Knowledge Organisation


Library Catalogues, Bibliography, and Search Engines, International Conference on Knowledge Organization in Academic Libraries (I-KOAL 2018), 26-27 November Delhi: Manakin Press, 2018, pp. 1-19.


The past century has seen a revolution in the treatment of catalogues and bibliography inspired largely by a shift to electronic methods. This paper traces some of these developments and outlines a vision of a more systematic approach. Library catalogues were traditionally limited to individual libraries (exceptions being Spain and the US National Union Catalogue). Library catalogues were limited to printed books. Manuscripts and articles (secondary literature) were in separate catalogues. Today there are national catalogues, which combine manuscripts, books and articles (e.g. Spain) and, increasingly, international catalogues (e.g. Europeana, Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog, OCLC WorldCat).

While electronic catalogues have seen an enormous rise in the scope of records (e.g. 2.6 billion records from 72,000 libraries in WorldCat), the object-oriented approach of computer systems is focussed on finding individual books and records. Hence, while it is easy to find the 1540 edition of Alberti’s De pictura, it is impossible to find systematic lists of manuscripts, books by and articles on this work or on Alberti’s works generally. This problem is compounded by different traditions of listing items in different media: e.g. books tend to be listed under author and/or year of publication; manuscripts tend to be listed under place of conservation. Of course, a quest to produce Opera Omniaof authors has existed since the Renaissance, but the ability to integrate this into bibliographical tools and to include chronology has been lacking. Electronic records mean that the same material can be presented in multiple forms. There can be alphabetical lists of all works by an author (who); all works on a topic (what); chronological lists (when); geographical lists (where), all editions of a work in different languages; lists by size (20,40, 80etc.) or language (how) and even in terms of theory, principles, elements (why). Ability to view the same materials in these different forms will offer scholars and users generally many more insights.

Traditionally libraries and collections in memory institutions were concerned with preserving source materials and making them accessible for study. In the past half century, there has been an important trend to scan and digitize collections. Now new challenges loom. If we extend the vision of an Internet of Things (IOT) from machines and appliances to include bibliographical materials, then accessing a given title can be linked to abstracts, tables of contents, indexes and reviews about that title. Accessing a disputed painting such as the Urbino panel of an ideal city will entail not only images of the work, but the entire list of articles and literature about the painting and also all the painters who have been proposed as “author” of the painting. 

If we return to the early 20thcentury vision of atomizing literature into micro-thoughts and extend it to micro-claims, it is possible to take this approach much further. We can catalogue not only words, but also letters, glyphs, signs. Every title, manuscript article, or book could be atomized into claims, which could then be viewed in terms of who, what, where, when, how and why. These claims could be tagged in terms of sources (e.g. based on direct vision, authority, indirect source). Hereby, a binary true-false approach to knowledge would become a spectrum of claims, which varied depending on sources and shifted chronologically and geographically. The way to fight false news and false knowledge is not censorship, but rather in providing full access to sources. This heralds a new dimension of relevance for libraries.

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