another talk.

Today I attended the following:

EXPRESSIVITY VS. UNIFORMITY: Are controlled vocabularies dead, and if not, should they be?
When: 1:00 to 2:00pm April 2nd, 2007
Where: Pleasants Family Room in Wilson LibraryFrom Dr. Haas: ‘Controlled vocabularies, nomenclatures, LC or MeSH subject headings have a long history in LIS. They make classification, categorization, aggregation, sorting, and other operations easier. But with the rise of folksonomy, recommendors, improved natural language processing techniques and other technologies, are they needed any more, or are they just stifling the creativity of our expression?’

Pretty much everyone agrees. We need both. Different needs call for different means. And it’ll be really cool if we can get systems that actually leverage the metadata (in whatever form) in intuitive, useful ways.

And when we get to the lovechild-combinations of controlled vocabularies and all these tags and so forth… that’ll be really nifty.

As an aside… I’m always curious at the reaction to the use of the word “control” in bibliographic control, or controlled vocabularies. As if control were automatically a bad thing, or at the very least somehow un-PC or something. Control can be a very good thing! Air traffic control! Keeping people and things from going every which way can be very important, and good. We want to know what books we have, how they are related, and where they are–this means we want them to be controlled. We don’t want to use 18 words for one concept, so we want vocabulary control. We are not talking about mind control here. (footnotebegin)I haven’t read it yet (it’s on the list), but the idea I’ve gotten from reading several reviews of Stumbling on Happiness is that it has some interesting things to say about the human desire to feel in control…(footnoteend)

This reaction is often displayed along with some discomfort with “labeling things” or “putting them in bins” or “categorizing things,” as if to do so is a) avoidable (footnotebegin)Categorizing things is a foundational part of our perception and cognition! (footnoteend), and b) by necessity negative, imposing some sort of intellectual hegemony.

Rare is the person these days who would claim that any classification, category scheme, or set of terms actually represents The True Way Things Are. Each is a just tool for a particular application, and there’s no reason why such a scheme cannot be flexible and responsive and include multiple perspectives through reference structures and such. I’m not claiming that they always are flexible and responsive (I know better), but, they *could* be.

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