edited by Birger Hjørland and Claudio Gnoli


Origins of the knowledge organization field


Table of contents:
1. Introduction
2. Etymological analysis
    2.1 Knowledge organization
    2.2 Information organization
    2.3 Bibliographic control and bibliographic organization
3. KO Activities in LIS curricula through the Twentieth Century
    3.1 Cataloguing and classification
    3.2 Bibliography and other subjects of library science
    3.3 Proto-KO and the merging of library science and information science
    3.4 IO and the “information” curriculum
    3.5 Broader and narrower KO concepts
4. Concluding remarks

The conceptual origins of knowledge organization (KO) as a field of study within the broader field of library and information science are examined by tracing the use of the term and related ones, including information organization (IO) and bibliographic control in the literature, and by surveying the educational texts dealing with the various component activities of KO practice, along with reports and discussions of corresponding curricula, across the twentieth century. Analysis reveals that the notion of a single, composite field covering cataloguing, classification, indexing and the other KO activities, only became established in the late Twentieth century, mirroring the broadening of the library and information science curriculum toward that advocated by the “iSchool” movement. Prior to this, three phases of curriculum development are identified: the teaching of cataloguing and classification as distinct fields in the initial decades of library science education; these two activities then being taught as the combined field of “cat and class”; and, from the 1960s onwards, a growing coverage of other bibliographic control activities, such as those emphasizing the “subject approach” to information access. This last phase can be seen as a precursor to the establishment of KO (or IO) as a generic field of study within the “information” curriculum.

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1. Introduction

Today the field of → knowledge organization (KO) is often defined in a way that encompasses a range of activities carried out by librarians and other information professionals that in the past tended to be studied and learnt separately. Gradually the common aims of these activities came to be recognised and for reasons discussed below came to be viewed as parts of the broader field of KO, even though they could, and still can, be studied and practiced as fields (or subfields) in their own right. This article provides an overview of the origins and development of the term and concept of KO as a “broad term” of → cataloguing, → classification and so forth, with particular reference to the way in which it, and its near-synonym, information organization (IO), became established in professional curricula in English-speaking countries [web editor's note]. It starts with an etymological analysis of these and related terms, and then outlines the coverage of KO activities in the professional curricula across the past century, which tended to treat these activities separately at first, but increasingly in more composite fashion, mirroring the gradual move toward a broad “Information” curriculum at the higher, disciplinary level.

It should be acknowledged from the outset that the field of KO is sometimes defined in a broader way than it is in this article, encompassing not only the organization of recorded knowledge, but of all knowledge; KO in this sense is a subject of philosophy and other disciplines, as well as in the field of → library and information science (LIS). It should also be emphasised that this article is not a history of the various KO practices that have been carried out in libraries and elsewhere for many hundreds of years; rather, it focuses on the development of KO as a formal field of study, in the LIS sense of providing access to recorded knowledge.

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2. Etymological analysis

2.1 Knowledge organization

Wikipedia (2017) has “Knowledge organization” as its preferred term, with “information organization” as a variant, for the “branch of Library and Information Science (LIS) concerned with activities such as document description, indexing and classification performed in libraries, databases, archives, etc”. The two terms are sometimes merged, as in “Organising Knowledge and Information”, which is, for instance, one of the top-level categories in the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base developed by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (2013). Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, knowledge organization is also used in a narrower sense, particularly for classification, including → bibliographic classification (see section 3.5). Their synonymity is discussed further by Hjørland (2012).

The use of the two terms interchangeably is reflected in Jennifer Rowley’s textbook, Organising Knowledge (Rowley 1987; Rowley and Hartley 2008), which was widely used in LIS curricula in the UK. Its original subtitle was An Introduction to Information Retrieval, and its later one, An Introduction to Managing Access to Information (Rowley and Farrow 2000). Throughout its editions, it aimed to cover a wide range of KO activities as broadly defined, including those mentioned above, and considers different kinds of access, systems and users, in different kinds of environments.

Other examples from the more recent literature of the use of knowledge organization and its variants to represent the broad field include: Ross Harvey’s textbook, Organising Knowledge in Australia (1999), which became Organising Knowledge in a Global Society (Harvey and Hider 2003; Hider and Harvey 2008); Relationships in the Organization of Knowledge (Bean and Green 2001), which covers bibliographic as well as subject relationships; and Andersen and Skouvig’s Library Quarterly article, “Knowledge Organization: A Sociohistorical Analysis and Critique” (2006), which defines knowledge organization as “the organization and representation of texts in various forms of information systems (e.g., databases, classification systems, library catalogs, the Internet, libraries, archives, etc.) for the purpose of mediating, supporting, and producing social practices that constitute every kind of information system” (2006, 302).

In earlier times, however, while “knowledge organisation” occasionally occurred in the titles of LIS-related publications, it was originally used in a narrower sense. Henry Bliss (1929) would appear to be the first librarian to use the term in a prominent way, in his book, The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences. The book laid the foundation for Bliss’s own classification scheme, the development of which he discussed further in The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries and the Subject-Approach to Books (Bliss 1933). Bliss thus uses “knowledge organization” in the sense of classification, and not as a label for a generic KO field.

The next LIS book to use the term in its title, three decades later, appears to be C. D. Needham’s Organizing Knowledge in Libraries: An Introduction to Classification and Cataloguing (1964; 1971). As the original subtitle indicates, the text covered cataloguing as well as classification. Furthermore, as its later subtitle, An Introduction to Information Retrieval, suggests, it also covered “other retrieval devices”, in a chapter towards the end of the first edition, and in two chapters, on post-coordinate systems and index languages, in the second edition. These chapters are included in the part of the book devoted to the “subject approach” (as per Bliss’s title); another part covers the “author approach”. Although Needham did not, in fact, mention “organizing knowledge” in the text itself, in either edition, and instead labelled the field of “organization and control of publication and publications” as “bibliographic organization” (Needham 1964, 11), his title represents the first prominent use of a variant of knowledge organization in something approaching its modern meaning.

Jesse Shera’s Libraries and the Organization of Knowledge (1965) was published shortly after Needham’s text, but here the term was used in the sense of classification, à la Bliss. Shera did in fact conceive of a broader field of practice, but employed the term bibliographic control for it, and the term bibliographic organization for an even broader field. There are hardly any further uses of the term or its variants in monographic titles until Rowley’s Organising Knowledge, which was, in fact, an explicit update of the Needham book. In the 1970s, the term was sometimes used in sociology, when analysing the ways in which knowledge institutions, such as universities, were organized (e.g. Organized Knowledge: A Sociological View of Science and Technology (Sklair 1973), Knowledge and its Organization (Batty 1976), and The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America, 1860-1920 (Oleson and Voss 1979)). In the 1980s, the term also began to be used more in computer science, for formal ontologies (e.g. Knowledge Representation and Organization in Machine Learning (Morik 1989), and A General Organization of Knowledge for Natural Language Processing (Bateman et al. 1990)).

The first of the aforementioned titles also deploys the related term knowledge representation, which continues to be used from time to time in some computing fields, such as ontology development and artificial intelligence. The term is also sometimes used for knowledge organization in the library and information science field, as in Andersen and Skouvig’s definition (2006) quoted above, but not consistently enough for it to be commonly recognised as a label for a formal field (see a discussion of the use of the term in the IEKO editor’s blog at https://www.isko.org/cyclo/blog#20180828).

The earlier LIS journal literature reflects similarly spasmodic and inconsistent usage up until the late 1980s. An early use of the term in an article title, from 1955, was for Verner Clapp’s, “Implications for Documentation and the Organization of Knowledge” (1955). However, in the same year, Clapp and Murra (1955) employed “bibliographic organization” for the same concept, in their historical survey, “The Improvement of Bibliographic Organization”. Again, “knowledge organization” was used slightly more often in other journal literature (a typical example from Computer Science being Rau’s “Knowledge Organization and Access in a Conceptual Information System” (1987)).

The publication of Rowley’s first edition of Organising Knowledge, in 1987, thus represents the beginnings of the use of the term for the broad, composite field of study familiar to LIS students of today. The “organization of knowledge” is introduced as a “process” that allows for its subsequent retrieval (1987, 3). → Indexing, as well as cataloguing and classification, are fully covered in the book. The emphasis, particularly in the first edition, as one might expect, is on the human organization of → documents, although → automatic indexing and classification are touched on. In the Acknowledgements, Rowley notes that the “field […] can be called the Organization of Knowledge” (1987, xx), confirming that the term was still in the process of becoming established.

From this point on, “knowledge organization” was used with increasing frequency, not least due to the founding of the International Society for Knowledge Organization (ISKO) and its journal, Knowledge Organization, shortly afterwards. It should be noted, however, that this usage continued sometimes to be in the narrower sense, of classification, as discussed in section 3.5.

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2.2 Information organization

The Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH), Information organization, is based on the widely used textbook, The Organization of Information (Taylor 1999; Joudrey and Taylor 2017; Joudrey 2002b). The text covers not only the various activities associated with the provision of intellectual access to information in libraries, but also in related environments, such as archives and museums, and the Internet in general, and corresponding tools such as catalogues, bibliographies, indexes, finding aids, registers, and search engines. It could be regarded as the North American equivalent of the Organising Knowledge text. The two books are both introductions to essentially the same field of activities that support intellectual access to information resources (or what Taylor (1999, 2) calls “information packages”), covering much of the same ground, though the overlap is not complete.

The LCSH for “Information organization” suggests that few, if any, earlier books specifically covering the field of KO, at least with the term in their title, are held in the Library of Congress collections. (Notable books about the field and using the term published subsequently include Elaine Svenonius’s The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization (2000) and New Directions in Information Organization (Park and Howarth 2013).) Nevertheless, information organisation and variants do occur in the literature prior to the publication of Taylor’s book. The first prominent occurrence in the LIS literature appears to be in the subtitle of James Duff Brown’s third edition of Subject Classification: For the Arrangement of Libraries and the Organization of Information (Brown and Stewart 1939). The term was added by the edition’s editor, James D. Stewart; however, no explanation for the new subtitle was given in the edition.

Another prominent early use of “Organization of Information” was as the name of a section in the journal, American Documentation, from 1950-2, which listed notable works in the whole “documentation” field, which was broader than KO, covering the management of documents more generally. The term and its variants were then used in a few titles connected to the development of automated information retrieval (IR), in the 1950s and '60s, such as Machines and Classification in the Organization of Information (Documentation Incorporated 1953), the monographic series, Rutgers Seminars on Systems for the Intellectual Organization of Information (1964-6), and Gerald Salton’s Automatic Information Organization and Retrieval (1968).

These early titles suggest that the term’s origins, within LIS, lie more in the strand of the field formerly known as documentation and latterly as information science. As with knowledge organisation, there appears, however, to be no consistent and established use of the term through most of the last century, and, again as with knowledge organisation, not until the 1980s do we first encounter book titles employing the term to mean the KO field in the more modern sense, such as Doreen Goodman’s Information Organization: Principles & Practice (1985) and Christopher Turner’s Organizing Information (1987).

Similar patterns, or lack of patterns, or even usage, are evident in the journal literature. At the level of title, Slamecka and Taube (1964) use the term in a very broad way, similar to the American Documentation usage, for their Library Quarterly article, “Theoretical Principles of Information Organization in Librarianship”, while Vallee and Askevold (1973) employed the term in the “automated IR” sense in their Journal of the American Society for Information Science paper, “Information Organization for Interactive Use”.

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2.3 Bibliographic control and bibliographic organization

Another term that has been used for KO and IO in a fairly broad sense can be found in Taylor’s own books: she uses bibliographic control, both prior to, and alongside, her use of information organization, for the “context” of cataloguing and classification (Wynar and Taylor 1992). This term is likewise employed by Lois Mai Chan (1981, 3) for “the operation by which recorded information is organized or arranged and thereby made readily retrievable”. It can also be found in modern glossaries of librarianship, including the A.L.A. Glossary of Library and Information Science (Levine-Clark and Carter 2013) and Harrod’s Librarians’ Glossary (Prytherch 2005).

The term bibliographic control came to prominence in the early 1970s, when the goal of “universal bibliographic control” was institutionalized by the International Federation of Library Associations (Anderson 1974). This goal, however, dates back to the original “documentation” movement, embodied in the International Institute of Bibliography (much later, the International Federation for Information and Documentation), founded by Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine in the late Nineteenth Century (Rayward 1997). The term itself can likewise be traced back to these beginnings: “bibliography” can be regarded as the first step in what Otlet called “documentation” (Rayward 1997). The various bibliographic processes, including cataloguing and indexing, took some time to mature, but by the middle of the Twentieth Century were sufficiently established, collectively, to warrant their own generic term, highlighting the activities’ cross-over. However, as noted in section 3.2, by this stage the term bibliography was being used (in English) much more for one of these processes in particular, i.e. for the construction of bibliographies in contrast to catalogues and other KO tools, leaving a vacancy for the more generic term.

Thus in 1949, Margaret Egan and Jesse Shera championed the cause of bibliographic control, which they considered to be the term for “what the Europeans call documentation” (Egan and Shera 1949). This is probably not the first instance of its use, but it appears to be relatively new. The term is not to be found in, for example, the original edition of The Librarian’s Glossary (Harrod 1938) or The Library Science Glossary (Tomlinson 1942). The following year, in 1950, Shera and Egan (1951) convened an influential conference on Bibliographic Organization. In the proceedings, “bibliographic organization” tends to be used in a very broad sense, for all activities that support access to documents, both physical and intellectual, whereas the focus of many of the papers was, in fact, on the provision of intellectual access, by means of “bibliographic control”.

Various books covering “bibliographic control”, or specific aspects of it, were published in the 1960s and 70s, including Proceedings of Work Conference on Bibliographic Control of Newer Educational Media (Rufsvold and Guss 1960), Bibliographic Control of Federal, State and Local Documents (Childs 1966), Bibliographic Control of Microforms (Reichmann and Tharpe 1973), Bibliographic Control of Nonprint Media (Grove and Clement 1972) and Universal Bibliographic Control (Honoré 1973). The broadest in scope, however, was perhaps Donald Davinson’s Bibliographic Control (1975), which attempted to cover the bibliographic control of most library materials, and the full range of associated activities. Davinson (1975, 8) uses the two terms bibliographic control and bibliographic organization in a similar way to Shera and Egan (whom he cites). Clearly the term bibliographic control, if not bibliographic organization, had become well established by this time, making it into the fourth edition of The Librarians’ Glossary (Harrod 1977). Another notable promulgator of the term in the United States, at this time, was Doralyn Hickey (1977).

Although the focus of “bibliographic control” tended to be, and still is, on published resources, the term sometimes also covered archival materials, grey literature and other items. Likewise, the term often referred to composite resources, as acquired by libraries, rather than on component units, such as journal articles (see e.g. Doreen Goodman’s Bibliographic Control of Library Materials (1978)); but again, this was not always the case. “Bibliographic control” was often discussed in relation to particular kinds of material, but could be used in a very general way, referring to the entire bibliographic universe, as in Chan’s definition (1981, 3).

Whatever the material it referred to, “bibliographic control” tended not to stand so much for a field of study as for an endeavour. Notwithstanding its use in Needham’s book, the term was typically discussed as a means to an end, rather than as a set of activities that needed to be studied. While many of the terms considered in this article have very often been used to represent practice, they have also been used to mean fields of study and research, at least more so than has bibliographic control. Patrick Wilson’s work, Two Kinds of Power (1968), might be considered something of an exception here, in as much as it explored the nature of “bibliographical control”, but it nevertheless did so without demarcating a specific set of activities that might constitute a “field” (Wilson also defined bibliographic control entirely in terms of textual resources).

Perhaps the nearest instance of either “bibliographic” terms’ use in a textbook title was Ronald Hagler’s The Bibliographic Record and Information Technology (Hagler and Simmons 1982; Hagler 1997). While “bibliographic control” continues to be used in library circles, overall its usage, as reflected in the literature, has dropped off somewhat. This is probably more because the goal of universal bibliographic control has been superseded by other library causes, in the age of the Internet, than because it has been superseded as a label for KO.

With no other likely candidates for a predecessor term, it would appear, then, that the concept of KO as a generic field of study was not strong enough to warrant its own name tag until the late Twentieth Century, when it started being labelled, more frequently, as both “knowledge organization” and “information organization”.

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3. KO activities in LIS curricula through the Twentieth Century

3.1 Cataloguing and classification

Both cataloguing and classification were at the heart of the early library science (or “library economy”) curriculum, when, in the late Nineteenth Century, formal training was first offered for prospective librarians (Welsh 2016). Typically, the two activities were taught in separate units, and were conceived of as distinct, though cognate, fields of study (Brown 1904; Clack 1993), reflecting librarians’ preoccupations, at that time, with their catalogues and open shelf arrangements. The titles of the texts used in many of the early courses, before the Second World War, demonstrate this conceptual separation. In Britain, these included Brown’s Manual of Library Classification and Shelf Arrangement (1898) and its successor, W. C. Berwick Sayer’s A Manual of Classification for Librarians & Bibliographers (Sayers 1926; Sayers and Maltby 1975), complementing John Quinn’s Manual of Library Cataloguing (Quinn 1899; Quinn and Acomb 1933). Sayers’ An Introduction to Library Classification (1918; 1954) and Quinn’s Library Cataloguing (1913), and subsequently Henry Sharp’s Cataloguing (1935; 1948), might be regarded as the first British “textbooks” for classification and cataloguing, respectively, and were specifically aimed at those studying for the Library Association’s examinations for registration (Shera 1949).

Meanwhile, texts used in the early American library schools for cataloguing courses, until the 1930s, included Theresa Hitchler’s Cataloging for Small Libraries (1905; 1926), Dorcas Fellows’ Cataloging Rules (1914; 1922) and William Warner Bishop’s Practical Handbook for Modern Library Cataloging (1914; 1924) (Miksa 2009). The general preference for the dictionary catalogue over the classed catalogue in the U.S. led to a greater curricular emphasis, in that country, on cataloguing, and, correspondingly, a dearth of texts focusing on classification (it also led to greater coverage of subject headings).

Indeed, with classification coming to be seen as something of an appendage to cataloguing in many North American libraries, it was not long before the two fields of study started being merged. This is borne out by the titles of subsequent North American texts. Sometimes, cataloging was used as a generic term for both cataloguing and classification, as in Susan Akers’ Simple Library Cataloging (Akers 1927; Akers et al. 1984). More often, though, cataloging and classification were simply joined together terminologically, as in the title of what could be regarded as the first “textbook” for the combined field, namely, Margaret Mann’s Introduction to Cataloging and the Classification of Books (1930; 1943). The work offered a relatively systematic and thorough introduction to both the processes and functions of the two disciplines, though its coverage of the broader picture followed Bishop’s lead, employing similar chapter headings. Written specifically for the Library Science student and the American library schools (as part of the Library Curriculum Studies series, prepared under the direction of W. W. Charters), it covered the various procedures in detail, but also outlined the context of these activities, and the related management considerations.

Over the middle decades of the Twentieth Century, Mann’s and Akers’ texts were joined, in North America, by two other widely read books on both cataloguing and classification: Thelma Eaton’s Cataloging and Classification (1952; 1967) and Bohdan Wynar’s Introduction to Cataloging and Classification (Wynar 1964; Joudrey et al. 2015) (Lehnus 1972). Although different parts of a text can be used for different courses, these treatments of the combined field point to the merging of units and the gradual reduction in the proportion of the core curriculum covering KO activities. Moreover, they point to a reconceptualization of the two subfields as being sufficiently close to be studied together, as a composite field, often abbreviated to “cat and class”.

In the UK, meanwhile, W. Howard Phillips’ A Primer of Book Classification (1937; 1961) provided an alternative to the Sayers texts, and Dorothy Norris’s A Primer of Cataloguing (1952) an alternative to Sharp’s book. Not until the 1960s, however, did a textbook covering both classification and cataloguing appear, namely, Needham’s Organizing Knowledge in Libraries. From this point, though, texts increasingly covered the combined field, as in North America. The development coincided, probably not entirely by accident, with the gradual decline of the classed catalogue and the advent of computerized searching on MARC records. As earlier in the U.S., sometimes cataloguing was used as the generic term, as in the case of Eric J. Hunter and K. G. B. Bakewell’s Cataloguing (1979; 1991), while other times the terms were conjoined (as in Needham’s original subtitle). Again, the amalgamation was also symptomatic of a gradual squeeze of cataloguing and classification in the Library Association’s curriculum.

Up until the later decades of the last century, the focus of most courses in cataloguing and classification, as demonstrated to a large extent by the corresponding textbooks, was on the application of the main cataloguing standards and classification schemes of the time, that is, on procedural knowledge, rather than on the evaluation of the standards and schemes or the theories or principles underpinning them, even if a “balance” between theory and practice came to be seen by many cataloguing and classification educators as optimal (Hill 2013). Only occasionally were classification schemes, subject vocabularies and cataloguing rules for specialist collections covered (Foskett and Borko 1964). Even more rarely were other KO activities related to librarianship, such as bibliography, and periodical indexing and abstracting, introduced in these courses; instead, when they were covered in the curriculum, they were taught as separate subjects, in separate units (Reed 1971).

No doubt this would have been partly because there was already more than enough material to cover in the cataloguing and classification courses. Further, some of these other activities, such as indexing and abstracting, were not as commonly undertaken by librarians, and so tended to be offered as electives. In any case, cataloguing and classification represented, in most library school curricula, a field of study quite distinct from other KO activities that also aim to facilitate the finding and selection of relevant information. This is demonstrated by the lack of coverage of indexing, abstracting, bibliography and so forth in any of the texts cited above; indeed, there is hardly even any mention of them. The only exceptions are the references to other kinds of indexing and retrieval in Needham’s book, the fifth edition onwards of the Wynar/Taylor text, which introduced a chapter on “other types of verbal analysis” (Wynar and Immroth 1976), and Hunter and Bakewell’s book (1979). Likewise, none of the aforementioned texts, with the same exceptions, contains any specific reference to “knowledge organization”, “information organization”, or even “bibliographic control”.

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3.2 Bibliography and other subjects of library science

In late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century library practice, the listing and description of books and other materials could have been conceived of as a somewhat similar activity, whether for the purpose of constructing a catalogue to a collection or a bibliography for a subject. However, as library practice developed, cataloguing evolved into a more “industrial” process involving mass produced catalogue cards and a complex and very detailed set of rules and procedures, often carried out by a specialist department, quite distinct from the requirements of “bibliography”, carried out by different staff, located in the library’s “reference” service. From the outset, this service aimed not only to inform patrons of what existed, but to advise patrons of what they might most profitably read; thus the bibliographies reference librarians produced tended to describe and evaluate materials, rather than simply enumerate them (earlier examples include the ALA Booklist, which started in 1905, and the New York State Library’s Best Books of 1897-1925 Selected for a Small Public Library). These differences in the activity and function of cataloguing and reference departments were reflected in the establishment of courses, early on in library science education, in reference and bibliography, quite distinct and separate from those in cataloguing and classification (Reed 1971; Brown 1904; Williamson 1923). Likewise, there were separate texts, although because bibliography was quite a specialized activity, in comparison with reference work as a whole, their numbers have never been large. Furthermore, different kinds of “bibliography” were studied in different courses and through different texts. Examples of more general treatments include Brown’s Manual of Practical Bibliography (1906) and, much later, Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography (1972).

The curricular divergence between cataloguing and classification, on the one hand, and bibliography, on the other, only increased through the middle decades of the century, even if the concept of “bibliographic control”, which became established during this period, covered a range of tools for its purpose that included both catalogues and bibliographies. When the adjective bibliographic was introduced into cataloguing and classification texts, in the 1960 and '70s, it was in the context of the advent of MARC cataloguing, with its “bibliographic files” and “bibliographic records”, and not in relation to “bibliography”. Conversely, while texts on bibliography mentioned catalogues as tools that might assist the bibliographer, they did not cover, or even reference, cataloguing as a cognate activity within a broader KO field of practice and study.

Other KO activities, such as indexing and abstracting, were covered in the Library Science curriculum much more spasmodically. Even in the early 1970s, a study conducted by Sarah Reed (1971) found that “cataloging and classification” courses were offered by 100% of North American library schools surveyed, and in 84% of cases were required, whereas courses in “indexing and abstracting” were offered by just 30%, and in all cases as an elective. Hence there were very few texts specifically on these other activities aimed at the tertiary student, though there were some manuals and the like catering to a wider audience (in the realm of indexing, for example, there were Wheatley’s How to Make an Index (1902), Clarke’s Manual of Practical Indexing (1905), Brown’s Indexing (1921) and Collison’s Indexes and Indexing (1953)). This situation improved to an extent as the LS curriculum gave way to an LIS curriculum in the 1970s and '80s, as discussed in the next section.

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3.3 Proto-KO and the merging of library science and information science

Needham would have written his textbook conscious of the efforts that were being made, in the middle of the last century, to facilitate the “subject approach” to the retrieval of information resources that extended beyond conventional cataloguing and classification. Many of these efforts were part of the “documentation” movement that had started out, as mentioned above, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The work of the pioneering documentalists, such as Otlet and La Fontaine, attracted the attention of an increasing number of “special librarians” located in the burgeoning science and engineering sector, who were also looking for effective ways to deal with the ever growing amounts of technical information that needed to be organized for retrieval. The cataloguing rules, subject headings and classification schemes that had been developed for public and college libraries were not so suited to the organization of the documents needed by scientists and engineers: journal and conference papers, and research reports, typically on very specific topics. Some of these librarians ended up joining and contributing to the movement, developing their own indexes and bibliographic tools (Williams 1997; Robinson and Bawden 2013). The explosion of scientific documents across the first half of the twentieth century, and the need for their swift retrieval, led to the documentalists’ particular interest in mechanical and automated approaches, and to the “subject approach”. By the 1940s and '50s, their innovative work, and their goals (particularly that of bibliographic control), were of sufficient importance for dedicated journals to be established: the British Journal of Documentation (“devoted to the recording, organization, and dissemination of specialized knowledge”) was first issued in 1945 and American Documentation in 1950.

Whereas the cataloguing and classification taught in mid-Twentieth Century library science classes, catering primarily to prospective public and academic librarians, still tended to emphasize the application of rules, even at the graduate level, the emphasis in documentation was on research and development, producing new technologies and new theories. The new technology led to post-coordinated document retrieval, and ultimately to content-based retrieval and the rise of the field of information retrieval. The new theories included those that led to → facet analysis (developed by the UK-based Classification Research Group (CRG) (McIlwaine and Broughton 2000) as well as by S. R. Ranganathan (Hjørland 2013)), on which new classification schemes and subject → thesauri used to support these new retrieval methods were often based. While the focus might have been on the sorts of materials to be found in science and technology collections, librarians and library educators began to consider the applicability of some of these innovations to the retrieval of library materials more generally, and to the teaching of cataloguing and classification in library schools.

Since several members of the CRG were also teaching cataloguing and classification in the British library schools of the 1950s and '60s (McIlwaine and Broughton 2000), it is perhaps not surprising that some of the earliest expansions of the syllabus, as signalled by Needham’s book, occurred in the UK. A. C. Foskett (1970), whose brother Douglas was a leading CRG member, published an early manifesto for a broader treatment of the “organization of knowledge” in library education, in his article, “A New Approach to Teaching Classification and Subject Cataloging”. In it, he argued that the fundamentally similar ways in which the gamut of modern information retrieval systems approached subject access allowed for the principles and schemes on which the “subject approach” was based to be studied in the same course. He advocated for coverage to include both old and new schemes, and both pre- and post-coordinated indexing procedures. However, he stopped short of combining the “subject approach” with that of descriptive cataloguing. Thus, instead of a division between cataloguing and classification, a different division was introduced, as it was in Needham’s book, between descriptive and subject approaches to information retrieval. Foskett’s own textbook, which ran to five editions, focused on The Subject Approach to Information (Foskett 1969; 1996). It covered “indexing” far more broadly than that of the subject indexing in library catalogues, as well as the classification of all types of documents.

As indicated by the title of one of his books, this “subject approach” can be traced back to Bliss (1933), whose work directly influenced the thinking of the CRG. For this group, classification was key to the whole enterprise of document retrieval (Vickery 1958; Foskett 1963; Langridge 1976), as it was for Shera, who was one of the main forces in the push to merge “documentation”, or “information science” as it became known, with library science (Buckland 1996). This push legitimized, and included, the push for the expansion of the cataloguing and classification syllabus into other KO areas; and it comprised both descriptive and subject approaches. The activities of cataloguing and indexing were increasingly seen as at least closely related. Thus the Library Association’s special interest group started its periodical, Catalogue and Index, in 1966. A decade later, Alan Thomas (1976) highlighted, favourably, the 13% of North American library schools, in his survey, with “modern integrated courses” that went beyond traditional cataloguing and classification.

On the other hand, just as the transition from LS to LIS was incremental and not entirely smooth, it took some time for the concept of a single field, covering all these related activities, to develop. Over this transitional period, generic terms for such a field were occasionally coined: a decade after Needham introduced “organizing knowledge”, Brunt (1980) used “information storage and retrieval”, for example, in the title of a journal article about a broader view of “cataloguing and classification”, as he referred to the field in the text. As noted above, these terms did not really stick, however, at least not during this period; nor did they cover KO tools such as bibliographies, nor those developed outside of LIS, such as in archival science.

While the similarities of many KO activities were recognised in the 1960s and '70s, they were not merged in curricula primarily because of their depth. Indeed, the advent of MARC cataloguing and library automation in this period actually increased the body of knowledge and skill required of cataloguers, even if ultimately it was to reduce their numbers. Thus demand for specific cataloguing and classification skills if anything grew, and most LIS curricula continued to cover them across multiple courses (Joudrey 2002a). Indeed, not only did Wynar and Taylor’s Introduction to Cataloging and Classification remain well used, through regular new editions, but cataloguing and classification instruction was sufficiently populous in North America to support a second, rival textbook, namely, Lois Mai Chan’s Cataloging and Classification: An Introduction (Chan 1981; Chan and Salaba 2016) (Chan 1987). In fact, the mid-late Twentieth Century represents a high water mark of cataloguing and classification publishing, with the journal Cataloging & Classification Quarterly also launched in 1980, an increasing number of books and articles devoted to particular aspects of practice, such as specific processes, material types and kinds of library, and a wide variety of educational and instructional books, including workbooks, programmed texts and commentaries (Miksa 2009).

Instead of attempting to cover other KO activities into packed cataloguing and classification courses, many of the new LIS curricula simply added new courses for them. Thus more units were offered in “indexing”, “abstracting” (sometimes together with indexing), “thesaurus construction”, “bibliography”, “information retrieval”, and so on (Joudrey 2002a). Demand for indexing and abstracting courses grew large enough, even, to support two separate texts: Cleveland and Cleveland’s Indexing and Abstracting (1982; 2013) and Lancaster’s Indexing and Abstracting in Theory and Practice (1991; 2003). These additional courses were sometimes taught by the same faculty who taught cataloguing and classification, but often they were not. Moreover, the activities themselves tended to be carried out by different personnel engaged by different agencies. They were conceived of as different, though cognate, fields, ultimately for practical and industrial reasons.

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3.4 IO and the “information” curriculum

Taylor (1999) informs us that she wrote The Organization of Information as a response to new courses that were being offered to provide an overview of the range of activities and systems that enabled intellectual access to information resources. Ultimately, these courses were developed probably as a result of the changing employment landscape as much as anything else. In the 1980s and '90s, library budgets came under increasing pressure, and the library job market declined, in the UK, North America and elsewhere (Moore, Nick 1987; Hamilton 1985; Burrows 1988; De Almeida 1997; Moore, Mary 1996). Cataloguing departments were often amongst the first to be downsized, now that automation had been achieved and bibliographic records for most items could be readily procured from external sources (Gorman 1995). With the demand for cataloguers falling, increasingly LIS programs moved their “cat and class” courses out of the required curriculum and into the elective sets (Spillane 1999; Hsieh-Yee 2004). This left a gap in the core curriculum, which was filled with the broader KO courses that Taylor was aiming to support. The move was in line with the wider curricular trend toward broader foundation subjects that aimed to prepare students for all kinds of “information work”, and not specifically librarianship, a shift anticipated by Rayward (1983). By the mid-2000s, four fifths of North American programs required only the completion of a generic KO course (Miller et al. 2006), reversing the situation in 1970, when it was cataloguing and classification courses that were required in 84% of programs (Reed 1971).

The more generic KO courses that Rowley’s and Taylor’s books supported have thus become commonplace in the contemporary, information-centric curriculum. They are used to introduce a range of activities, allowing for more advanced study of these specific activities later in the program: not just library cataloguing and classification, but also, for instance, indexing (including book indexing) and abstracting, → “metadata” and “information architecture” (Joudrey 2008). They are typically not designed to introduce bibliography, however, and remain focused on the provision of intellectual access, although this may include the use of evaluative metadata (to support selection). Potentially, they do now cover the full range of discovery tools, including archival finding aids, created by the various kinds of collecting institutions. Moreover, they cover the vast array of search tools to be found on the Internet, including the ubiquitous search engines (Joudrey 2008).

Whereas the earlier transition, to LIS, was not mirrored by an immediate decline in the demand for cataloguing and classification skills, and so early moves toward a “proto-KO” syllabus were motivated more by the theoretical positions of academics such as Foskett and Brunt, the later transition, toward “information”, has been mirrored by a decline in cataloguing jobs, and, to a degree, a reconceptualization of cataloguers as a broader kind of information professional, i.e. the “metadata” professional (Leysen and Boydston 2005). Thus the dropping of cataloguing and classification units from the core curriculum has been the result, in recent times, of both external and internal forces: there is less demand from industry, or at least less perceived demand, while the theoretical stance of the new Information curriculum makes the presence of specifically library-oriented compulsory units problematic. Those who might still advocate for their retention have fewer arguments at their disposal than they had in the 1970s.

Both the move to LIS and the move to “information” also represent, to some extent, efforts to improve the academic (and in particular research) standing of the “discipline” within internal, university circles. The latter move has been institutionalised, since the 2000s, in the ever-expanding “iSchools” organization, which originated in North America, but is now quite international in scope (iSchools 2017). It could be argued that the broader KO field, for instance, is likely to be taken more seriously in the academy, and to attract more research funding, than is “cat and class”. Apart from topics such as “metadata” holding more traction with funding bodies, than, say, “library catalogues”, the broader field encourages more of a focus on resource description as a phenomenon, rather than as a prescribed set of procedures, making it a richer subject for investigation.

It should be noted, however, that there nevertheless remains a significant demand for “metadata” librarians with specific cataloguing skills and knowledge, and while this is so, specialist cataloguing courses are likely to continue to be offered, at least by some schools. Likewise, a steady stream of books and articles on the various aspects of the narrower field continues, recently spurred on by the transition from Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules to Resource Description and Access, and now by the promise that “linked data” holds. Journals dedicated to specific components of KO also continue, including Cataloging & Classification Quarterly and The Indexer. Further, some of the newer KO activities, such as taxonomy construction and analysis, can be very profitably taught with reference to the theories and skills covered in traditional fields such as bibliographic classification.

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3.5 Broader and narrower KO concepts

While both the terms knowledge organization and information organization are now commonly used to mean the broader, composite field of KO, knowledge organization is also still used for the narrower concept that pertains to the “subject approach” to information (or document) retrieval noted above. This is primarily due to the founding of the International Society for Knowledge Organization in 1989. As successor to the Society for Classification, it was established to facilitate the development of the tools of knowledge organization, including “classification systems, thesauri, terminologies, nomenclatures” (International Society for Knowledge Organization 1989). Apart from distinguishing the new society from its antecedent, the term knowledge organization was chosen for its English name in order to represent interests wider than classification, although these did not at first extend to other KO activities such as descriptive cataloguing, as it was abstract rather than recorded knowledge that was to be organized into schemes and vocabularies. (It might also be noted that the term’s German equivalent Wissensordnung was used in Dahlberg’s PhD thesis, published a decade and a half earlier (Dahlberg 1998).)

Along with the new society, came a “new” journal, Knowledge Organization, which succeeded International Classification in 1993, a series of international conferences, and, soon, conferences for ISKO’s various chapters, together with corresponding proceedings and other monographic publications. Not surprisingly, the term knowledge organization started to appear in the LIS literature much more frequently, from the 1990s onward.

Given the interests of the founding members of ISKO and the reasons why they adopted the term, it is not surprising that the scope of Knowledge Organization and the ISKO conferences was more or less limited to classification and subject indexing in the 1990s. However, a more inclusive approach was heralded by Hope Olson’s editorial in an early Twenty-First Century issue of Knowledge Organization (Olson 2001), which questioned the definition of organization; a year later, an article on → FRBR appeared, about the library cataloguing model (Žumer and Riesthuis 2002), as did an article by Andersen (2002), which explicitly employed a broad definition of knowledge organization, encompassing the description of carriers as well as content. Similarly broad views were presented in Birger Hjørland’s article, “Fundamentals of Knowledge Organization” (2003), and later in his article, “What is Knowledge Organization (KO)?” (2008). While the journal’s contents remain very much rooted in the “subject approach”, further articles on various “metadata” and “bibliographic” topics have appeared since, along with studies of various aspects of a KO field broadly defined. This trend is even more pronounced in ISKO’s biennial and regional conferences, which focussed almost exclusively on the classification, taxonomy and subject indexing in the 1990s, but have a much more inclusive scoping since 2000, embracing a wide range of topics (Hider 2018).

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4. Concluding remarks

Both information organization and knowledge organization are fairly common terms in contemporary LIS. While they can be regarded as synonyms, and used as such, they can also represent different, though related, things, with information organization standing for a broader field of study, and knowledge organization standing either for the same or for a narrower field focusing on the representation of the subjects of information resources.

The broader field of KO has, however, only become established in the professional curriculum in the past two or three decades, mirroring LIS programs’ move toward a focus on “information”, due to economic and reputational pressures. This shift can be seen as the latest of four overlapping phases toward an increasingly integrated syllabus covering the foundations of KO practice. First, in the library science curriculum from its beginnings until the mid-Twentieth century, cataloguing and classification were taught and conceived of as the primary, and distinct, fields of KO; second, from around the 1930s until late in the twentieth century, “cat and class” tended to be taught together as the single, core KO field; and, third, from the 1960s until the '90s, while “cat and class” still tended to dominate KO offerings, there was a growing interest in, and coverage of, the other activities of “bibliographic control”, as library science gave way to library and information science. The vanguard of this third phase was the “subject approach” to KO, which covered indexing and the newer processes involved in “information retrieval”, as well as elements of traditional “cat and class”. However, the field of information retrieval ended up, during this period, going its own way, emphasizing the automated approach. Instead, the KO syllabus that emerged in the late Twentieth century, and that is still with us today, continued to prioritize the input and judgement of the information professional, given the ongoing reality of many library, archival and museum collections, with content not yet fully indexed by discovery systems.

While KO as a composite field of study makes sense in the context of the new “information” curriculum, KO as a field of practice is not yet readily apparent, with relatively few information professionals moving between different KO subfields. This will need to change for the concept, even in an educational context, to become fully operational. In any case, the terminological and disciplinary history of KO, as outlined above, suggests that the concept of the field will continue to evolve, in all contexts, in terms of scope, content and structure, as various intrinsic and extrinsic factors impact on it.

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Web editor's note

Throughout this whole encyclopedia, a term is written in italics (knowledge organization) when its meaning is introduced or discussed in general, as a component of a special language like one can found in a glossary or a dictionary (Saussure's langue); it is instead written between quotation marks (“knowledge organization”) when reported from a source where it is actually used (Saussure's parole). Admittedly there may be cases where these two functions overlap. Finally, when a term is discussed as part of a knowledge organizaton system, like in a subject heading, it is written in monospaced font (knowledge organization).

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Version 1.0 published 2020-06-16

Article category: Disciplines

This article is based on, and is a partial reprint, of: Hider, Philip. “The Terminological and Disciplinary Origins of Information and Knowledge Organization”. Education for Information 34, no. 1: 135-61, copyright 2018, with permission from IOS Press. This publication is available at IOS Press through https://doi.org/10.3233/EFI-180165.

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