ISKO 2008 update
The conference has been interesting. The papers have been a real mixture of the highly theoretical and abstract and those which are more pragmatic and based on solving problems. The session which included the presentation on the Names project was a case in point – the speaker before me was explaining how she had been analysing different thesauri that covered issues relating to water, to see whether they’d be useful for her organisation (the Mexican Institute of Water Technology), while the one who came afterwards was explaining how theories in the social sciences (Marxism, liberalism and feminism, for example) might be classified.
Jenn Riley of Indiana University talked about the disconnect between theoreticians and practitioners in her excellent presentation about the Variations3 Digital Music Library project. She lamented the fact that information professionals often neglect to think about the conceptual models that their content standards (e.g. MARC and MODS) are representing. Names is using the conceptual model of FRAD as the basis of the data structure for the prototype, thanks to the work that the British Library team have undertaken in the Data Analysis Report, so I was pleased to hear Jenn’s views on this.
The questions at the end of my talk included one from a librarian who took exception to the Names project’s aim of not having a preferred form of name for individuals. I had thought that this would be more acceptable now than it had been in the past – it’s a distinction between authority control and access control that has been fairly widely discussed in the library literature, but apparently it is still controversial. Interesting!
The keynote was given by Jonathan Furner of UCLA. Jonathan talked about the philosophy of identity and the process of identifying individuals and objects. He noted that all knowledge organisation systems reflect the world-view of the designers of the system (this is unavoidable), and stated that all such systems should aim to be ‘just’ (i.e. not violate the rights of any particular group). He also felt that such systems need to be responsive and dynamic in order to adapt to the needs of users of the system. This cannot be achieved with rigid hierarchical and centrally-controlled systems alone, although these do have their place. More social approaches such as user-tagging can help to reflect other world-views. This seemed to me to fit in well with the way we are planning that the Names prototype will work. We’ll be creating records for individuals, but also encouraging them to take ownership of the information within them.