School of Information Management & Systems. M. Buckland. Spring 2000.
245 Organization of Information in Collections.


Intentions due April 5, Brief progress report due April 19, Final report due May 1.

Several small assignments were designed to build understanding and expertise. This assignment, to be worked on in the in the last third of the semester, is a critique of access for a topic of your choice. Access systems, whether using "natural language" (keywords, subject headings) or artificial notation (classification schemes), is a language activity. Language reflects the knowledge, values, and perspectives of those using the language. Access systems, then, reflect the knowledge and culture of its context, the perspectives of those who create it, and, in principle, their assumptions about the group(s) to be served. Knowledge, values, and perspectives vary as cultures vary -- between cultures and over time. Topical (Subject) access systems for general, nation-wide use such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings, the Library of Congress Classification, and the Dewey Decimal Classification tend to reflect generally prevailing culture and language of their origins and to lag behind changes in knowledge, values, and perspectives. Examine these issues.

There can be any combination of three emphases:

An historical approach: Select some changing topic. Technological change tends to work less well than a social issue on which attitudes have changed. Examine, describe, and critique the treatment of this topic currently and over time in any appropriate categorization system, e.g. classification scheme (e.g. LCC, and Dewey) or verbal access (e.g. LCSH).

A comparative approach. Seek out other indexes, thesauri, etc., that illustrate the treatment of the selected topic. See how they differ form each other and from what you would recommend.

A prescriptive approach. Design something better! Select a specialized topic that you are knowledgeable about. Select or imagine a specialized collection, large website, or a small library to support research and education on that topic. Assume it has been developed in an orthodox manner: LCSH and LCC [substitute DC if you prefer] are used unchanged. There is a vertical file of pamphlets and clippings.

Deliverables: Make recommendations of the following kinds for your chosen topical area. Specify your assumptions concenring the context, groups(s), and purpose(s) for which you are designing the recommendations:

(i) Assuming you cannot change the system, give examples of additional cross-references that would improve accessability by redirecting searchers from their terms to the systems terms (e.g. Vietnam War SEE Vietnamese Conflict).

(ii) Assuming you could modify the system, recommend selective changes: new terms, modified terms, references.

(iii) Replacement: Outline, with examples, a replacement thesaurus, subject heading list, and / or classification scheme.

(iv) Assume telnet MELVYL is used for access. Make recommendations for enhanced search capabilities.

(v) Prepare an leaflet for users explaining how to find materials (topical access only) in this collection as revised. Make social or other commentary as you wish.
(Revised Mar 22, 2000).