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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: June 2018

6 - Information organization


The first step in wisdom is to know the things themselves: this notion consists in having a true idea of the objects: objects are distinguished and known by classifying them methodically and giving them appropriate names. Therefore, classification and name-giving will be the foundation of our science.

Carl Linnaeus

Cataloguers would lose much of their status if it were shown that most cataloguing is a trivial job easily done by clerical staff.

Maurice Line


The organization of information, and information resources, is one of the fundamental aspects of the information sciences. In essence, this amounts to classifying and name-giving: as essential in our sciences as Linnaeus proclaimed it to be in his, though for rather different reasons. It is an extensive and complex subject in its own right, but fortunately it has a particularly wide range of textbooks and articles. We will outline the main topics and issues within the subject, pointing to where more detailed treatments can be found. One of the main aspects of the subject is the way in which relatively old tools and techniques are being adapted to the modern information environment. Therefore, although up-to-date materials are important, older texts may also be very useful. The fundamentals of the subject, particular some of the theory of classification and indexing, go back many years, and – as we saw in Chapter 2 – some of the main tools used today have their origins in the 19th century. They were developed as part of the attempt to provide bibliographic control of printed materials; to record, identify and make accessible all the intellectual output of humanity, as expressed in recorded knowledge. They, and newer equivalents, are now being used to provide access to the rapidly expanding stock of digital material.

We will look first at some of the fundamental issues of information organization, before examining the main tools: terminology, metadata, resource description, systematic and alphabetic subject description and abstracting. Texts covering several of these aspects in detail include Chowdhury and Chowdhury (2007), Taylor (2004), Chan (2007) and Svenonious (2000). For a more detailed examination of all aspects of information organization in one subject domain – healthcare – see Robinson (2010, Chapter 4).