Classifying and Cataloguing


Cataloguing and classifying. What a task it can be. Yet a body of information, well classified and catalogued can provide so much more to the seeker of knowledge than a random collection of papers and files.

There are people who love to do it. They read the texts to be classified, they add the detail to the structure so that it ‘fits in’ with the system of classification. The examine objects and fit them in to the classification system so that anyone with a knowledge of the system can find anything easily (or at least that is the usual intent).

I started my working life in a library, with absolutely no librarianship training. BUT I had been a student in the specialised arena, and was thus deemed a cheap option (first jobs are always slave labour) for having someone who would read their way through 1 year of newspapers, find what was relevant and file it away so that it could be retrieved. That unfortunately ruined newspaper reading for me. Prior to that I had been able to spend hours reading a newspaper. But scanning through that pile, and of course 3 papers a day and 5 on Sundays meant that I had to read VERY FAST to get through the pile and not let it get any bigger. We used a simple method, very big heading areas, and then filed by date. It seemed to work, every time I was asked for something I could find it. And when it came to putting stuff back in the files, I could find where it had been and return it to its resting place.

Simplicity in manual cataloguing is essential.

With the increasing sophistication of computerised systems you can index your whole hard drive using the file names, and improve your search for that recipe for whale steaks from your Great Aunt Mable that you believe should be in the folder called recipes, but which you inadvertently saved in the folder containing all the Greenpeace literature you have been meaning to read for the last 10 years.

However if online cataloguing and classifying is not kept RELATIVELY simple, whole computers can be and are kept very busy searching for stuff.

The people who think they can define the systems often get carried away. I have watched a few over my years in the industry. They plan grandiosely; of course the software can do almost anything, so they decide to take advantage of it all. The plan looks good on paper. It gets created in the documentation management systems. They set up a few samples, sweating over how to do it exactly right.

Everyone gets balloons and lollypops (and occasionally even pens just to show how useless these things will now be) as the amazing new initiative is launched. We all try for a while. But having to fill in 17 different attributes of our document every time we want to save it, suddenly makes the whole thing a nightmare. Productivity drops. We stop using it, and create little shared folders for common information. These grow and grow and soon we have whole libraries informally stashed away again in random places.

KISS people. That is the approach. (KISS – Keep It Simple – Stupid)

Start with simplicity. Work with simplicity. Make the solution simple, and guess what, people WILL use it, if it helps make finding stuff easy later on.

Of course there are also options for detailed searches in these online systems, that can scan through some of the content of the files in the systems. You get DROWNED in what gets fed back to you. That’s when you realise that different areas of specialisation in an organisation all used the SAME WORD, to mean different things.

You leave, sobbing and calling for a glass of Merlot. Wishing for the old days, when there was a stern but kindly Librarian who would dig through a system of little drawers with cards, and then direct you physically to the floor, wing and level of the library for the information you wanted.

Personally I’d like to see Steve Job’s document management. I bet from the master of simplicity, we’d find direction for the complex task.

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17 thoughts on “Classifying and Cataloguing

  1. So often computer boffins over complicate things. Did you have to micro fische (spelling?) the newspapers back then?

    1. because we make too many copies too easily, and don’t THINK bout what we are doing. We don’t have the discipline there was in a paper office

      plus things happen so much faster these days………..

  2. Ack…must I think of MARC records while off the clock? 😉 Actually, I do very little cataloguing that isn’t more than copy/paste, etc.. Steve Jobs ~ my hero for intuitive design.

  3. You have outlined a metaphor for life, Sidey. So much of our lives need not be as complicated as they are. Here in Britain we have a Plain English Campaign because we have let our language become as over complicated as our systems and it does everyone’s head in. KISS it is, from ow on 🙂

    1. English, such a rich and complex language seems to have been taken over by the word-mongers (they make up complexities)

      But then do you want British English to become as simplified as American English? I had to strip down my vcabulary when I started doing work there, that helped me for working in places where English is not the native language

  4. Thanks for your comment on my blog.
    I like your sense of humor very much. I love keeping things simple. I feel like I can’t do enough of it. I would love to see a post on keeping blogging simple. 😄

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