Organizing Information: From the Shelf to the Web

Nicola Smith (Principal Lecturer, School of Computing, Mathematical and Information Sciences, University of Brighton, UK)

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




Smith, N. (2008), "Organizing Information: From the Shelf to the Web", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 187-188.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This is a textbook aimed at students and teachers of what used to be called “cat and class” but now is a broader subject involving discussion of taxonomies, ontologies and metadata as well as the Dewey Decimal Classification and Anglo American Cataloging Rules (AACR2, 2nd ed.); as the preface to this book suggests it is an area which occupies a less prominent place in library school curricula than it once did, which is to be regretted when the organisation of the proliferating forms of digital information presents a serious challenge to information professionals.

The work begins with an overview of the subject area and then there are chapters addressing individual topics in more detail. Each chapter ends with some review questions, which allow the reader to reflect on the topics covered and to check their understanding. These questions should be particularly helpful for students, there are also comprehensive lists of sources for further reading.

Chapter 3 covers cataloguing and chapter 4 covers bibliographic formats, and discusses in some detail the changes likely to be brought about by the move from AACR2 to resource description and access (RDA). One of the main reasons for this move is the difficulty in using AACR2 to describe digital documents and how cataloguing standards fit with emerging metadata standards such as Dublin Core. The authors devote a chapter to metadata and the use of mark‐up languages but these (chapters 8 and 9 respectively) are separated from the chapters on cataloguing and bibliographic formats, however since the two topics are very intertwined (and will become more so when RDA is implemented) it might have been better to have them next to each other. However, the work does discuss the challenges facing information professionals in adapting traditional bibliographic skills to electronic information. The final chapters discussing information architecture (IA), the semantic web and issues and trends in information organisation bring together the discussion and focus on burgeoning areas of research and practice. The practice of IA is a natural field for the information professional to become involved in, such as the organic and random nature of growth in organisational websites and the Chowdhurys offer a simple literature‐based introduction to its principles.

The work points up the tension that exists between developing standards aimed to aid the organisation of web‐based information resources and the parallel development of user derived tagging on social networking and user created metadata and taxonomies. The debate echoes earlier debates on the efficacy of natural as opposed to controlled language indexing. The unanswered question is whether we can develop sophisticated enough search engines to retrieve documents based on their semantic content, and user generated tags and metadata, or whether it will be possible in the future to apply controlled languages automatically to documents. Students will find that this work, whilst not providing answers to such difficult questions, does provide a way into the subjects and the relevant literature. It is a work aimed clearly at the student market and as such the cover price of £34.95 may prove a deterrent. It will also be in direct competition with the fourth edition of Organizing Knowledge: An Introduction to Managing Access to Information edited by Richard Hartley and Jennifer Rowley which is due to be published at the end of the year, the current edition of Organizing Knowledge published in 2000 has become rather dated but had hitherto been a standard work, the target market is unlikely to buy both works.

Overall this is a very efficient introduction to the subject area, but it is only an introduction; readers are alerted to the key issues but would need to apply themselves to the additional readings to gain a deeper understanding. I had the feeling that the authors might have gone into more detail or discussed some of the problem areas in more detail, but were constrained by their format from exploring the more contentious issues in greater depth.

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