School of Information Management & Systems. Spring 2003.
245 Organization of Information in Collections. M. Buckland.

Intentions due ASAP, Brief progress report due April 16, Final report due May 5.

Several small assignments were designed to build understanding and expertise. Now, try to assess and improve organization and access for a topic of your choice. (Past topics.)
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 purposes and contexts vary, and also as cultures vary (between cultures and over time). The assignment on Social Aspects of Naming showed that a large-scale system for widespread use, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings, tends to reflect the generally prevailing culture and language of their origins and to lag behind changes in knowledge, values, and perspectives. In considering thesauri you will have found that a lot of decisions have to be made concerning what topics to privilege with an entry and what term(s) to use. Examine these issues in a topic of interest to you.

There can be any combination of three emphases:

An historical approach: Select some changing topic. Technological change works less well than changes in social attitudes. Examine, describe, and critique the treatment of this topic currently and over time in any appropriate categorization system.

A comparative approach. Seek out indexes, thesauri, website directories, systematically organized reference works, industrial classifications, bibliographic and library subject headings and classifications, etc., that illustrate the treatment of the selected topic. See how they differ from each other and from what you would recommend.

A prescriptive approach. Design something better! Select a specialized topic about which you are knowledgeable. Select or imagine a specialized collection, large website, a directory, or a small library using an existing scheme. How would you adapt it? (You can expect to have to do this as a professional.

Deliverables: Make recommendations. Specify your assumptions concerning the context, groups(s), purpose(s), and technological support (web-based search engine, menus, whatever) 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) Make some explicit assumptions about the technological support: Web-based search engine, menus, whatever.
(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.