The Organization of Information,by Arlene G. Taylor. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1999. 280p. $35.00 (paper). ISBN 1-56308-498-8.
This text introduces the fundamental conceptual framework of cataloging and classification and would be an excellent tool in a pre-cataloging course whose aim is to present the Big Picture. Given the high velocity of change in the representation and manipulation of information in recent years, this is not a simple task. Taylor has succeeded by writing a text that organically evolves ideas from first principles, eclectically includes archives to web browsers, and poses the challenges of the Internet into nearly every discussion.
The book is organized in ten chapters that logically develop the motivation and techniques of the organization of information. Briefly, these cover the need to organize, types of retrieval tools, history of information organization, encoding standards, metadata, subject analysis, classification, and arrangement and display. A final chapter provides a series of questions for assessing the usability of current systems and several suggestions for improving current systems. Any attempt to sketch such a broad and various set of topics always tempts superficiality and opacity. For example, Taylor serves us a one-sentence definition of "relational database" that has the word "parts" occurring in it three times (p. 31) that would baffle most beginners. These are minor imperfections, however, that donít detract from the real achievement of the book: an Olympian snapshot of many rapidly evolving technologies.
One of the most attractive elements of the book is the critical intelligence shining out between the sentences. The history of the organization of information is enlivened by comments pointing out innovations originating centuries ago that are critical pivots for current technologies. The reduction in functionality of early online public catalogs compared to existing paper catalogs is recognized. An illuminating comparison is made between MARC fields and HTML tagging. This last example illustrates the Taylorís real achievement: Moving the book-oriented cataloging and the library-oriented classification to the Internet. By seeking a high conceptual order for the subject matter of her material, Taylor is able to pose interesting problems ("What is the role of the classified catalog for the Internet", "Does the shelflist idea fit into the Internet world") and make interesting insights ("Web engines are the ultimate in depth indexing", "The Internet continues the separation of form from subject"). These questions and insights could be easily seized by the teacher to provide intellectual challenges in the classroom.
I recommend the book for acquisition and use as a textbook. Having made that recommendation, however, my regret is that this is a book at all. It would function much better as a web site. Rapidly evolving technologies such as XML, TEI, The Dublin Core, "On-the-Fly Records", Artificial Neural Networks, etc., are poorly served by a paper treatment, as are examples of records, displays and mark up. The next edition should be a web site with continuously updated examples, additions and deletions to reflect changes in the field and an evolving critical commentary.
Terrence A. Brooks
School of Library and Information Science
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195