The Organization of Knowledge: Then and Now

There are two traditional classification schemes for the organization of information. These we know fairly well. They are the Dewey Decimal System and Library of Congress Classification System (LCCS). They are still used where the physical organization of library materials are concerned. But these systems and the logic they are based on have become problematized in our Internet age.

It is the growth of the Internet, and the ever-increasing diversity of electronic resources that have spurred the need for change in organizing knowledge resources. Traditional catalogs, like the LCCS, relied on Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) that were confined to subject disciplines. LCSH were relatively static, and they greatly restricted the number of access points that subject searches would yield. Thus, LCSH does not facilitate greater resource or knowledge discovery, which our twenty-first century explosion of information demands.

The work of Information Science professionals has turned to seeing a need to base the creation of bibliographic records on an entity relationship model. By grouping all like-resources together in terms of a derivative concept or title, the process of resource discovery can be greatly enhanced.

New organizational methods and standards put in place by the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) and Resource Description and Access (RDA) are meant to streamline the process of resource discovery and make the bibliographic universe more easily navigable. The new languages designed by these frameworks embody a larger network of resources, not just traditional analog materials like books. By cataloging the “work, expression, manifestation, or item,” bibliographic subjects take on a whole new meaning and gain interrelationships with other format-specific materials.


FRBR and RDA is quite ingenious. For example, databases that have these four types of entities cataloged can yield search results that cross institutional boundaries. Indeed, if a user is looking for something related to, let us say, “Moby Dick,” they will encounter an entire family of works containing that title or subject when further narrowing results. This could lead the user to not only the original print work from Herman Melville, but to other related items in the library like audiobooks, motion pictures, etc. Or perhaps other resources will be found in digital libraries, consortia, museums, or archives, such as first editions, manuscripts, artworks, plays, and other ephemera relating to Moby Dick, the historical enterprise of “whaling,” illegal whaling activity in contemporary society, or the biology of these ocean majesties.

Electronic retrieval systems have made it possible to retrieve bibliographic records from anywhere around the globe. As today’s information resources are shared, and indeed, born on the World Wide Web, the work of today’s catalogers and subject analysts is of a global scale. This is why it is so important to create and maintain systems like Resource Description Framework (RDF) and XML applications that can aggregate and logically order web resources. This is also why linked data and metadata are so important. These technologies illustrate how far the library profession has come in cataloging and making available bibliographic resources.


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