I’m not back, I’m not blogging as a regular thing again. Don’t get your hopes up. I just need a place to think out loud. I could probably do this in my head, but I find that writing helps me clarify my thoughts better. Less wandering off into irrelevancies like ’80s song lyrics and that conversation I had 2 days ago. So…
I wrote in my last post that:
Any classification scheme where the Miscellaneous category is that large is a bad classification scheme.
This is what I was taught in library school, both in my Masters-level Cataloging course and at the PhD-level in discussions of classification theory. And I believe it: a pile of books in the middle of a room is not a library.
In about 2 weeks, David Weinberger is coming to SILS to give a talk based on his new book “Everything is Miscellaneous.” I’ve been searching for sneak previews of the book online & I found some. And I’m concerned.
What concerns me about the “Everything is Miscellaneous” meme is that it’s disingenuous. Weinberger’s post ends:
We are not going to give up nesting, the chapter concludes, but rather than trying to construct the tree that represents some domain of knowledge, we are often better off with systems that can dynamically create trees based on our interests.
Ok, sure. But this is not an argument for no classification schemes, it’s an argument for more classification schemes. It’s an argument for rapidly changing classification schemes, which is not a difference in kind, it’s just a difference in scale: LCSH evolves over time too. There’s a new edition practically every year! In fact, you too can suggest changes. The difference is (a) the speed of change, and (b) who gets to make that change.
Faster-evolving classification schemes, I’ll agree, are probably a good idea. Just read Sorting Things Out to be convinced of why classification schemes that remain unchanged are not only a bad idea, but actively dangerous. But who gets to make changes is another issue. I’ll return to this again in the future, but for now let me just quote Nicholas Carr:
Implicit in the ecstatic visions of Web 2.0 is the hegemony of the amateur. I for one can’t imagine anything more frightening.
I’m also concerned that, despite the fact that (I believe) Weinberger’s argument is fundamentally not for the elimination of classification schemes, that it will nevertheless be taken that way.