practical arts collectively, and then finally as a referent to any of the individual practical arts.

It seems to me that in American usage that technology has come to shift meaning over the last half-century or so from referring primarily to technoscience or applied science to the machines produced and used by such to primarily refer to the electronic gadgetry of everyday life; personal computers, iPods, DVD players, etc.  Most “normal” Americans think of technology as normless, as Feenberg said.  Atomic bombs, depleted uranium shells, land mines—it all depends on what you do with them.  Their development and existence is morally neutral according to this view.

Philosophers of technology use technology differently than in standard usage, but even there the meaning has shifted over the last sixty or so years.  Classical philosophers of technology (Ellul, Mumford, Heidegger; et al.) thought that technology “…must not be thought of as applied natural science, that is less an instrument than a form of life, and that it must be understood as a “system” (in Ellul’s word) or as a “megamachine” (Mumford)” (Achterhuis, 3).  Ellul uses the French word technique specifically due to the narrower connotation of technology with machines.  For Ellul, “technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity” (xxv).

Newer philosophers of technology (Noble, Hughes, Scwartz and Thompson; et. Al.) have pointed out the intertwining of technology and society as “technosociety,” “technoculture,” “network of technological affairs,” and as a “social process that is extraordinarily inaccessible to us because we are so much a part of it” (Achterhuis, 6-7).

Pacey points out in Meaning in Technology that technology has both social and individual meanings.  He also points to the difference between the “political economy” of the use and development of technology and its wider role in society and, the “social construction” of technology through a “variety of “actors” responding to a complex of social pressures” (4).  Pacey’s point about the shift from the “political economy” of technology to its “social construction” is similar to the shift from the early focus on the material and historical conditions for the rise of Technology as a system to the more recent focus on technologies that impact society while being influenced by the same society.  Pacey’s book is an attempt to redirect some of the focus back onto the meaning of technology created by the individual’s experience of technology, not just of society’s experience.

Sources Cited

Achterhuis, Hans, ed. American Philosophy of Technology: The Empirical Turn. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. New York: Vintage Books, 1964.

Feenberg, Andrew. “Can Technology Incorporate Values? Marcuse’s Answer to the Question of the Age.” Paper presented at the conference on The Legacy of Herbert Marcuse, University of California, Berkeley, November 7, 1998.

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. online, 1999.

Pacey, Arnold. Meaning in Technology. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.

“Technology.” Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

The Role of Research in the Development of a Profession or a Discipline – some comments

Biggs, M. (1991). The Role of Research in the Development of a Profession or a Discipline. In C. McClure & P. Hernon (Eds.), Library and information science research : perspectives and strategies for improvement, Information management, policy, and services (pp. 72-84). Norwood  N.J.: Ablex Pub. Corp.

Read 19 October 2010

Argues that “Librarianship is neither a discipline nor a profession as traditionally defined, and it has no real prospects of becoming one” (72). This, though, is only to set the stage for what kind of research we should be doing and how it should be done.

This was an interesting article that I would like to see more widely discussed. Much in it could be debated. But most interesting would be the implications for the field if, in general, we ended up agreeing with the author’s major conclusions.



I imagine that her comments under the section THE ROLE OF RESEARCH IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF LIBRARIANSHIP could really start some flame wars if not read with an open mind and a deferred judgment, at least, until she gets to these lines: “This is not to say that they represent work that is trivial or easy or takes no training. But neither need they be the exclusive province of a particular “profession”” (78).

Another area that might start some “healthy” discussion is that she seemingly defends “how we do it good” articles (79).

The author’s claim is that, after some argument to get here, “Librarianship is neither a discipline nor a profession, but rather an occupation grounded in techniques and personal “arts” (79). This claim is what grounds the kind of research she argues for.

Citing an article of hers then in press, she states that she has “argued that we should discard the notion of library “science” as itself a cohesive research field and instead draw to us experts from appropriate disciplines and work with them to explore the problems of technology, communication, economics, politics, sociology, and cognition that affect libraries and information transfer generally” (80). The author then lists three possible ways to accomplish that (80-81). These also would stir some healthy debate; especially amongst those in or valuing the doctoral degree in LIS.

The bottom line is a call for researchers to partner with practitioners (81-82). She also calls for a greatly expanded grant-based support of this type of research (82).

The author then suggests three possible ways in which the divide between research and practice in the field might be overcome (82):

  • Require and strengthen empirical research methods in the Master’s education.
  • Create “more formal means of mingling practitioners and scholars, as equals, expressly to discuss research” (82).
  • “Library and library school directors must provide time for their people to explore common interests together” (82). This, of course, would require a change in academic reward structures.

I’m betting a few of my friends would find the bit about “a faculty shortage in this field” perversely funny. Perhaps there was back when this was written. Then again, all of us have been hearing this siren call of impending jobs for too long of a time. Nonetheless, this was just an aside and is highly temporally contextual to a time now past. Still, I wanted to mention it as it is the kind of thing some people will write off an entire article for. Don’t do that in this case is all I’m saying.

There is much of value in this article; much that can be questioned, discussed or debated; and perhaps a little to make one roll one’s eyes. I’m keeping my cards close to my chest as to which is which for me. The most that I’m saying is that in the larger scheme of her paper I agree.

The Profession’s Models of Information – some comments

Green, R. (1991). The Profession’s Models of Information: A Cognitive Linguistic Analysis. Journal of Documentation, 47(2), 130-148.

I read this at the coffee shop one morning a couple of weeks ago and, as usual, was quite impressed. She shows that a model of communication is mandatory for information science but that one of information seeking is optional. She also critiques the overuse of ‘information’ and makes the “radical suggestion” that we need a whole new language for library and information science (143). Yes, yes, and yes! [Was cited by Dick 1995; see below for citation. Or this blog post: 2 articles by Archie Dick]

Based on a linguistic analysis of phrases including the word ‘information,’ randomly sampled across a 20-year period from Library & Information Science Abstracts (LISA: 1969-Sep 1989), “establishes three predominant cognitive models of information and the information transfer process” (130, abstract).

Outline of article:

  • Introduction
  • Related Cognitive Models
  • Method
  • Results
  • Analysis
    • Focus of models
    • Compatibility of models
    • Direct communication model
    • Indirect communication model
    • Information-seeking model
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Appendix A
    • A. Direct communication (DC) model
    • B. Indirect communication (IC) model
    • C. Information-seeking (IS) model
  • Appendix B. Syntagms evoking general frames
  • References


In trying to determine the cognitive models within the field the author made two basic assumptions: “(1) the literature of a field incorporates the cognitive models common to the discipline; and (2) linguistic analysis can be used to ferret out what those models are” (131).

Related Cognitive Models

Green discovered three models, two of which take the perspective of the information system and one which takes the perspective of the information user. The first two fall under the critique of

“the traditional paradigm of information transfer criticised by Dervin. In what she refers to as a positivistic or information-theoretic framework, information is perceived as a self-existent and absolute entity, independent of human minds. Information is stored within a variety of types of information systems, which users may approach in order to extract information relevant to their needs” (132).


Pointing out that the phenomena of the information transfer process “is the key event around which library and information science is built,” Green states that

“If the positivistic model of information transfer observed by Dervin is truly representative of the thinking of the profession and if that mode of thinking is as dysfunctional as Dervin suggests (which, no doubt it is), library and information science educators and researchers would have some serious overhauling and restructuring of their cognitive models to accomplish” (132-33/133).

I adore her all over again for that “which, no doubt it is” aside.

There are a couple limitations of the method used that are listed (134). One of them, which is only a possible limitation or less of one than is suspected, would be partially answered if this study were repeated for the period 1990-2010. I would love to see that comparison.


As one can guess from the outline of the article above, the three models found are: Direct communication (DC) model, Indirect communication (IC) model, and the Information-seeking (IS) model (135). I will leave it to the interested reader to delve further into this paper on their own if they are interested in these models and the specific support found for them via Dr. Green’s analysis.


“As noted previously, communication models and information-seeking models are not inherently incompatible. Given that information transfer is the basic phenomenon around which library and information science revolves, the discipline must have a model of communication from information source to information user. Since the information user is often the initiator of the information transfer, we may have (and in general we would like to have) information-seeking models, too. Thus, a model of communication is mandatory; a model of information-seeking, although desirable, is theoretically optional. The upshot of this recognition is that the discipline’s models of communication are more crucial than its model(s) of information-seeking. … Sadly, our models of communication provide little insight as to how information transfer is actually effected” (141, empahsis mine).

While I will leave the concept of “information transfer” stand for now, this idea of a “transfer” is also to be rejected. Nonetheless, whatever fills the role of this so-called “information transfer” will still be “the key event around which library and information science is built” (132-33). Thus, a proper theory of communication is the basis for all that we do in library and information science, whether theory or practice.

Did the information-seeking model that was discovered accomplish its aims? No, it did not. Although ostensibly focused on the user, the IS model still emphasized the information system far too much, along with paying more attention to quantity vs. quality of the information retrieved (recall vs. precision) (141-42).

The issue is that

“the cognitive models of the user are not considered. Moreover, the cognitive models embodied in the information retrieved are also ignored; the relevance of information to a user’s need is defined solely in terms of shared ‘aboutness’, without respect to compatibility of underlying cognitive frameworks. Consequently, matching information retrieved to information needed is perceived mechanistically” (142).

This provides a an exceptional argument for domain analysis and a focus on epistemological relevance and viewpoint. Just because some source is ‘about’ a topic does not mean it will meet the needs of a user; any user much less a specific user.

The next paragraph warmed my heart to no end:

“Unfortunately, such a view of information retrieval, which is in the same vein as the positivistic or information-theoretic framework as criticized by Dervin, is, one may argue, built into our understanding of the word ‘information’. … This leaves us with the question why we have adopted such heavy use of the word ‘information’ throughout our discipline when the cognitive models associated with it are in at least some respects incompatible with what we are trying to accomplish” (142).


“Shortcomings discovered in the analysis … highlight the areas where our focus of research should be: the cognitive structures of texts; and how readers perceive them, re-mould them, and integrate them with the cognitive models they possessed at the outset of the interaction” (142, emphasis mine).

The question of integration is actually the foundation of all of these questions, as it is of the question of communication.

“A second recommendation stems from the observation that the word ‘information’ predisposes us to think of the retrieval process in a mechanistic sense, which goes counter to our modern understanding of how the process should be viewed. (Ironically, the word ‘retrieval’ also carries this bias.) … The recommendation offered here is a radical one: we need to change the basic inventory of words we use to communicate about our field. We should be more concerned with learning and knowledge than with retrieval and information” (142-43).

Change our language? Yes, yes, yes!

This article provides me the following:

  • A theory of communication is mandatory for LIS
  • A theory of comm is prior to a theory of information-seeking
  • An argument for domain analysis and epistemological considerations
  • A critique of ‘information’ as the basis for my discipline
  • A call to radically change our language within the field

Dick, A. (1995). Restoring Knowledge as a Theoretical Focus of Library and Information Science. South African Journal of Library & Information Science, 63(3), 99.

Spring 2008 courses, 1st impression

Officially, I am registered for one 8-hour “class” this semester, LIS593 CAS Project.

Individual study of a problem in library or information science; forms the culmination of the Certificate of Advanced Study program. Only 8 hours will apply to the CAS degree [catalog].

As to what I’m doing there pick pretty much any post from last year, but especially starting mid-May. Or, perhaps this is best?

More on this topic <patented hand-waving> in the future </ patented hand-waving>.

Besides working 60% which is beginning to seem like a lot again, I am sitting in on 2 seminars. There are several of us nuts in each of them and some folks actually taking the classes for grades.

Both are on Tuesday, which is my only non-work day, in the afternoon and at night. Both are on campus. I love my distance peeps but I am a bad LEEP student.

590SA Topics in Subject Access : Pauline Cochrane and Kathryn La Barre

An advanced topics seminar in subject access and subject analysis that covers a range of topics including aspects of the traditional bibliographic canon regarding OPACS, the challenge of universal subject access in a digital world, ongoing discussions about Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), new search and discovery tools (including experimentations with hybrid folksonomic and corporate taxonomic approaches (syllabus version). [catalog]

Pauline is emphasizing the duality between subject access and subject analysis, as she says there “is a split in focus in library science [specifically]; these two vantage points are our heritage.”

Early readings/assignments include reading 2 chapters from her festschrift (Wheeler). We’re reading Robert Fugmann, “Obstacles in Progress in Mechanized Subject Access and the Necessity of a Paradigm Change,” and our own Linda Smith’, “Subject Access in Interdisciplinary Research.” I’m not sure if I’ve read the Fugmann but the Smith is excellent. I’ve read it at least 3 times before.

There is another assignment that involves the Clinic book but I am not concerned with doing it.

Readings for next week are the 2 chapters of the festschrift I previously listed, and 2 from Visualizing …: Elizabeth D. Liddy’s “Natural Language Processing for Information Retrieval and Knowledge Discovery” and Joseph A Busch’s “Building and Accessing Vocabulary Resources for Networked Resource Discovery and Navigation.”

Wheeler, William J, ed. 2000. Saving the Time of the Library User Through Subject Access Innovation: Papers in Honor of Pauline Atherton Cochrane. Champaign, IL: Publications Office, Graduate School of Library and Information Science. [WorldCat]

Clinic on Library Applications of Data Processing, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 1998. Visualizing Subject Access for 21st Century Information Resources. Eds. Pauline A Cochrane and Eric H Johnson. Champaign, IL: Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. [WorldCat]

We also are reading an unpublished paper (1979) of Pauline’s on universal subject access and advising her on its suitability for publication today as a means to think about these issues and, I would add, historically and contemporarily.

590OD Ontology Development : Allen Renear

An introduction to formal ontology focusing on development and implementation issues and contemporary ontology software tools and languages. In spring of 2008 we will use as example ontologies one for museum and heritage information (CIDOC-CRM) and one for biological information (the Functional Model of Anatomy). Students may also do projects on other ontologies in other areas if they wish. The ontology editor Protege will be used throughout and the representation of ontologies in W3C semantic web languages RDF(S) and OWL will be emphasized. [catalog]

This is an odd class for Allen as it involves a hands-on component using Protégé to view, edit, build ontologies. Protégé is a free, open-source ontology editor.

Some of the topics we will be becoming “familiar” with are RDF and OWL, which I certainly need more knowledge of.

Related miscellanea

On a side note, I’m thinking of taking the TEI workshop again later in Feb. I did it 2 years ago on my birthday weekend. The then draft P5 version was formalized this past year so it can’t hurt to have a look again over a weekend.

While in one sense, these classes are completely extraneous to me, although in a larger sense they are important. Luckily I’ll have the flexibility to commit any level of effort, including none, to them. I foresee far more than none most of the time, though. Time will tell.

Technically, I still have an incomplete for my vocabularies independent study from last spring. Four hours. In truth, those 4 hours along with those from Bibliography will be extra hours when completed. This needs to be cleaned up as it has finally turned to an F. There is also the possibility of having it dropped, or more likely changed to Withdrawal.

I am hoping that one of these 2 classes will inspire me to spit out “a school assignment” somehow on the topic of vocabularies that I can turn in to be graded. I’d still really like to do what I had planned all along, but it will not happen, now.

Somehow it seems likely one or both will generate a topic. But will it be one that I can just generate something from? Something of quality, of course. But. Normal-sized.

Language games, or, Navigating the new

Except this is no game to me.

I seem to be really struggling with writing my bibliographical essay and bibliography (primarily as an ancillary issue). I have realized that this is vastly new writing territory for me. There are, in fact, several pieces of writing by me of which I am particularly proud. Many of these are publicly available; some were turned into blog posts either at my previous blog (now residing here) or at this one.

Many of those pieces were written while engaging primarily with one text (often only one), along with a few supporting texts and/or class discussion to that point. This would be true of things from my early philosophy days or through history, anthropology, and sociology on to my LIS stuff with something like, “Is Bibliography a Science?” (590EB, Summer 2005) which had a handful of citations and a few dictionary definitions to “A Tale of Two Properties; or, CIDOC CRM P88 and P89“(590OH, Spring 2007) which is one standard, a small number of significant supporting, or critiquing standards and documents and a parcel of Wikipedia citations. [I never believed I would ever turn in anything with Wikipedia citations but the prof is fine with them, and I am for the sorts of things I used them for.]

Then in Fall 2006 (590TR) I wrote my first significant lit review with 42 citations (hopefully) woven into a particular story about “Mapping Thesauri for Interdisciplinary Work.” I did get an A but for various, legitimate reasons I do not yet have the comments that the prof wants to make. So. I know I did well—which has a pleasant habit of recurring—but I don’t know why or what could be improved—which has a similarly recurrent, but nasty, role in my education.

My lit review involved a fair few sources, most of which were articles, but they simply had to be woven into a coherent narrative that told the story I intended. There were many more good ones to choose from so it was mostly tell the story and then pick the sources that make the specific points you need to support, ensuring they cohere “internally” when telling the story.

Now I find myself facing, primarily, the mutli-decade output of two prolific scholars who, each in their own way, question and probe the foundations of their disciplines. Certainly I am representing Integrationism a bit more broadly than just Harris, but he is well represented as he should be. As for Hjørland I am letting him speak primarily for himself. But that implies that the people he cites are in conversation with him [Winograd & Flores, Wittgenstein, Goody, ….]

I am trying to make, show, demonstrate, suggest, … and inspire connections between the ideas, sources, and (partial) published output of two prolific scholars. And although Harris has written a boatload of articles, I have been mostly reading his (almost equally prolific) book output.

So this is an entirely new kind of analysis, synthesis and writing (process especially) for me. [Here’s the unannotated bibliography for now.] And I’m struggling. Badly.

I will get there, but it’ll take time. I hope so anyway as the amount of interlocking citations is only going to double, and probably triple, at a minimum, when I switch to the overall CAS paper for Spring [defend early May].

At the moment I am only supposed to be focusing on the direct and passably direct connections between Harris and Hjørland. But I simply cannot stop my mind (nor do I want to) from making connections that are important for the larger paper but not at the moment. They need to be recorded, processed, and hopefully remembered or refound when needed. So much new and interesting stuff to read and so much need for re-reading and synthesizing/synopsizing.

I still need to do some annotations and they could all be done differently … and I need to write the bibliographical essay making the one explicit (one-way) link and the others that I choose to weave into my narrative tying these two together as a start.

I have an “idea index” on my internal wiki, although the most up-to-date version is in my draft bibliographical essay Word doc. It almost seems as if real 3×5 cards would be best for this to avoid any multiple versions problem but they are useless from a portability option when one is already carrying a laptop. I need to do something with it though as it has become broader than the current essay and is geared toward the overall CAS paper now.

So if anyone has any good tips/views/ways/rubrics for dealing with large bodies of works—bodies comprised largely of two prolific scholars and their associated colleagues and citees—that need to be interwoven please feel free to pass along what you may.

… we may also say that until we make clear and explicit to ourselves, by reflection on our activities and goals, what it is we know and how that knowledge is related to the rest of our knowledge, we do not fully understand or fully realize what we have been doing and pursuing.

… Analysis is not in practice separable from criticism, nor elucidation from reform and rebuilding. But a little clarification in one place is likely only to expose further obscurities and difficulties in neighboring places, and there is some truth in the claim that we cannot clarify anything unless we clarify everything. Since we cannot manage that, we must be content with relative clarity and a bit of precarious understanding (2)

Wilson, Patrick. 1968. Two Kinds of Power : an Essay on Bibliographical Control. Berkeley: University of California Press.

I really have the utmost respect for Birger Hjørland. I may not agree with everything he says but I do see him evolving in ways that I do more agree with. And I’m hoping to prod him into using more of Harris’ and other’s Integrational ideas. But my respect comes not for his agreeing with my views (Forfend!) but from his public attempt to formulate a coherent account, as comprehensive as possible, of his chosen discipline and its overlap with ancillary or adjoining fields. He seems to be after a “systematic philosophy” the likes of which is rarely attempted anymore, at least by philosophers, and even more rarely by others.

His belief in the centrality of epistemology for our field resonates with the entire course of my life.

Many of the ideas and sources which have led me to this place have pretty much been my life for the past year [look at my “Some things read this week” posts for 2007]. And will be for at least the next 5 months more. Due to the nature of the problems, they, if not the readings, will (and have) been with me for all of my life.

Language, communication, epistemology, meaning, definition, knowledge, …

ASIS&T 2007 Annual Meeting Sessions, part 2

Monday, 22 Oct

Oops, I forgot the Alumni Reception in the evening. They had awesome food this year. Kudos!

Tuesday, 23 Oct

Poster Session III

Those of most interest to me:

Searching for Books and Images in OPAC: Effects of LCSH, TOC and Subject Domains. Youngok Choi, Ingrid Hsieh-Yee and Bill Kules (Catholic U of America)

Tagging and Findability: Do Tags Help Users Find Things? Margaret Kipp (U of Western Ontario)

Browsing with a Metadata Infrastructure for Events, Periods and Time. Ray R. Larson and Michael Buckland (UC-Berkeley)

I had a very nice conversation with Ingrid Hsieh-Yee and was able to thank her for her LC report generated as an action item from the previous “future of bib control” conference. See here for my initial comments on this report and a link to it. [If there had been wifi at the conference I could have looked this up and discussed some of these questions with the author.]

Larson and Buckland have presented on their project a couple times and it is a wonderful example of what can be done if we were to have vocabularies and authorities widely available.

Took a trip to Downtown Books for a fairly priced, used copy of the 2 v. set of John Lyons’ Semantics. I also picked up a copy of Borgmann’s Crossing the Postmodern Divide for a really good price. I’m pretty surprised that carrying those books around in the same bag for several hours didn’t result in a rift in the fabric of space-time. Hat tip to Tom for alerting me to Lyons availability in Downtown Books.

Social Computing, Folksonomies and Image Tagging: Reports from the Research Front. Samantha Hastings (moderator), Hemalata Iyer (SUNY-Albany), Diane Neal (NCCU), Abebe Rorissa (SUNY-Albany), and JungWon Yoon (USF).


  • User supplied image category labels. Thinks prototype theory is applicable to tagging.
  • In social tagging group labels tend to be superordinate. Individual labels = more Related Terms/non-hierarchical associative terms.
  • Not much structure; is structure desirable?
  • Influence of the 1st tagger is great – thus initial tags by author or professional. [Excuse me? Why the desire for control?]
  • Further exploration of prototypes and basic level needed in tag research.

Neal – PhotojournalsmAndUADs geotagged:ASSSIST2007MilwaueWI topresent [title; misspellings on purpose]


  • There is no single model, nor any single method.
  • Change Ranganathan’s 2nd law to “Every user his or her overview of the document collection.”

Yoon – Semantics of User-Supplied Tags

Awards Lunch – sat with Christina

Tagging and Social Networks: The Impact of Communities on User-Centered Tagging. Heather D. Pfeiffer (NMSU), Edward M. Corrado (College of NJ), Margaret Kipp (Long Island U/UWO), Qiping Zhang (Long Island U), Heather Moulaisen (??) and Emma Tonkin (U of Bath).

Corrado – Social Tagging: Community Tagging or Personal Tagging in Communities? Tried to answer the question, “Are people really tagging socially?” by looking at the code4lib community.

Kipp – Patterns in Tagging: Collaborative Classification Practices in Social Bookmarking Tools. Looked at, Connotea and CiteULike.

Zhang – Social Tagging in China (co-researcher is Zhenzhong Sheng). Is looking at cross-cultural patterns in tagging in the long-run. This work reported on their attempt to answer what tagging is and how it is viewed in China.

Moulaisen – Social Tagging in France: The Evolution of a Phenomenon. Looked at the Tecktonic killer (dance) phenomenon among some French youth on YouTube and how tagging is used in that context.

Tonkin – Community in User-Centred Tagging.

  • Characteristics of tags depend on: interface, use case, user population, user intent/motivation for tagging.
  • Assertion: tags = ‘language-in-use.’ Informal, transient, intended for a limited audience, implicit
  • What’s in a tag? Marshall’s dimensions of annotation. [The Future of Annotation in a Digital (Paper) World, Catherine C. Marshall]
  • Participatory mechanisms in language development
  • Speech/discourse community
  • The ‘C’ words: Context, Community, Confusion … ?
  • Caution: seeing named social entities in a dataset may reflect preconceptions…

This was a very coherent panel. More folks who should be well funded if we want any answers.

Dinner with a large group of students from assorted places at the Water Street Brewery.

SIGCON. Quite a different attitude than last year regarding tagging. This year it was sanctioned and even the tools were provided and yet I saw very little of it happening. Last year a small handful of us illicitly made it happen. And call me bitter, if you will, but a little bit of props for SIGTAG would have been in line, not to mention intellectually honest.

I know I’m about the only one who doesn’t find LOLCats humorous. But that was not funny at all.

And what is it about IS/librarian-types that they have to pick on others in their humor? Is it because we feel so powerless ourselves? Sorry but I do not find it funny for librarians to diss paraprofessionals. In fact, it is unprofessional. Last year it was picking on the disabled.

Can I just say that I enjoyed myself far, far more last year. No disrespect meant to my friends that I sat with this year, but last year my posse was all new to me and we were actively involved.

Wednesday, 24 Oct

SIG HFIS (History and Foundations of IS) breakfast meeting. Breakfast and conversation with Marcia Bates, Michael Buckland, Toni Carbo, Trudi Hahn, Thomas Haigh, Barbara Kwasnik, Kathryn La Barre, Julian Warner, Cheryl Knott Malone, Howard White and Margie Avery. Business meeting after breakfast.

Plenary, Clifford Lynch. For a recap suggested by Dorothea see this one at RSS4Lib.

Lunch at The King and I with Christina Pikas, Jack Vinson and Jordan Frank.

Headed home after lunch. Without driving through Chicago during rush hour on a Friday night it was a 4.5 hour trip.

For me, ASIS&T is all about the people. Seeing and talking with the luminaries, seeing “old” friends and making new ones. And finding oneself surprised by what one finds interesting that could not have been predicted; such as, Megan Winget’s score annotations work. “That so rawked!” as my buddy jennimi might say.

You were missed deeply and by many, my dear friend. I hope you caught some of the healing love sent your way.

And, Ben, we talked about you too, boy. Missed, indeed, you were.

Some things read this week, 14 – 20 October 2007

Saturday, 13 Oct

Goody, Jack. The Interface Between the Written and the Oral. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

  • Preface
  • Ch. 1: The historical development of writing (Sat-Sun)

Highly recommended by Dr. Hjørland in several places.

Chen, Hsinchun. “Semantics Issues for Digital Libraries.” In Harum and Twidale, Eds. Successes & Failures of Digital Libraries. 35th Annual Clinic on Library Applications of Data Processing, 1988: 70-79. [Not yet in IDEALS, but will be.]

Sunday, 14 Oct

Zelle, John M. Python Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science. Wilsonville, Or: Franklin, Beedle, 2004. [LIS452 text]

  • Ch. 11: Data Collections

Downey, et. al. How to Think Like a Computer Scientist (2nd ed). at Open Book Project. [Text for LIS452]

  • Ch. 14: Classes and methods
  • Ch. 15: Sets of objects
  • Ch. 16: Inheritance
  • Ch. 8 List

Hjørland, Birger and Karsten Nissen Pedersen. “A substantive theory of classification for information retrieval.” Journal of Documentation 61(5), 2005: 582-597. doi: 10.1108/00220410510625804

Assorted draft standards and proposals for standards as part of my ASIS&T Standards Committee work.

Sunday – Monday, 14 – 15 Oct

Goody, Jack. See above.

  • Ch. 2: Literacy and achievement in the Ancient World (Sun-Mon)
  • Ch. 3: Africa, Greece and oral poetry
  • Ch. 4: Oral composition and oral transmission: the case of the Vedas
  • Ch. 5: The impact of Islamic writing on oral cultures
  • Ch. 6: Literacy and the non-literate: the impact of European schooling

Monday, 15 Oct

Downey, et. al. How to Think Like a Computer Scientist (2nd ed). at Open Book Project. [Text for LIS452]

  • Ch. 9: Tuples
  • Ch. 10: Dictionaries

Love, Nigel. “The Fixed-Code Theory.” In Harris, Roy, and George Wolf, eds. Integrational Linguistics: A First Reader. 1st ed, Kidlington, Oxford, UK: Pergamon, 1998.

Tuesday, 16 Oct

Goody, Jack. See above.

  • Ch. 7: Alternative paths to knowledge in oral and literate cultures
  • Ch. 8: Memory and learning in oral and literate cultures: the reproduction of the Bagre

Hjørland, Birger. “The Concept of ‘Subject’ in Information Science.” Journal of Documentation 48(2), June 1992: 172-200.

Wednesday, 17 Oct

Santana Martinez, Pedro. “Some comments on the relations between organised knowledge and language: Rhetorical devices and the role of semantics.” In Inchaurralde, Carlos (Ed.) Perspectives on Semantics and Specialised Languages. Universidad de Zaragoza, Departamento de Filología Inglesa y Alemana, 1994: 147-153.

Book as a whole cited in this book by Hjørland in “Domain analysis in information science: Eleven approaches — traditional as well as innovative.” Journal of Documentation 58(4), 2002: 443 re semantics and specialized languages.

Goody, Jack. See above.

  • Ch. 9: Writing and formal operations: a case study among the Vai (with Michael Cole and Syliva Scribner)
  • Ch. 10: The interface between the sociological and psychological analysis of literacy (Wed-Thu)

Dillon, A. (2007). “LIS as a research domain: problems and prospects.” Information Research, 12(4) [Available at]

Found via Caveat Lector.

Friday, 19 Oct

Goody, Jack. See above.

  • Ch. 11: Language and writing
  • Ch. 12: Recapitulations

As I said above, this book is highly recommended by Dr. Hjørland in several places. I concur. I must say that the last few chapters, especially those read this morning, have resonated greatly with me. Perhaps this is due to my reading them after making a comment at Pegasus Librarian‘s post, “Desperately Seeking Search Boxes,” earlier this morning.

There are clearly other reasons, too. Some personal. Some due to much overlap I see between Goody, Hjørland and Harris. I may well need to re-read this book with a definite view to issues such as the Googlelization of search, IM, Twitter, and so on.

Hjørland, Birger. “Nine Principles of Knowledge Organization.” Knowledge Organization and Quality Management (3rd ISKO Conference, 20-24 June 1994). Advances in Knowledge Organization v.4, 91-100.

This article also resonated deeply with me re my comments at Iris’ place and on the “one search box to rule them all” phenomenon. I’ll pull out a few quotes that directly and/or indirectly address this issue.

For practical purposes, knowledge can be organized in different ways, and with different levels of ambition: … (93).

Any given categorization should reflect the purpose of that categorization. It is very important to teach the student to find out the lie of the land and apply ad hoc classifications, pragmatic classifications or scientific classifications when each kind of classification is most appropriate. … It is very important that you teach how to exploit subject-information already at hand, … (94, emphasis in original).

Different approaches, “paradigms” have different implication for categorization. There is no “a priori” scientific method of classification/categorization (96, emphasis in original).

The concept of “polyrepresentation” is important (96, emphasis in original).

To a certain degree different arts and sciences could be understood as different ways of organizing the same phenomena (97, emphasis in original).

It seems as if the priorities become more and more short-sighted, that less efforts are made to develop long-sighted, well-organized and well-cared for bodies of knowledge and literature (98).

Instead, IS much have a much more limited and humble scope: help facilitate the fruitful principles of knowledge organization and avoid the unfruitful ones by analyzing the different criteria for knowledge organization developing in all kinds of human activities, as well as their implicit or explicit goals, functions and consequences (99).

All of these address fundamental issues with the “let’s just give ’em one search box ala Google” approach, especially in the context of higher education. If we are not going to require that students learn something about the ways in which knowledge is structured, and why, then why are we allowing them into colleges and universities? Why are we even continuing such an institution if this is not a, and perhaps the, fundamental goal of said institution?

And, yes, I would argue that this needs to happen at a much earlier stage of education. We are a long way from that desiderata, though, so it seems to me that this should be the main idea to be imparted by a college education.