First of all, I’d like to say how much I love three day weekends! Something about knowing I have Monday off makes it that much easier to get stuff done and still find time to play. Does grocery shopping take longer on two day weekends? I think it might. I’ve had time to unplug for a bit and read a couple books (finished Made to Stick and read Then We Came to the End) as well as stay up late on Sunday to watch a very long movie (The Good Shepard).
Plus, it’s been perfect out- a plus for the spring cleaning and dog walks of any decent three day weekend.
Of more relevance here, though, is the excellent video of David Weinberger giving his Everything is Miscellaneous talk at Google (thanks, Tim). I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s fascinating even from a distance. Firstly, it has made me realize that I can, in fact, spell the word “Miscellaneous” without assistance from spell check (possibly my favorite feature in the new Firefox, though I have accidentally added words to my dictionary and have yet to figure out where to remove them). More substantially, it seems at first blush that what he’s really talking about is how search has changed everything.
Who hasn’t had the experience of wandering all over a library (or sending a patron to two different floors) because the desired books are technically in two (or ten) different subjects, even though they’re all very relevant to the one subject being investigated? We had to do something with the physical objects and Dewey got it done. I don’t know that it constrained the way people think, though. I would have bought an argument that our educational system’s insistence on separating areas of knowledge is more problematic than the library’s organizational scheme, as far as shaping how people think about disciplines. However, that wasn’t really his point.
Weinberger says that search means “metadata” and “data” are interchangeable- the stuff we know is metadata and the stuff we’re looking for is the data. Wow. That certainly explains why I’m delighted that LibraryThing has made all tags on a book available. In that sense, books as objects have limited us- we tend to think of what’s in books as data and everything that fits in a MARC record as metadata.
So, yeah! Atoms do suck! More than the OPAC, even! As a librarian, I don’t care about the physical form information comes in, I care about the information. While we like to fetishize and romanticize the book, no one goes into librarianship for books. Or at the very least, no one should. Books are containers. They’re lovely containers, but fundamentally they’re data boxes.
What makes search work well is lots and lots and lots of metadata (it’s even better when all the data itself is searchable, too). Adding all that metadata means hierarchy is out the window and traditional structure is less central to findability. But good search can transcend hierarchy and structure, though it’s worth noting that tags and other informal methods of cataloging have their own structure.
Weinberger’s riffs on Dewey (Dui) are worth the price of admission. I’ve done collection development for the 000s and the 500s and Dewey’s rigid adherence to 19th century morals and mores is frustrating (and amusing). I’ve also worked in a Cutter library, where my friend Hillary pointed out that it might be a good idea to move Mormanism out of “cults” and into “religion”. Weinberger is fair to libraries while picking on the DDC, though. He clearly understands that starting from scratch would be almost impossible. A new classification scheme wouldn’t help if we stuck to our old ways of rigidly dividing data from metadata, anyway.
As an aside: Dui was something of a strange agent, no? I’m curious now about the two stories I heard in library school. One had Dewey leaping up during chapel at Amherst in a Eureka! moment and running out to write down his classification scheme, which is mentioned here, but it’s not clear if he was in college at the time or just at church. The other was a rumor that admission to Dewey’s library school was at least partially dependent on the applicant’s bustiness. That one seems to have it’s origins in Dewey’s genuine sliminess towards women (not to mention his racism, antisemitism and “anti- everything not white male Anglo-Saxon Christian” * attitude).
Dewey’s weirdness aside, at least we’re not working with the fixed location method of organization. A whole system predicated on the idea that everyone who walks through the door knows what they’re looking for before they come in- ouch. Although, that is how a lot of archives have to work. EAD is proof that location-based systems of organization can be searchable, but it seems like the evolution from location-based organization to XML records has to pass through a DDCesque system of some sort. Once again, what’s old is new again- searchability means we could be organizing our books by color or size. It might aggravate those looking for all of our books on psychology, but it would make the “I know it was red” crowd very happy.