Meet Ranganathan

Last night I was reading this blog post “The Ranganathan Approach to Open Data (Five Laws for Open Data)” and it occurred to me that Ranganathan may be one of the few old school Librarians who effectively prepared for categorizing and classifying information in multiple formats.   As we know, Dewey and Library of Congress classification systems were based on books and documents, and now have been stretched and flexed to include the variety of media we now have available (their flexibility is their strength and explanation for their survival, but more on that some other time).  Ranganathan however, based his classification system on much more abstract concepts of the nature of an object.

Before I get into all of that, I should tell you, this is guy is probably the Biggest Deal in Library science history (for me anyway).  All librarians aspire to his 5 laws of library science:

  1. Books are for use
  2. every reader their book
  3. every book its reader
  4. Save the time of the reader
  5. The Library is a growing organism.

He also made this completely excellent classification system (The Colon Classification System) which is only in use in some places in India.  This is the very first Faceted Classification System, and the facets he names are where this gets interesting.  Referred to as “PMEST”, “Personality”, “Matter” (or Property), “Energy”, “Space” and “Time”.  While this seems a much too far afield to be helpful, it can structure the way we think about organizing information online for retrieval.

I read an article recently about metatagging.  Which essentially would label the “type” of tag in a similar sense that Ranganathan created his PMEST facets.  So, this post for example is tagged with “S.R. Ranganathan”; “Tagging”; and “Folksonomy”, none of which are the same type of information.  If we metatag them, and create standard facets, there is a way to plug this in to our more traditional expectations of searching (i.e. a non-keyword option).  SO although all  three of those tags are the subject of the post, we can divide the information not into it’s function, but what it ‘means’, “S.R. Ranganathan” could be tagged “Persons”; “Tagging” could be tagged “Actions”, and “Folksonomy” could be tagged “Entities” or something.  Outside of the realm of ‘subject’, the “Long post” tag could be tagged as “object description”, or something explaining that it describes not the content, but the actual object itself.  Some may be confused too easily with Persons, but I’m not proposing those terms specifically, and to a certain extent, people will acquiesce to the term definitions.  I believe that this could potentially help us to create a system by which to find the information later, so instead of “Subject:” as a search prompt, you might have “Subject/persons” as a search prompt.  Maybe we could have the freedom of tagging, with the retrieval success of more traditional classification systems.  This is all to say, that I agree with Quintarelli to a certain extent.  My one concern is that all of the examples involve narrow subject facets, is it possible for us, in the spirit of Ranganathan, to not over explain?  Can we allow enough space in our facets’ definitions to serve all potentially tagged objects?  Though this is an entirely grandiose mission, why not try? . . . I’ll make it easier, we’ll just limit it to the internet.