Friday, 7 March 2008

On classification, phenomena and free faceted classification

This is to draw your attention to a couple of recent events, papers and discussions happening behind what may look like a sleepy ISKO face.

For some time now, in his papers and research, but also in practical applications and classification development Claudio Gnoli has been considering some basic problems in classification for intermediation of knowledge (documentary, bibliographic, library classifications). He is looking into the theory of integrative levels and the work of the British Classification Research Group. But most importantly, and in relation to the nature of digital environment in which we now apply these systems, Claudio proposes controlled but more flexible ways in applying facet analysis, which he calls 'freely faceted classification', borrowing the term first introduced by Derek Austin.

Aware of this development, ISKO UK invited Claudio to talk about his research in November 2007 at the event Ranganathan Revisited: facets for the future" (ppt, mp3 on the website).

The key interest and starting point of Claudio's talk is the idea of a classification of phenomena as an alternative to disciplinary classification structure, as endorsed by several classificationists including Rick Szostak and declared as the León manifesto. Since the original text of the 'manifesto' has been made available online it was extended with further discussions and comments.

Upon discussion with Claudio, Brian Vickery offered his view on this subject in the paper "The structure of subject classifications for document retrieval". His paper also explains some important points about classification structure.

On a more entertaining side Claudio keeps showing in his presentations a reaction provoking slide entitled The Heresy (no 21 in this presentation), representing a quasi schism in knowledge organization, with photographs of traditional classificationists (Joan Mitchell, Vanda Broughton, Ingetraut Dahlberg ...)... and 'modern' classificationists (León manfesto signatories).

At the German ISKO conference in Konstanz in February 2008, Ingetraut Dahlberg protested that she does not feel at home in the disciplinary side of the “schism”, as her Information Coding Classification - ICC (developed in 1982) abandoned disciplines as the main classes, replacing them by general object areas.

Claudio points out, however, that in ICC object areas are analyzed primarily as aspect categories. In the ICC structure, phenomena (as defined by León proponents) would be listed under Objects of study category.

Others, including Szostak and Vickery, also believe that a good classification of knowledge should combine phenomena with aspect dimensions such as theories and methods or human activities (not disciplines). Thus the question seems to be in what order should phenomena and aspects be considered in the determination and definition of classes.

Anyway, discussion is welcome. We will try to keep track and report ideas on our part

Aida Slavic, ISKO UK
Claudio Gnoli, ISKO Italy