SJSU Portfolio

Competency #7

Understand the system of standards and methods used to control and create information structures and apply basic principles involved in the organization and representation of knowledge


The Royal Library of Alexandria

I decided to begin at the beginning in understanding the “system of standards and methods used to control and create information structures ” and demonstrating my ability to use “basic principles involved in the organization and representation of knowledge structures use ”. Using Callimachus as a springboard for a discussion of cataloging is perhaps an obvious idea, but the results of my simple research were surprising, ironically revealing the most modern challenges in labeling information.

I wanted to inspire my composition with an image connected to The Pinakes, the index created by 3rd Century BC poet librarian Callimachus for the the Royal Library at Alexandria. A simple Google image search returned an engraving of the Library featured in Wikipedia(Pinakes, 2010), where it had no caption, no tag, no attribution, just the claim that the image was in the public domain. The Britannica used the same illustration, again with no citation (Library, 2010). The web page of a science fiction artist, Marshall Mateer (Von Ruff, 2010) , mentions these unattributed uses and identifies the work as a 19th century German engraving by “O. Von Corven” (Mateer, 2009), but only ‘Von Corvin’brought Google search results, taking us back to Wikipedia, which identifies Von Corvin not as an artist but as an author and publisher who developed “an effective and cheap reproduction technology for the illustrations” which was named “Corviniello”, except that Wikipedia is citing as its source on Van Corvin the New International Encyclopedia, which tells us that Corviniello was “a species of metal work inlaid with mother-of-pearl, stones, or other material” (The New, 2010, August 21). Mateer claims the image is based on “ some” archeological evidence—no other user, not even the Britannica, discusses the accuracy of the illustration. So in 2010, in the midst of the greatest explosion of information the world has ever seen, the most commonly used image of the first library to have a catalog has no easily discernable origin. Part of no reliable information structure, undescribed by accurate attributes, this image is now a cataloging failure.

With further time and broader research the information about this illustration can be uncovered, but the information structures and the organization and representation of knowledge generally available on the Internet here failed in one of a librarian’s primary tasks: through classifying, indexing, and cataloging information, to ensure that the desired information object can be retrieved. Edna Reid, the professor in my Library 202 class, emphasized this principle: “How information can be retrieved is completely dependent on how it has been stored”(2008a). In the Royal Library of Alexandria, parchment scrolls were separated by subject and stored in bins, thus qualifying as perhaps the first library database: a collection of information that is systematically organized. For much of the modern era it was more common for Information structures to contain document surrogates—old style library card catalogs are an excellent example of such information structures—but now the ability to store full text articles in databases brings us back to Callimachus. Today, not only individual users but also a complex interconnected web of information storage institutions must be able to share and locate information with ease. Whether creating a document surrogate for an information object, or labeling the actual object, a competent librarian understands the need for “standard formats governing record creation and exchange” (Reid, 2008b). Metadata—information about the ‘information object’ is standardized in the MARC (machine readable cataloging) record. Maintained by the Library of Congress through all its permutations since the 1960’s, MARC has become the standard for “storage and exchange of bibliographic records and related information in machine readable form” (Reid, 2008b). So commonly available and standardized are MARC records that an elementary school library technician with the right software can “catalog” a shelf of books in a brief time merely by scanning the titles into her computer.

Above each bin in the Library at Alexandria hung the tablets prepared by Callimachus, describing each scroll below with a standardized list of attributes, including “the suthor’s life and family background…works and their incipits, and…a stichometric note stating the number of lines of text ” (Witty, 1958, April). Not only the organization but the accurate, standardized description of the information object is of crucial importance for optimal user retrieval. Cataloging and classification, the most ancient duty of librarians, remains crucially important today; a librarian must be knowledgeable about the requirements and fundamental principles of cataloging and indexing. The Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules(AACR2) comprise the most common cataloging code currently used in libraries. For cataloging the enormous resources of the Internet, AACR2 has been tried and found insufficient. Dublin Core is the metadata set currently being developed as “interoperable online metadata standards” (Reid 2008b). Not all librarians are routinely called upon now to hand-catalog material, but the requirement for initial competency was well expressed by a cataloging trainer: “The one thing they have been taught, and which they hopefully will find hard to forget, is a process and way of thinking” (Carter, 1987).

The subject index of Callimachus was a precursor to the two commonly encountered subject indexing systems in use today: the Library of Congress, usually found in academic libraries, and the Dewey Decimal system, still most common in public libraries and school libraries. A competent librarian must be comfortable with applying and explaining both these systems, and aware of the underlying principles which form them and can be analogously applied to other organizational systems. Mr. Witty, expert on the Pinakes and the history of cataloging, opined that these studies “offer hardly anything fascinating for the general reader”, but the history of subject indexing is not without its controversies, and continues to be contentious today. A competent librarian must be cognizant of these controversies and prepared to participate in discussion and decision–making surrounding them. Sanford Berman in the early 1970’s first raised the issue of ethnocentric and sexist values in Library of Congress headings; today libraries must contend with search engine subject terminologies which may be shaped as much by marketing as by accuracy. A skilled librarian must be both contributor and referee in the social network world of ’folksonomy’, where every individual visiting a site like Delicious (formerly is a cataloger, independently tagging information objects with individually chosen subject labels, collectively creating tag clouds which theoretically can inform the searches of others.

As evidence of Competency #7, I first present a database I constructed with my partner, Jamie Renton, for the Libr 202 class cited above. I presented the User guide and thesaurus for this database in Competencies #5 and #6; this is the actual structure of the database, which displays our understanding of information organization, structures, and labeling for retrieval. We collaborated closely on the structure; I populated the fields of “Radio Piece” ID’s 11– 24. This was a very challenging and useful assignment for my first SLIS class. We grew in understanding of the basic structures of a database and the necessary attributes for specific purposes, and also helped increase the accessibility and relevance of PBX for high school teachers.

Next, I am including some records of machine cataloging I did in the L4U library management system in the Sonoma Valley High School Library. I have cataloged hundreds of books for them using MARC records, but so far I have not encountered a situation which required me to go beyond the provided information and apply my theoretical cataloging knowledge. This type of cataloging is the usual procedure in a high school library; it is not demanding and is usually done by the library technician, but assisting with this process has clarified my understanding of library standards and procedures.

I also offer a link to an assignment from Derek Christansen’s Libr 240 Information Technology class, for which a group of students investigated and evaluated ‘Cloud Tagging’, then compared our somewhat hesitant findings to the instructor’s more vociferous objections. This assignment raised my awareness of the benefits and challenges of folksonomy cataloging. My contributions are in dark blue and include the Wordle cloud and the Dept. of State window.


Berman, S. (1993). Prejudices and antipathies: a tract on the LC subject heads concerning people. Jefferson, NC: McFarland Press.

Carter, C. A.(1987). On-the-job training for catalog librarians. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly , 7(4), 79– 93

Library of Alexandria (2010) In The encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from

Mateer, M.(2009). Shapes of time—History of IPR and copyright. Retrieved from

The New International Encyclopedia/Corvin–Wiersbitzki, Otto von (2010, August 25). Retrieved October 30, 2010 from,_Otto_von

Pinakes [tables] (2010, 28 September) In Wikipedia . Retrieved October 30, 2010 from

Reid, Edna. (2008a). Lecture 2 (week 2): Basic concepts of information retrieval systems [Narrated PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved Fall 2008 from Libr 202-03 Information RetrievalOnline Web site:

Reid, Edna. (2008b). Lecture 5 (week 5): Cataloging and metadata[Narrated PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved Fall 2008 from Libr 202-03 Information Retrieval Online Web site:

Von Ruff, Al. (2010) ISFDB Science Fiction—Marshall Mateer– Summary Bibliography. Retrieved October 30, 2010 from

Witty, F.J. (1958, April). The pinakes of Callimachus. The Library Quarterly, 28(2), 132– 136