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.

Some things read this week, 4 – 10 May 2008

Sunday – Saturday, 4 – 10 May 2008

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

  • Ch. III : Relevance (Sun)
  • Ch. IV : Bibliographical Instruments and Their Specifications (Mon)
  • Ch. V : Subjects and the Sense of Position (Wed)
  • Ch. VI : Indexing, Coupling, Hunting (Thu)
  • Ch. VII : Consultants and Aids (Fri)
  • Ch. VIII : Reliability (Fri)
  • Ch. IX : Adequacy and Bibliographical Policy (Fri-Sat)

What can possibly be said about this work in a few pathetic sentences?

This work needs to be in print. It needs to be available on the web. It needs an index; needs a bibliography; needs to be marked up in TEI; needs an outline of its arguments; needs to be read widely and discussed widely.

I would gladly give a year or two of my life to facilitate most of that, if someone would only pay me. The University of California Press is completely failing us by letting this languish and remain out of print.

I hope to say more about this wonderful essay if I can ever get my hands on a copy of my own. The kind of close reading and engagement that it really deserves cannot be accomplished (by me) with a library copy.

If you’ve never read this then do so. If you have, consider reading it again. My advisor said she had one of her classes read parts of it recently and it blew most of their little minds. Good!

Monday, 5 May 2008

Budd, John M., and Heather Hill. 2007. The Cognitive and Social Lives of Paradigms in Information Science. In Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science, Ed. Clement Arsenault and Kimiz Dalkir, 11, Mcgill University, Montreal, Quebec (Accessed May 4, 2008).

Is a call for the rejection of the Kuhnian paradigm in favor of Popper’s views.

Monday evening dinner: crab cakes, 2 pints of Guinness and 3 articles

Mai, Jens-Erik. 1998. Organization of Knowledge: An Interpretive Approach. In Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science, 231-241, Université d’Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario (Accessed May 4, 2008).

One of the best opening sentences ever in an LIS article:

The major challenge for information science at the dawn of the millennium is to establish an appropriate epistemological foundation for the field (231).

Of course, he was at the Royal School in Copenhagen at the time. A small influence perhaps?

The paper argues that information science in general and organization of knowledge in particular needs to establish a clear epistemological foundation, which takes into account that the field should be studied as a human science. It is argued that the definition of knowledge is needed, and suggests that Wittgenstein’s concepts of ‘form of life’ and ‘world pictures’ could be used as frameworks (abstract).

Warner, Julian. 2000. Meta- and Object-language in Information Retrieval Research. In Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science, Ed. Angela Kublik, 5, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta (Accessed May 4, 2008).

As usual, I’m not exactly sure what the author is on about—although he’s a wonderful guy when I see him at conferences—but this seems as if it might be quite useful when I turn to metalanguage/metalinguistic issues in the future.

Smiraglia, Richard. 2005. Instantiation: Toward a Theory. In Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science, Ed. Liwen Vaughan, 8, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario (Accessed May 4, 2008).

Hmmm. “Instantiation, essentially, is a generic term for the phenomenon of realization in time. Other terms are associated with the concept, but with more problematic overtones in their definitions” (1).

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Foskett, D. J. 1995. Libraries and information systems – a fruitful partnership. In Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science, 16, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta (Accessed May 4, 2008).

Being 13 years on this seems an odd piece on one level. On another it is the words of a pioneer and leader looking to the future with a long career behind him. In 16 pages it runs the gamut from libraries, information jungle, “three-minute attention span of attention,” creativity, serendipity, predictive power of science, reflection, interrelations between media, facet analysis, data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and much more.

This can be read so many ways. And it needs to be read generously. I have objections to much of the phrasings, even outright to some of his ideas. But I also love parts of it. I’m going to take it as a moment in time versus some tightly argued thesis as I agree with most of what I take, anyway, to be his major arguments.

Some things read this week, 18 – 24 November 2007

Sunday, 18 Nov

Norman, Richard. “Holy Communion.” Eurozine [First published in New Humanist 6/2007].

Discusses New Wave Atheism and how it is aggressively antagonistic to religion, which is the wrong way to proceed. I most certainly agree with this.

When recent books by Dawkins, Hitchens and others began coming out I was excited at first. It was good to see that intellectuals were once again engaging with the issues of the day. But as soon as the reviews started appearing I was more appalled than anything. The overly simplistic argumentation, the selective choice of examples, and the tack taken was wrong, for many reasons.

I am what many would call an atheist. I much prefer the term agnostic, though, as that is the best I can epistemologically claim. If you like, I have faith that there is no god (or gods), except those which we create in our own likeness. But I cannot know this.

Whatever our beliefs, be they atheism, humanism, Hinduism, Catholicism, some form of Protestantism, Islamism, etc., we are all in the same boat. Many of us have the same beliefs and goals about how others ought to be treated or how the world could be. We need to work together toward these. Clearly, there are differences between people and groups of people, but aggressive differentiation serves no useful purpose.

Hjørland, Birger and Jeppe Nicolaisen. “Bradford’s Law of Scattering: Ambiguities in the Concept of “Subject.” In F. Crestani and I. Ruthven (Eds.). CoLIS 2005: Context: Nature, Impact, and Role; Lecture Notes in Computer Science 3507: 96-105.

Hjørland, Birger. “Towards a Theory of Aboutness, Subject, Topicality, Theme, Domain, Field, Content . . . and Relevance.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 52.9 (2001): 774-778.

Sunday – Tuesday, 18 – 20 Nov

Hjørland, Birger. Information Seeking and Subject Representation: An Activity-theoretical Approach to Information Science. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1997.

  • Ch. 4: The Concept of Subject or Subject Matter and Basic Epistemological Positions

Monday, 19 Nov

Harris, Roy. The Language Connection: Philosophy and Linguistics. Bristol, U.K: Thoemmes Press, 1996. [Re-reading]

  • Ch. 8: Metalinguistic Improvements
  • Ch. 9: Metalinguistic Mistakes
  • Ch. 10: Metalinguistic Illusions

Monday – Tuesday, 19 – 20 Nov

Hjorland, Birger. “Information Retrieval, Text Composition, and Semantics.” Knowledge Organization 25.1/2 (1998): 16-31.

Argues for a broader—and different—view of semantics within LIS. Primarily contrasts Wittgenstein’s early “picture theory” with his later “theory of language games,” but has several useful touchpoints for shifting to a more integrationist theory.

Tuesday, 20 Nov

Harris, Roy. The Language Connection: Philosophy and Linguistics. Bristol, U.K: Thoemmes Press, 1996.

  • Postscript

Tallis, Raymond. Escape from Eden. New Humanist 118(4), Nov/Dec 2003. Found via The End of Cyberspace blog.

I know what I said—and I stand by it—about link posts but I’ve gotten more interesting links from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s link posts than everyone else combined.

By the way librarians, have you seen his post from 17 Nov, “Libraries as space 2.0…and early indicators of social IT trends?” He ends with the following:

But if I’m not mistaken, librarians started talking about information commons around 2001– well before Friendster, LinkedIn, and all the rest of Web 2.0 happened. I wonder what librarians are talking about these days?

Perhaps some of you can help him out with that question.

From the Tallis article which is a discussion of how it is that humans are more than just the animals that we are.

Criticising the language of the biologisers is not, however, enough. Defenders of human exceptionalism must, given our undoubted biological origins, find a ‘biological’ basis for our unique escape from biology and a ‘biological’ explanation of how we acquired the ability to run our lives — as opposed to being run by genes that happen to delude us into believing that we are running our lives. Given the relative triviality of the genotypical and phenotypical differences between ourselves and our closest primate cousins, this may seem a tall order.

Harris, Roy. Language, Saussure and Wittgenstein: How to Play Games with Words. London and New York: Routledge, 1988.

  • Ch. 1: Texts and Contexts (Tue)
  • Ch. 2: Names and Nomenclatures (Tue-Wed)
  • Ch. 3: Linguistic Units (Thu)
  • Ch. 4: Language and Thought (Fri AM)
  • Ch. 5: Systems and Users (Fri)
  • Ch. 6: Arbitrariness (Fri)
  • Ch. 7: Grammar (Sat)
  • Ch. 8: Variation and Change (Sat)
  • Ch. 9: Communication (Sat)
  • Ch. 10: Language and Science (Sat)

Despite the differences between Saussure’s and Wittgenstein’s later thoughts on language they are remarkably similar. In this book, Harris explicates the games analogy that both used.

Saturday, 24 Nov

Winograd, Terry and Fernando Flores. Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1987.

  • Ch. 1: Introduction.
  • Ch. 2: The rationalistic tradition.
  • Ch. 3: Understanding and Being.
  • Ch. 4: Cognition as a biological phenomenon.

Hjørland’s Semantics and Knowledge Organization, pt. 2

Hjørland, Birger. “Semantics and Knowledge Organization.” ARIST 41 (2007): 367-405.

Originally read 18 June 2007 because it was cited by Zhang, J. (2007). Ontology and the Semantic Web. Proceedings of the North American Symposium on Knowledge Organization. Vol. 1. Available:

Re-read 28-29 Sep 2007 for two reasons: (1) Seems vastly relevant to my CAS project and (2) it is one of two articles referenced for Dr. Hjørland’s Research Fellow lecture [9 Oct 4-5 PM, Rm 126 GSLIS].

I will not be explicating this article as such here. I am going to use this post to note some of the points of contact that I noticed between Hjørland’s thoughts and Integrationism, to record and ask questions that I had and need to find an answer for, etc.

Semantics and Its “Warrant”

Theories of semantics should be formulated in ways that provide methodological implications for determining meanings and relations in semantic tools such as thesauri and semantic networks. Often such theories are not clear; this renders the theories vague and unhelpful (377).

What does i.v. say on this?

Frohmann (1983) has discussed the semantic bases and theoretical principles of some classification system. His is one of the few papers in IS to recognize that problems in classification should be seen as problems related to semantic theories (378).

Read this 19 June 2007; re-read this for an i.v. angle?

Frohmann presents two semantic theories. … According to the second, the categories to which a concept belongs must be found in the specific literature or discourse of which the associated term is a part. Consequently, the semantic relations are not given a priori, but are formulated a posteriori. This distinction has implications for classification theory (378).

Oh boy, does it ever?

Thus, a basic problem in KO is whether semantic relations are a priori or a posteriori; … (378).

This question is also related to one about the possibility of universal solutions to KO because a posteriori relations are unlikely to be universal (379).

Is there a way to incorporate both? How would be go about truly trying to incorporate a posteriori relationships?

However, it is well known that, for example, synonyms are seldom synonyms in all contexts. It thus becomes important not to think of semantic relations as simply “given,” but to ask: When are two concepts A and B to be considered synonyms ( or homonyms or otherwise semantically related?) When is a semantic relation? We should again ask the pragmatist question: What difference does it make whether, in a given situation, we choose to consider A and B as semantically related in a specific way? (379, emphases mine).

This certainly made me think of Harris (1973). What is the i.v. on “When is a semantic relation?”?

Short discussion of Ogden and Richard’s (1923) triangle of meaning/semiotic triangle (379-380). Where did I see Harris’ take on this?

Hjørland then goes on to discuss “some theoretical possibilities about the nature of concepts and semantic relations: (379):

  • Query/situation specific or idiosyncratic
  • Universal, Platonic entities/relations
  • “Deep semantics” common to all languages (or inherent in cognitive structures)
  • Specific to specific empirical languages (e.g., Swedish)
  • Domain- or discourse-specific
  • Other (e.g., determined by a company or workgroup, “user-oriented”)

Concerning Query/Situation-Specific or Idiosyncratic Semantics

In a way, it is the specific “information need” that determines which relations are fruitful and which are not in a given search session. A semantic relation that increases recall and precision in a given search [is a mighty powerful relationship!] is relevant in that situation (380-381, plus my commentary).

The pragmatic fallback is well represented in this quote:

This pragmatist point of departure is important to keep in mind in developing a theory of concepts and semantics. Semantic relations relate to a given task or situation and not all users of a given set of semantic relations will share the same view of which terms are equivalent. On the other hand, it is clear that if we base a semantic theory on an individual/idiosyncratic view of concepts and semantics, it is not possible to design systems for more than one user or situation—an absurd conclusion. We need more stable principles on which to determine semantic relations. We need a semantic theory about the meaning of words as forms of typified practices. Knowledge about semantics in typified practices may then be used by information searchers in order to include or exclude certain documents (381).

Concerning Universal, Platonic Entities/Relations

Not much to say here. Is a very short section. I will be looking at the following articles, both of which are in AKO 8:

Green, Rebecca. “Conceptual Universals in Knowledge Organization and Representation” (15-27) and Green, Rebecca, Carol A. Bean and Michèle Hudon, “Universality and Basic Level Concepts” (311-317).

I’ll also be looking at both Green, et. al. books on relationships for a refresh. You all didn’t think I had forgotten about Dr. Green, did you?

Concerning “Deep Semantics” Common to All Languages or Inherent in Cognitive Structures (A Priori Relations)

Semantic primitives in concept theory and in IS. Innate ideas (rationalistic) in semantics, facet-analytic tradition (Ranganathan) and formal concept analysis (Priss).

Although this rationalist theory dominates the literature (and is associated with the cognitive view), I do not find it fruitful for KO (384).

More talk about science, what is his view on KO in non-science areas?

Concerning Semantics Specific to Given Empirical Languages

Natural languages are structures in which the words classify the world differently (384).

Hjelmslev’s “tree” chart.

Concerning Domain- or Discourse-Specific Semantics

Although objects have objective properties, representation of those properties in languages and concepts is always more or less “subjective” or “biased” by individuals, social groups, or different cultures (385).

Objects may well have subjective properties also.

The implication is that semantic relations reflect human interests. … This does not imply that all semantic relations are domain-specific (385).

Certainly does not.

Goes on to show that we need to evaluate the literatures of specific domains or discourses to identify and analyze the different methodologies and assumptions made as an aid to determining meaning.

In this way, meanings are linked to different views, interests, and goals; accordingly, terms can be generally considered polysemous. [en 7] Attempts to standardize terminology may unwittingly suppress certain views (387).

Or wittingly suppress. See early Harris on standardization. Is also a comment on definitions and definitional change. Endnote 7 is a comment on the German tradition of Begriffsgeschichte, discussed in the section on semantic relations (en7, 396). [Need to look at this.]

Aspergum vs. Ecotrin vs. aspirin = i.v., circumstantial.

The implication of different paradigms for KO and semantics is that any bibliography of a certain size must confront conflicting ways of defining concepts and determining semantic relations (388).

There is a trade-off between being an optimal tool for the information seeker and a practical tool for the library manager. For the theory of IS, it is nonetheless important to describe the principles of designing optimal search tools (388-389). [the pragmatic fallback]

The point is that the kind of information presented here is necessary for any informed decision about classification practice. Exactly the same kind of information would be helpful for the information seeker … (389). [the macrosocial feeding the circumstantial]

Perhaps the most important task of the information professional is to make the different interests and paradigms visible so that the user can make an informed choice (390). [How does this fit within an i.v.?]

Other Kinds of Warrant

Discusses Beghtol’s (1986) article on warrant. But what about “user warrant” (390)? [Have another read of Beghtol]

Mentions oral and written sources.

Semantic Relations

Relations between concepts. senses, or meanings should not be confused with relations between the terms, words, expressions, or signs that are used to express the concepts. It is, however, common to mix both of these kinds of relations under the heading “semantic relations” (see references omitted). For this reason, synonyms, homonyms, and so forth, are considered under the label “semantic relations” in this chapter (391).

Amen! But much harder in practice to keep these straight or even to see the difference. [See preceding paragraphs to the above quote for some explication.]

On the call for richer sets of relationships in our tools and a a critique of the recall/precision view of IR:

What information searchers need are maps that inform them about the world (and the literature about that world) in which they live and act (393).

Begriffsgeschichte (is this idea of use to me?) = conceptual history.

Historians and other humanistic researchers have realized that in order to use sources from a given period, one must know what the terms meant at the time. Therefore, they have developed impressive historical dictionaries that provide detailed information about conceptual developments within different domains, … (393).

Implication of broadening the view within IS to use important work on semantic relations is that “different domains need different kinds of semantic tools displaying different kinds of semantic relations” (393). Well, this actually follows from much of the previous discussion, but this view implies that we need to look more broadly.

The “Intellectual” Versus the Social Organization of Knowledge

On citations are semantic relations:

I hold that the citing relation is in itself a kind of semantic relation. In support of this claim, I distinguish between “ontological” and social semantic relations and argue that citing relations belong to the latter (394).

Discusses further the difference between and uses of these.


The pragmatist view of semantics suggests that words and expressions are tools for interaction and their meanings are their functions within the interaction, constituting their capacities to serve it in their distinctive ways. [Integrationist] When information professionals classify documents or informational objects, the relevant meanings and properties are available only on the basis of some descriptions. This important consideration, … , stands in opposition to the prevailing implicit assumption that all relevant properties are obvious to the information specialists and that the latter follow certain given principles providing an optimal classification that is objective, neutral, and universal—hence, technically efficient (395, emphases mine).

I am not going to argue that no one thinks that way—some do—but I sure would like to put them to work on some real world projects so they can quickly learn the folly of their blindered thinking.

Traditional approaches to KO have a tighter affiliation with positivism than with the pragmatist view of semantics. … The implication is that traditional views have provided solutions that are, at best, statistical averages and thus sub-optimal (396).

No disagreement from me on this one. In fact, one could say that first sentence is what is driving me to this topic in the first place, urgently prodded along by the works of Roy Harris. And while I agree with the second sentence, what corners will need to be cut due to the pragmatic fallback? Hjørland has pointed to this himself several times in this paper; see above in a couple of places.

This is a very good paper, despite all my questioning of it. I will be spending more time with it I can assure you as it will most likely serve as a cornerstone of my CAS project. I agree with the vast majority of it, and several months back, before I had read so much Harris and related integrationist critiques, I accepted even more of it.

Citations from within this Hjørland paper:

Beghtol, C. (1986). Semantic validity: Concepts of warrant in bibliographic classification systems. Library Resources & Technical Services, 30 109-125.

Frohmann, B. P. (1983). An investigation of the semantic bases of some theoretical principles of classification proposed by Austin and the CRG. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 4: 11-27.

External citations:

Harris, Roy. Synonymy and Linguistic Analysis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973.

López-Huertas, Mariá, and International Society for Knowledge Organization. Challenges in knowledge representation and organization for the 21st century : integration of knowledge across boundaries : proceedings of the seventh international ISKO conference, 10-13 July 2002,. Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag, 2002 [Advances in Knowledge Organization v. 8].

Is it now the right thing at the wrong time, or…

… the wrong thing at the right time, or, perhaps, can it just be there are too many right things to do at overlapping right times?

I know I haven’t fully explicated my bibliography topic yet but a potential change has arisen already. This change is both negative and beneficial; as most changes are. [And as many who ardently advocate for change seem too often to ignore.]

I have chosen a “topic” of immense interest to me which will also allow me to pursue it (reading sequence, primarily) in a fundamentally different way. The topic is (much of) the work of one specific author who writes in areas of immense interest and importance to me. They often write about the larger issues, or at least situate their thoughts in context with the larger issues, argue for making our epistemologies (and assumptions) explicit, and argue for an explicit epistemological basis which I am clearly drawn to.

This person is also going to be visiting GSLIS in the near future and will also be at ASIS&T Annual. This will provide me several opportunities to talk with them. And while at ASIS&T I will also be able to speak with some of the other folks with whom my author has been engaged with in their own slice of “the grand discussion.”

I have spent quite a few hours and a score or two of $$ collecting, adding to Zotero, and printing the fairly sizeable output of my author, along with beginning my reading program “from the beginning,” as one might say.

Sounds just about perfect, doesn’t it? What could possibly be wrong?

Well, I am a CAS student, which means I have to do an 8 semester hour “project” as a capstone to my degree. I had always been hoping to do something a tad (or lot) more projecty than a large paper. The large paper was always, of course, a fall back since one of those is always imminently doable.

The final eight hours are the CAS project, a substantive investigation of a problem in librarianship or information science, which is followed by a final oral examination [from the CAS program description].

When I first signed up for Bibliography this fall several months back I was hoping to know what my project was going to be so I could work on my lit review, in particular. I began the semester without a project topic (as I was fully afraid that I might).

As many of you know—from my reading lists and otherwise—I maintain several deep interests at the same time. I imagine many of you do, too. That is one of the stereotypical traits of librarians that gets far less airplay than, say, love of cats.

Back in May or so, David Bade turned me on to the Oxford linguist/philosopher Roy Harris. [Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, David!] I have since read 6 of his books and am currently reading a 7th. I also have 4 more sitting at home. I have recently ordered 3 others from Amazon (2 have arrived).

Harris is a leading figure in integrational linguistics or, simply, Integrationism.

While I have some recorded stabs at thesis or problem statements [that I’m not ready to share], it ought [it seems to me] to be abundantly clear to everyone that everything we do in libraries, librarianship, and/or information science is based upon the use of language. I have so far found no way in which to take this as completely uncontroversial.

In some ways, though, it may not be entirely self-evident. On this point, I am a bit divided. I cannot personally see how it could not be self-evident, but I am unsure whether that is the case for everyone [in LIS].

Subject description and assignment, indexing, thesauri and ontologies (controlled vocabularies of all types), information retrieval (of any kind), librarian as intermediary/gatekeeper, relevance, user query statements, query expansion, …. Really, is there anything we do which is not based upon the use of language?

Honestly, that question is a little naïve. The same could be asked about lots of arenas of life. But considering how vastly broad the domain of LIS is—both theory and practice—I can think of nothing so completely dependent on language.

So the question now becomes, “What is the LIS view(s) of language?” Once we admit to the radical dependency upon language for a field involved in the use of recorded data/information/knowledge this seems a fairly basic question. Have any of you ever asked it?

On the [what I consider to an extremely off-] chance that you’ve ever asked it of yourself, did you ever try to get outside the “metalinguistic framework” of the educated Westerner (or of orthodox linguistics, which is founded on the same)? Did you even try to try to answer it based simply on your supposedly naïve sense of being a lay user of language? Probably not, to either of those questions.

The integrational critique has serious implications for our discipline. Deeply fundamental implications. If I thought I was the person to even begin to address them I would petition to change to the Ph.D. program immediately. Unfortunately [in this case], I am not even remotely as bright as some of my friends seem to think. If I was then perhaps I could actually produce a dissertation that was one of the rare few that actually adds to scholarship. I would so love to be able to do so. But, it is not to be. I am simply not this bright.

I can easily see how wedded our field is to orthodox linguistics, I can easily find examples across every aspect of our field to show this is the case, I can (soon) produce a good overview of the integrational critique of orthodox linguistics, I can see many of the implications this critique holds for our field.

Unfortunately, I cannot see them to the depth to which they truly go. Nor can I yet even begin to see what choice we have but to act as if orthodox linguistics is “correct” in our actual practice. And while I do think this admission is a start, as it implies that we’ve acknowledged the issue of reliance on a completely bankrupt theory of language, I do not particularly want to argue for a [further?] separation of our theory from practice.

I want to be able to “see” what a full embrace of integrationism might mean for the theory and practice of LIS! And without other people paving much of the way I am simply not that person. I certainly do not know all of my limits but this is one of them.

Based on my applying for jobs before I was particularly ready to [I’d prefer to be done with this degree] the question of how exactly I would finish my CAS [time frame, mostly] arose. I have a total of 5 years [started May 2006] so the 8 hr. project could be done over an extended period. Over the last few months as this issue arose in my mind—and I read more and more Harris books—I came to think that maybe it could be addressed if I took the longer route inherent in starting a job before completion. I thought that I couldn’t possibly do it in a semester. But after my talk with my advisor the other day I have decided that, yes, I can.

So. Perhaps I have my CAS project topic.

Without going into any more detail [I hadn’t intended to. Yet.] it seems to me that I ought to switch my bibliography topic to Integrationism and Harris in particular.

What to do? What to do?

I imagine that I will still be really interested in my first topic for quite a while. I even think that if there is a way to “harmonize” integrationism and LIS then this author’s views are the (currently) only beginnings.

If I change my topic then I will certainly still be able to engage with my author while visiting us (as I had fully intended before I chose the topic anyway!) and at ASIS&T. My questions will just take a broader focus than before. While the $ spent on printing would become a currently “unnecessary” expense I really have no problems with it. It is all in binders in (primarily) chronological order and will be easily accessible in the future. At hand, so to speak.

Long and perhaps rambling. But maybe now you see the context for the opening questions. It seems to be another case of too many right things to do at overlapping right times. 🙁

How is one to do the right thing at the right time when they conflict with what is actually doable?

Sure. I could put off the reading of more Harris until after the semester. Except for it isn’t happening that way. Or I could just keep on with my pleasure reading of Harris and put the more serious considerations off for spring. But unlike my current author, Harris has written both a ton of articles and a ton of books. I really need to be paying better (i.e. explicit, notated) attention to where I see connections between Harris and LIS.

What am I to do? It’s not too late but a decision needs to be made.