Special Interest Group/Classification Research (SIG/CR) explored the significance of studies on classification and its real world effects through paper presentations by students and faculty at the 2015 ASIS&T Annual Meeting workshop. Presenters looked at the effects of approaches to classifying and structuring knowledge and at the ways classification models frame similarities and differences and influence views of society and the world. Among the papers on specific models and cases were presentations on capturing situation semantics in metadata, classifications of violence and disasters and historians’ perspectives on organizing information. Fundamental philosophical positions were shown to inform classifications, and the effects of classificatory systems evolve with time. Other papers addressed the cultural, political and theoretical consequences of compiling a controlled vocabulary, outsourcing metadata and information resources for classification of social and cultural issues. The workshop ended with the announcement of new officers and presentation of student scholarships.


knowledge organization systems
information models
controlled vocabularies
index language construction
domain analysis
sociocultural aspects
special interest groups

ASIS&T Annual Meeting Pre-conference Activities

SIG/CR Workshop

Conceptual Crowbars and Classification at the Crossroads: The Impact and Future of Classification Research

by Melissa Adler

The 2015 Classification Research workshop consciously and critically engaged the general Annual Meeting theme, “Information Science with Impact,” in order to frame conversations about the results and significance of classification research. With the increasing emphasis on impact in and around information science, the organizers seized the opportunity to consider some of the ways in which we define ourselves as a classification research group and how we understand our research to affect and influence theory and practice. Classification matters not only in the functioning of information systems and technologies, but also in the lived experiences of individuals and in society, organizations and all information contexts. It is important to evaluate the positive and negative as well as the intended and unintended consequences of classification and classification research.

The spate of recent violent events, together with the resistance and response, quickens a crucial set of questions about the nature of our work. One of the aims of the workshop was to cast such violence as a knowledge organization problem. The organizers also wanted to consider whether and how classificatory acts and systems can be reparative or transformative. They asked the following questions in their call: What bearing does the structuring of knowledge have upon the seeking, reception, circulation and use of knowledge and information? Do classifications tell us something about agendas, political contexts or authority? What role do our classification systems play in constituting and challenging categories of difference? In what ways have communities used and/or challenged classifications in civic action and protest?

Students and faculty in various stages of their careers and several research practitioners delivered eight papers in the half-day workshop. Attendees and presenters brought a wide range of perspectives and knowledge to bear on the workshop theme. We were pleased to have some of the most highly regarded experts in the field of knowledge organization and a number of newcomers.

Sessions were organized loosely around the themes of the papers. The first session featured papers that directly addressed classification models and cases in practice. The papers in the second session took stock of fundamental classification theories and methods and suggested new directions for research and evaluation of impact. The third session dealt with social and political questions regarding classification and metadata creation.

The morning kicked off with a brief introduction. Melissa Adler welcomed the participants and provided an overview of SIG/CR and the purpose and intent of the workshop.

The first presenter was Karen Wickett, who explained how situation semantics can be applied in descriptive metadata modeling to capture the roles of the various agents and contexts involved in the development, selection, use and interpretation of value vocabularies and classifications.

Yejun Wu presented a paper co-authored by Li Yang that explores how seven different knowledge organization systems classify and name violence and man-made disasters.

Joseph Busch revisited a paper written in 1992 about the Getty system for modeling the variability of historical source information [1]. He reconsidered and updated research on the cognitive process of inquiry and methods used by historians to organize information, and he discussed the progress of longitudinal methods in system design.

Joseph T. Tennis outlined the ways in which fundamental philosophical positions have been operationalized and evaluated in the literature to understand the strengths and weaknesses in our current practices of assessing impact.

Richard Smiraglia explored social epistemological questions about knowledge organization systems, including ways to understand systems as pervasive mechanisms of control, the paradoxical limits and liberatory aspects of knowledge organization systems and how impact and effects of systems change over time.

Audrey Lorberfeld and Elan May Rinck examined the cultural, political and theoretical consequences of constructing a controlled vocabulary for an unstructured, niche domain within the framework of a prototype thesaurus for indexing the domain of do-it-yourself (DIY) biohacking.

Lala Hajibayova’s paper discussed the possibilities and limitations for crowdsourcing metadata, using the example of the New York Public Library’s “What’s on the menu?” collection, the largest restaurant menu collection in the world.

Ronald Day presented the final paper of the day and directly addressed the workshop’s call to confront classification and violence. He argued that research on classification in social and cultural issues needs to be done at the levels of primary and secondary documentation, as a problem of epistemic and practical infrastructure, and as political economy.

Following the paper sessions we had a rich discussion about future directions of classification research and initiatives SIG/CR should take to draw upon and speak to wider reaches of the information science community.

Before the meeting adjourned, new officers of SIG/CR were introduced. Barbara Kwasnik, professor, Syracuse University, is chair-elect. Lala Hajibayova, assistant professor, Kent State University, is secretary/treasurer and Laura Ridenour, doctoral student, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is the communications officer. Melissa Adler, assistant professor, University of Kentucky, is the current chair.

SIG/CR student scholarships to cover the workshop registration fee were awarded to Audrey Lorberfeld and Elan May Rinck, both from the University of Washington.

Papers and abstracts from the workshop will be published in Advances in Classification Research Online.

The workshop organizing committee members were Melissa Adler, University of Kentucky; Barbara Kwasnik, Syracuse University; Joseph Tennis, University of Washington; and Jonathan Furner, UCLA.

Authors and papers

Session 1 – Space/Time/Semantics

Karen M. Wickett, University of Texas at Austin, “Modeling Classifications and Value Vocabularies with Situation Semantics”

Yejun Wu, Louisiana State University, and Li Yang, Southwest Petroleum University, China, “Exploring Completeness and Balanced Perspectives in Classifications: Case Studies of Violence and Man-Made Disaster”

Joseph Busch, Principal, Taxonomy Strategies, “Revisiting Historical Source Information”

Session 2 – Ontology/Epistemology/Culture

Joseph T. Tennis, University of Washington, “On Operationalization and Evaluation of Epistemic and Ontological Claims to Knowledge Organization”

Richard Smiraglia, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, “Cultural Pervasiveness or Objective Violence?: Three Questions about KOS as Cultural Arbiters”

Session 3 – Social/Personal/DIY

Lala Hajibayova, Kent State University, “Participatory Systems of Knowledge Representation and Organization”

Audrey Lorberfeld and Elan May Rinck, University of Washington, “Structural (In)visibility: Possible Effects of Constructing a Controlled Vocabulary on a Niche Domain”

Ronald Day, Indiana University, “Social Classifications, Affect and Human Actions”

Melissa Adler is an assistant professor in the School of Information Science at the Univeristy of Kentucky. She can be reached at melissa.adler<at>uky.edu.