Notes on “Vocabulary as a central concept in Information Science” and additional readings

Vocabulary as a Central Concept in Information Science, Michael Buckland (1999)

The role of classification in knowledge representation and discovery, BH Kwasnik – Library Trends, 1999


One good point in the Buckland article was that vocabulary can differ between those who are doing the cataloging, the authors and the searcher, even if everyone is within the same field. I’ve read some about these differences before, but they almost always seem to take the form of novice searcher vocabulary vs. expert author vocabulary or natural searcher vocabulary vs. structured system vocab. Those are probably the most clear ways to look at these distinctions—to tell you the truth looking at subtle differences between five different vocabularies does not seem like that much fun to me.

This article gets back to some of the same points we’ve already discussed in class when talking about synonym rings and taxnomies. Even through the author comes at it from a vocabulary point of view, he’s saying the same things everyone else is. If your users want to search for “Vietnam War” but your system uses “Vietnam Conflict,” without pointing the user in the right direction, no purpose has been served. You can be as correct and specific in your phrasing as you want but that’s no guarantee you’ll have a usable system.

The Kwasinik reading was really good at pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of hierarchies, trees and other organization schemes. In doing the AG assignment I ran into the “Lack of complete and comprehensive knowledge” barrier quite often. That’s one of the biggest problems with not just hierarchies, but any project like this where we have some knowledge of the domain—everyone has seen greeting cards—but not of the entire body of AG’s product line or even a representative subset. I wouldn’t want to construct a taxonomy of content object before people started entering data—I would have it be built as the database grew, with specific people in charge of keeping it consistent.