Cataloging Theory in Search of Graph Theory and Other Ivory Towers: Object: Cultural Heritage Resource Description Networks

Article excerpt

This paper summarizes a research program that focuses on how catalogers, other cultural heritage information workers, web/Semantic Web technologists, and the general public understand, explain, and manage resource description tasks by creating, counting, measuring, classifying, and otherwise arranging descriptions of cultural heritage resources within the bibliographic universe and beyond it. A significant effort is made to update the nineteenth-century mathematical and scientific ideas present in traditional cataloging theory to their twentieth- and twenty-first-century counterparts. There are two key elements in this approach: (1) a technique for diagrammatically depicting and manipulating large quantities of individual and grouped bibliographic entities and the relationships between them, and (2) the creation of resource description exemplars (problem-solution sets) that are intended to play theoretical, pedagogical, and IT system design roles.

To The Reader: This paper presents a major re-visioning of cataloging theory, introducing along the way a technique for depicting diagrammatically large quantities of bibliographic entities and the relationships between them. As many details of the diagrams cannot be reproduced in regularly sized print publications, the reader is invited to follow the links provided in the endnotes to PDF versions of the figures.

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Cataloging--the systematic arrangement of resources through their descriptions that is practiced by libraries, archives, and museums (i.e., cultural heritage institutions) and other parties (1)--can be placed in an advanced, twenty-first-century context by updating its preexisting scientific and mathematical ideas with their more contemporary versions. Rather than directing our attention to implementation-oriented details such as metadata formats, database designs, and communications protocols, as do technologists pursuing bottom-up web and Semantic Web initiatives, in this paper we will define a complementary, top-down approach.

This top-down approach focuses on how catalogers, other cultural heritage information workers, web/ Semantic Web technologists, and the general public have understood, explained, and managed their resource description tasks by creating, counting, measuring, classifying, and otherwise arranging descriptions of cultural heritage resources within and beyond the bibliographic universe. We go on to prescribe what enlargements of cataloging theory and practice are required such that catalogers and other interested parties can describe pages from unique, ancient codices as readily as they might describe information elements and patterns on the web.

We will be enhancing cataloging theory with concepts from communications theory, history of science, graph theory, computer science, and from the hybrid field of anthropology and mathematics called ethnomathematics. Employing this strategy benefits two groups:

* Workers in the cultural heritage realm, who will acquire a broadened perspective on their resource description activities, who will be better prepared to handle new forms of creative expressions as they appear, and who will be able to shape the development of information systems that support more sophisticated types of resource descriptions and ways of exploring those descriptions. To build a better library system (perhaps an n-dimensional, n-connected system?), one needs better theories about the library collections and the people or groups who manage and use them.

* The full spectrum of people who draw on cultural heritage resources: scholars, creatives (novelists, poets, visual artists, musicians, and so on), professional and technical workers, students, and other people or groups pursuing specific or general, long-or short-term interests, entertainment, etc.

To apply a multidisciplinary perspective to the processes by which resource description data (linked or otherwise) are created and used is not an ivory tower exercise. …