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Ontology is Miscellaneous; SJSU LIS Student in NY Times

I got up far too early, pulled the Times from the sidewalk,  and opened the Styles section to its “Weddings/Celebrations” section to count the gay marriages. Imagine my delight to see an announcement of the civil union for Larissa Cheney Brookes, SJSU LIS student, and her EPA-lawyer partner, Elizabeth La Blanc. You go gals!

Then I whaled away at my talk for Tuesday at Defrag. I used CommentPress to rough out a slidespace for this presentation; I have it in PowerPoint as well, but am hoping I can just run this live from the site. There’s not much online at this point, but the stuff between my ears feels much clearer.

After circling and circling the issue, I think I’ve hit my key points, which are that taxonomies and folksonomies are not in opposition but can peacefully coexist along the ontological spectrum, and that (as Don Yarman also suggested in a comment yesterday) uber-folksonomies are an important and overlooked third path. Among uber-folksonomies I include Librarything for Libraries, the evolving taxonomy in Wikipedia (which any novice soon learns is expert-controlled), and Librarians’ Internet Index.

I’m toying with whether the Onix-based organization of the Perry Branch of Maricopa County Library and the Onix facets in Phoenix Public Library’s OPAC can be included as uber-folksonomies, or if I just want to talk about this to show non-librarians these two interesting examples of librarians playing in the taxonomic space.

I know it enrages some librarians every time I say this, but based on how much David Weinberger discusses Dewey in Everything is Miscellaneous, I feel it necessary to debunk the idea that Dewey is primarily used as a “classification” system. It’s primitive at best in that mode: we only assign one number per item; that number is used primarily for inventory (shelf location) purposes; the fact that Dewey uses numbers to begin with — which requires learning the number-concept assignment and then mentally translating one to the other — makes it very weak as a classification system. Plus books are assigned both Dewey and LCSH.

In many ways, Dewey has all the disadvantages of alphabetical organization (arbitrary, single-point-of-filing) without the simple advantage that — arbitrary as it is — most native speakers learn alphabetical order early in life and can grasp alphabetical ranges in a way they cannot grasp Dewey without more education in what is ultimately a special-use language.

LCSH, MeSH, and Onix are much more interesting spaces to discuss in terms of the strengths and limitations of taxonomies, in part because they are actually used as functioning taxonomies, online as well as off.

Two hours til the cab comes. Shower! Dress! Hit the packing list one more time! On to Denver!

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