Organizing Information
November 20, 2020 7:51 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn how to organize information better. What book(s) do you recommend?

Was chatting with a friend who studied for an MLS and I hear it's all about organizing information. I want to organize information!

I have all sorts of interesting anecdotes that I'd like to collect with citations and tags and such. But please don't feel like you have to limit your answer to that particular usage.

Apparently that's like an entire semester's worth of learning. I've got the time. What book or books do you recommend?!
posted by aniola to Education (7 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
hi aniola, this is such an interesting question. as a librarian whose work focus is in systems and metadata, i feel like i should have great recommendations for you! unfortunately i don't think i have any great sources, but i'll make a few comments and i'm interested to see what others add.

if you're interested in the topic generally, i'll suggest the following subject areas to explore: taxonomy, metadata, information architecture, content management, and digital asset management (DAM). if you have access to an academic library, you might find more quality content (i'm thinking articles and ebooks). more practically, you might just ask your friend what they're reading in their MLIS, and borrow a text when they're done with their term.

you also mention having a collection of anecdotes and citations you'd like to organize. depending on what format these are, you might look into citation mgmt tools like zotero, or you might want something more graphical (evernote? i'm sure there are newer alternatives). however you organize your content, that you're being thoughtful about organizing structures will i'm sure lead you to try interesting things.
posted by tamarack at 9:05 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]

Honestly, I would probably use Zotero (that is the citation manager that I'm most familiar with). It would give you a place to upload (or type) your anecdotes and then places to put the date, the author, the subject, etc, etc and make them all searchable.

The absolute tome that we used in library class is The Organization of Information by Arlene Taylor.

If you really want esoteric you could try The Order of Things by Foucault & Cultural Frames of Knowledge by Lee and Smiraglia

Wait, I think I have my links from this class in Zotero. Here I share my readings from my Org of Information class.

Bates, M. J. (2005). An Introduction to Metatheories, Theories, and Models. In K. E. Fisher, S. Erdelez, & L. McKechnie (Eds.), Theories of Information Behavior (pp. 1–24). Information Today, Inc.

Dewey, S. H. (2016). (Non-)use of Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge and Order of Things in LIS journal literature, 1990-2015. Journal of Documentation, 72(3), 454–489.

Fisher, K. E., Erdelez, S., & McKechnie, L. (Eds.). (2005). Theories of Information Behavior. Information Today, Inc.

Foucault, M. (1972). The archaeology of knowledge. Pantheon Books.

Foucault, M. (1973). The order of things: An archaeology of the human sciences. Vintage Books.

Frohmann, B. (1994). Discourse analysis as a research method in library and information science. Library & Information Science Research, 16(2), 119–138.

Glushko, R. J. (2015). The discipline of organizing: Professional edition (3rd ed.). O’Reilly Media.

Hjorland, B. (1997). Information Seeking and subject representation: An activity-theoretical approach to information science. Greenwood Press.

Hjorland, B. (2002). Principia informatica: Foundational theory of information and principles of information services. In H. Bruce, R. Fidel, P. Ingwersen, & P. Vakkari (Eds.), Emerging frameworks and methods: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Concepts of Library and Information Science (pp. 109–121). Greenwood Press.

Hjørland, B. (2005). The Socio-Cognitive Theory of Users Situated in Specific Contexts and Domains. In K. E. Fisher, S. Erdelez, & L. McKechnie (Eds.), Theories of Information Behavior (pp. 339–343). Information Today, Inc.

Jacob, E. K. (2004). Classification and Categorization: A Difference that Makes a Difference. Library Trends, 52(3), 515–540.

Mai, J. (2011). The modernity of classification. Journal of Documentation, 67(4), 710–730.

Martinez-Avila, D. (2012). Problems and Characteristics of Foucauldian Discourse Analysis as a Research Method. In Richard P. Smiraglia & H. L. Lee (Eds.), Cultural Frames of Knowledge. Ergon Verlag.

Morville, P. (2014). Intertwingled: Information Changes Everything. Semantic Studios.
Olsson, M. R. (2010). Michel Foucault: Discourse, Power/Knowledge, and the Battle of Truth. In G. J. Leckie, L. M. Givens, & J. E. Buschman (Eds.), Critical Theory for Library and Information Science (pp. 63–74). Libraries Unlimited.

Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2006). The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking (4th ed.). Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Riedler, M., & Eryaman, M. Y. (2010). Transformative Library Pedagogy and Community-Based Libraries: A Freirean Perspective. In G. J. Leckie, L. M. Given, & J. E. Buschman (Eds.), Critical Theory for Library and Information Science (pp. 89–100). Libraries Unlimited.

Smiraglia, Richard P. (2007). Two kinds of power: Insight into the legacy of Patrick Wilson. Information Sharing in a Fragmented World: Crossing Boundaries, Proceedings of the Canadian Association for Information Science Annual Conference.

Smiraglia, R.P., & Lee, H. L. (2012). Cultural Frames of Knowledge. Ergon-Verl.

Solomon, P. (2010). Ferdinand de Saussure: Duality. In J. Leckie, L. M. Givens, & J. E. Buschman (Eds.), Critical Theory for Library and Information Science (pp. 273–282). Libraries Unlimited.
Svenonius, E. (2000). The intellectual foundation of information organization. MIT Press.

Talja, S. (2005). The Domain Analytic Approach to Scholars’ Information Practices. In K. E. Fisher, S. Erdelez, & L. McKechnie (Eds.), Theories of Information Behavior (pp. 123–127). Information Today, Inc.

Talja, S., Tuominen, K., & Savolainen, R. (2005). “Isms” in information science: Constructivism, collectivism, and constructionism. Journal of Documentation, 61(1), 79–101.

Wildemuth, B. M., & Hughes, A. (2005). Perspectives on the Tasks in which Information Behaviors are Embedded. In K. E. Fisher, S. Erdelez, & L. McKechnie (Eds.), Theories of Information Behavior (pp. 275–279). Information Today, Inc.

Wilson, P. (1968c). Two Kinds of Power: An essay on Bibliographic Control. University of California Press.
posted by aetg at 5:51 AM on November 21 [11 favorites]

FYI--these are almost all theoretical texts. They may or may not actually impact your ability to organize things.
posted by aetg at 6:31 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]

I'm not a librarian, but I like the following books:

The Accidental Taxonomist by Heather Hedden
How To Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert
posted by reenum at 9:01 AM on November 21 [4 favorites]

All of the above is excellent...I'm going to suggest a slightly different take on this, and suggest Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger.
posted by griffey at 9:57 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]

The "accidental" book series is really good because it has information that is helpful to laypeople in talking about these issues. I, too, would suggest reading up on taxonomy and metadata because they are both really crucial to thinking about organization. We don't think about this as much when dealing with physical objects because an object can only be in one place at a time. The same is not true for a digital object which opens up a lot of interesting ways of thinking about a thing. Like a sock can only be in a drawer OR a bin, but a picture of a sock could be labelled 'clothing' 'feet' 'wool' and 'orange' all of which are aspects of that item and thinking about these aspects is 1. fascinating 2. endless.

People will have other great mainstream suggestions, I also think it's interesting to look at some of the "decolonizing the catalog" projects people are doing, looking at past classification schemes and trying to find out how to fix or at least improve them. Historically people who tried to create classification schemes had a tendency to make a lot of ethnocentric and otherwise deeply problematic choices about where to make distinctions and where not to that don't hold up under modern scrutiny, or didn't even hold up THEN (example, cw: homophobia and historical awfulness). Efforts to change these are often seen as "political." It's a journey! Some reading suggestions:

- Decolonising Library Collections: Towards inclusive collections policies
- Decolonizing Description: Changing Metadata in Response to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission
- One Decolonizing Change to Subject Headings at UBC Library

And, lastly, there's a big difference between working on a scheme that works for you, and one that works for "people." It's a lot more okay to be idiosyncratic about a personal approach than a shared approach. Especially with shared approaches, it's equally important to consider the retrieval scheme (i.e. how do people FIND a thing they are looking for) as the organizational scheme. The best library with the worst catalog is going to be hard to use. You might want to read The Five Laws of Library Science by S R Ranganathan, an Indian mathematician and librarian because he has his finger on some aspects of this before many other people.
posted by jessamyn at 10:14 AM on November 21 [7 favorites]

My mother's library science degree from 1980s China included fuzzy logic.

Do you want to read about Google? It is also interested in organizing information.
posted by batter_my_heart at 3:37 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]

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