Thoughts

30.10.2006

Thought of the Day:  The Vision of Multi-level Omni-Links 30 10 2006

Words, Authority Files and Relations: The Vision of Multi-level Omni-Links

Strategies for access to knowledge and information have followed three main lines which come from a) the library world; b) computer science and c) a small group within computer science interested in the library world. This paper explores the emergence of a fourth approach.  

  1. Library World

The library world and memory institutions generally have been concerned with access to knowledge and information for over three millennia. The results of their efforts have the collective name of reference rooms and are in the form of

a) authority files (standardized names and variants) in classification systems and thesauri (whereby the relations of terms and words are explored)
b) dictionaries and terminology (whereby words are described and defined)
c) encyclopaedias, (which give more detailed introductions to terms and words)
d) catalogues which provide titles linked to these terms and words
e) partial contents in the form of indexes, abstracts, reviews.

These tools together have traditionally formed what the Germans aptly call the hand apparatus (Das Hand Apparat) for all serious research.

One great limitation of these immensely valuable tools has been that they require very detailed and patient training to be used seriously. Great collections such as the British Library have over 300,000 books in the reference room as an introduction or front-end to the actual library with more than 15 million books. As a result users, who have not mastered the subtleties of authority files, rules for standard spellings etc, are typically treated as persons of no authority when compared to librarians and especially research librarians who are effectively the high priests and priestesses of memory institutions. This is reasonable until we recall that one major purpose of libraries, some would say the sole purpose, is to provide the general and specific public with access to the cumulative memory of civilization and culture.   

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