Similar problems and solution approaches underlie the organization of
all types of information. In this course, you will learn and
explore these foundational concepts of information organization.
Though the tools and technologies used to organize information have
always been changing, the basic problems and conceptual foundations
of the task persist. They are given different names and discussed
in different ways and from various perspectives over time and by
different communities. But the core issues largely remain the same.
These foundational problems, issues, and concepts are the main focus
of this course. Learning to recognize the foundational structure of
any information organization problem enables you to a) understand the
task you face in organizing the information, and b) draw upon a broad
range of approaches to find the best solution(s) to the task.
As an instructor, I recognize that:
Each group of students comprises a wide range of interests, goals,
skills, and expertise.
Intellectually curious students value theory, but all
students value practical knowledge and skills that will apply in their future
work and make them attractive to employers.
The topic of information organization is so broad that we do not
have time in class to cover all of its conceptual nuances, much
less the myriad ways the concepts are put into practice in diverse
Further, the standards and tools used in the real-life practice of
organizing information are constantly and swiftly changing.
It would be fairly easy and clear to ask everyone in the class to learn a handful of metadata
standards and information organization tools chosen by me on the
basis of my current knowledge and interests.
That plan would serve well the lucky students who plan for or
muddle into futures involving work with those tools and
That plan would bore and/or frustrate other students.
That plan might result in knowledge that is out of date by the time
a student graduates from SILS.
In the face of the above points, I have pondered how to make this an
engaging, relevant course for all students—IS, LS, those who refuse
to take a side, techie,
technophobe, in between, and at any level of experience.
Here is a sketch of the plan I have devised:
Much of the content of course readings and lectures will be highly
conceptual, and thus useful to all students.
I aim to present the concepts of information organization and
provide an intellectual space in which you can make sense of them.
To this end, the course will involve readings, reading responses, some lectures, class discussion, and in-class activities.
More importantly, I aim to facilitate your exploration
of how the concepts of information organization are (or could be) practically
applied in domains that are of interest and use to you.
This exploration will occur partly in class discussion, as I pose
questions about the concepts.
In some cases you may choose from a group of readings those that
are most relevant to you. I am also open to allowing you to
nominate your own readings instead of certain assigned readings if
you know of other literature relevant to your interests,
and pertinent to the given course topic.
Most of your exploration will take place in the completion of a course-long project, completed in pairs. In the project, you will
demonstrate how a range of information organization concepts
manifest or are implemented in a domain/for a kind of information
of your choosing. The project will involve research, analysis,
critique, design, creative thought, and writing (and probably other
For lack of a better name, I will refer to the project's product as
your project portfolio. You will build your portfolio on our
course wiki, and, at the end of the semester you will give a brief
presentation on the most interesting aspects of your work.
The project is described in more detail below.