Logic and Classification (crossposted)

[Originally posted on my MLIS blog]

Two things occur to me as I begin my first week’s work in LIBR 202:

1. A little while ago, I wrote a little post on my complete failure to catalog my own massive book collection (2000+, if you include e-books, books at home, and books currently in my office at work). When I wrote that, I was mostly speculating, trying to think about how I might go about collecting information about my books.

Now that I’ve powered through my first reading for LIBR 202 (the first five chapters of Chowdhury), I find myself with a slightly clearer notion of the task before me, should I actually attempt it. Initially, I distinguished between shelving and use, but now I realize that I was probably asking myself the wrong questions.

So, a better start, perhaps, having studied a bit: why do I want to collect and organize/structure information about my books? If I just want to know how many books I have, or I just want to have a list of authors lying around, that’s one thing. If, on the other hand, my purpose for gathering and organizing this information is to make it easier to find certain things in and about my collection, then this will quite seriously change the nature of the task, the amount of information I need, and the means I choose to go about organizing it (and perhaps sharing it). Just piling a list by author together is fine, but if I want to know what books I own that are, say, about dog training, organization by author list only is pretty darn useless unless I already know the authors of all of the relevant dog training texts that might be in my possession. If I want to be able to search through my collection or to identify relations among items in it, an author list is also useless, and it certainly wouldn’t help me figure out where everything is in my current setup, where almost nothing is shelved alphabetically by author (and some things — electronic books — are not “shelved” at all). I also need to think about the format in which I organize this information; if I use my own personal little shorthand code, then this catalog is of no use to anyone who does not have the code (which could include me, if I were ever to forget something about my organization scheme).

Call this the first lesson: Before you can design a data retrieval system, you need to know what and who it’s for.

I mean, sure, duh, but…well, it seems like an important principle to put right out front, no matter how apparently obvious it might be.

2. As a teacher of undergraduate formal and informal logic, I found myself really appreciating chapters 4 and 5 of the Chowdhury text, mostly because they are both basically about applied logicIf any of my students ever wonder when they’ll use the distinction between the extension and intension of terms, I will point them toward the library and say “Look. Right there. Knowing about how to manage extensional and intensional definitions and classification techniques makes that thing work.” It doesn’t matter what classification or indexing scheme you use, you are always going to be negotiating the intension and extension of terms (mostly via, as far as I can tell, varying attempts to work out genus and difference, even though some schemes (like Dewey) appear to be purely enumerative in intent).

…aaaand now I have an awesome example for my intro to logic class this term. I love it when things in my intellectual life cross-pollinate!

About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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