Volume 47, no. 7, 2009


The Ethics of Information Organization

Hur-Li Lee, Ph.D., M.L.S.
Associate Professor, School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, USA

Guest Editor


Introduction, Hope A. Olson


Original Articles

Ethos, Logos, Pathos or Sender, Message, Receiver? A Problematological Rhetoric for Information Technologies
David Bade

ABSTRACT: In this article I contrast the view of communication in Shannon and Weaver (1949) with Michel Meyer's rhetorical approach to communication. Meyer's critique of philosophy is founded upon the recognition that every statement is an answer to a question arising from a particular problem. If something can be questioned, it can be debated, and how we debate any issue is a matter of rhetorical practices, all of which involve ethos, logos and pathos. These concepts, familiar from Aristotelian rhetoric, have their counterparts in information science: sender, message, receiver. Unlike the ethos, logos and pathos of rhetoric, the concepts of information science are rooted in a technical understanding of sender markedly different from the ethical ethos of classical antiquity, an ontologically based propositional understanding of message, and an abstract understanding of receiver as human or machine with a straightforward, statable, interpretable and answerable question. Meyer's rhetorical approach to communication illuminates many aspects of information production and use, from spamming and computer viruses to user supplied metadata and reuse of metadata in different contexts. Of particular interest are the ethical implications of a rhetorical approach to Shannon and Weaver's "information source," and the creation of metadata for 1) human users of IT, and 2) machine interoperability (e.g. the Semantic Web).

KEYWORDS: Information Science, Communication, Rhetoric, Integrationism, Problematology


Meeting Users' Needs in Cataloging: What is the Right Thing to Do?
Gretchen L. Hoffman

ABSTRACT: Library and Information Science takes a user-centered approach to research and practice, and helping users is the highest principle in ethics statements, such as the American Library Association's code of ethics. The cataloging field, however, generally has not taken a user-centered approach in research or in the development of cataloging standards. Instead, the responsibility to meet users' needs has been placed on catalogers in practice, who are encouraged to customize bibliographic records to meet their local users' needs. Previous research suggests that catalogers are constrained in their ability to customize bibliographic records, because catalogers do not know who their users are and cannot identify their users' needs. In addition, library administrators limit customization in favor of fast and efficient cataloging processes. If catalogers in practice cannot customize bibliographic records, how can local users' needs be met? Who is responsible for meeting users' needs in cataloging? What is the "right" way(s) for cataloging to help users and ensure equitable access to materials? This paper discusses these questions and explores possible ways for cataloging to focus on users and move toward a more ethical cataloging practice.

KEYWORDS: Ethics; Cataloging; Users; Standards; User-centered paradigm


Ethical Concerns of Information Policy and Organization in National Security
Kristene Unsworth

ABSTRACT: Information organization is influenced by ideology; whether it is a personal belief system, organizational practice, or national ideology. The role of classification is dichotomous. In library and information science the goal is to be explicit while its role in national security is much more opaque. This article attempts to disambiguate this distinction in order to better understand the ethical implications of the classification process through examples from three cases related specifically to national security: (1) a dictionary for use by the East German Ministry for State Security, (2) the rules and regulations for the House Committee on un-American Activities, and (3) current requests by the government "to report suspicious activity."

KEYWORDS: Categorization, Information organization, Information policy, National security, Ethics


Racially Mixed People, DDC Table 5 Ethnic and National Groups, and MARC 21 Bibliographic Format Field 083
Julianne Beall

ABSTRACT: This article explores ways that notation in Table 5 Ethnic and National Groups of the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system can be used to extend subject access to works about racially mixed people beyond that provided by the rules for constructing standard DDC numbers. The proposed approach makes use of the new 083 field (Additional Dewey Decimal Classification Number) in the MARC Bibliographic Format and techniques developed for DeweyBrowser beta v2.0 by OCLC Research, especially tag clouds.

KEYWORDS: DDC, Dewey Decimal Classification, DeweyBrowser, MARC, Racially mixed people, Self-identity principle, Tag clouds


Bibliocentrism, Cultural Warrant, and the Ethics of Resource Description: A Case Study
Richard P. Smiraglia

ABSTRACT: We have not properly studied the uses to which catalogs are put by their users, nor have we attempted until recently to consider empirical evidence in the construction of cataloging rules. The result is an oddly rationalized sort of pragmatism inherent in generations of rules for resource description. This lack of theoretical commitment in resource description has ethical implications for all of information organization because it leads to poorly served users of catalogs. One particularly egregious ethical issue is bibliocentrism. Beghtol challenges us to engage in applications research to affirm a theoretical basis, contrasting cultural warrant with ethical warrant. The importance of cultural warrant in the ethics of knowledge representation follows closely on Hjørland's emphasis on activity theoretic and domain-specificity. The present study asks whether schemas for resource description restrict access by constraining objectivity. The objective is to discover empirically, via case-study method, some of the ways in which standards for resource description might present threats to information ethics. The analysis of a set of specific cases uses bibliographic records analyzed using the aforementioned lenses: bibliocentrism, activity theory and use, cultural warrant, and exploitative power. Results show a paradigm of description that has little reference to potential uses of resources, raising a specter of unfulfilled expectations. We see the ethical limits of just this one aspect of resource description. We look toward systems design of an ethical, culturally focused, information retrieval paradigm.

KEYWORDS: Resource description, Bibliocentrism, Information ethics, Cultural warrant, Activity theory, Case study


Introduction to the Special Issue on The Ethics of Information Organization

The papers in this issue of Cataloging & Classification Quarterly are a selection from those originally presented at the first Ethics of Information Organization conference held May 22-23, 2009 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was sponsored by the Information Organization Research Group and the Center for Information Policy Research, both of the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as well as Milwaukee Public Libraries and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

Information organization (IO), like other major functions of the information professions, faces many ethical challenges. In the IO literature, ethical concerns have been raised with regard to, for example, the role of national and international IO standards; bias in subject standards and their application; the deprofessionalization, education, and responsibilities of IO professionals; the power of institutions and corporations in IO; and the effects of globalization. These issues, and others like them, have serious implications for quality and equity in information access and were addressed at the conference. One recurring theme was the balance between standardized records that can be readily shared and therefore provide access quickly and economically and the focus on users that calls for customization for cultures, groups, or even individuals as opposed to a one-size-fits-all product. Another theme was the need for research to be produced and applied. For example, whether or not our evolving standards have any basis in user studies or any other form of research was a question raised more than once. Relations between librarians and vendors and how they affect users emerged as a major ethical concern whether talking about integrated library system vendors or OCLC or others. The human-computer interface was recognized at the conference as an important factor in the ethical relationship between IO professionals and users as it shaped the surrogates and the queries designed to link the two. These themes and others made the conference a rich experience.

The papers in this issue are a good sample of the range of topics covered as well as being an excellent sample of the scholarship that presented itself at the conference. David Bade in "Ethos, Logos, Pathos or Sender, Message, Receiver? A Problematological Rhetoric for Information Technologies" offers a rhetorical approach to information production and use, in particular the creation of metadata that serves both human and machine applications. He suggests ethos (the source or authority), logos (the description or argument), and pathos (the questions or desires) as alternatives to the sender, message, and receiver of Shannon-Weaver Communication Theory. Gretchen Hoffman in her "Meeting Users' Needs in Cataloging: What Is the Right Thing to Do?" explores the divide between the ethical responsibility of catalogers to customize records to meet the needs of their users and the pressures of practice to apply standards and accept copy. She explores the disconnect between catalogers' perceptions and users' needs and points in the direction of ways to ameliorate these gaps. Kristene Unsworth in her "Ethical Concerns of Information Policy and Organization in National Security" analyzes three case studies as the central part of her exploration of classification in the context of what purports to be national security: the East German Ministry for State Security (the Stasi) founded in the 1950s and their elaborate classification of enemies of the state, the United States House Committee on Un-American Activities and how their targets became classified as communists or fellow travelers, and the watch programs to classify what is suspicious behavior fostered by current efforts to address Homeland Security. Julianne Beall presents a use of the Dewey Decimal Classification Table 5 and the newly-minted MARC 083 field to accommodate varying representations of racially mixed people. Her solution is complex in its manifestation for human eyes, but as a searchable element takes on a definite elegance in its use of existing standards for a creative solution. Richard Smiraglia in his "Bibliocentrism, Cultural Warrant, and the Ethics of Resource Description: A Case Study" exposes the lack of theoretical commitment in the construction and use of cataloging standards as they swing back and forth between pragmatic principles and prescriptive rules. He reveals the deleterious effects of the focus of standards on books contrasted with the forced conformity of description of nonbook resources with those bibliocentric rules using Beghtol's distinction of cultural warrant and ethical warrant.

In the closing session of the conference discussion turned toward future considerations. A wide array of possibilities emerged including: IO and ethics in a global context; forms of activism appropriate to the ethical practice of IO; the specific ethical issues of IO in a public library context; curricular implications of ethical issues in IO; the ethics of interface design; the subtle effects of citation indexing on defining what is scholarly; who does what in terms of the ethics of IO personnel practices; and aesthetics as an aspect of IO. The conference was attended by a healthy mix of faculty, students, and practicing professionals, but future conferences would benefit from drawing in vendors, library directors, and more people from archives, museums, and other information contexts.

The high note of enthusiasm and commitment heard at the end of the conference was a tribute to the program developed by Hur-Li Lee (School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee). As program chair, supported by a program committee of diverse interests and expertise, she shaped the content for this first collective foray into the ethics of information organization.

Hope A. Olson
Professor and Associate Dean
School of Information Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

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