Domain Analysis as approach to Knowledge Organization (KO)

The domain analytic approach to Library and Information Science (LIS) was first formulated in a programmatic article by Hjørland & Albrechtsen (1995). For a summary of arguments on the domain analytic view of classification, see Hjørland & Nissen Pedersen (2005) click for summary of arguments.


The application of domain analysis to knowledge organization has been illustrated in a special issue of the journal Knowledge Organization on domain analysis (Hjørland & Hartel, 2003).


The paper by Ørom (2003) may be seen as a model. Ørom considers different "paradigms" or "epistemologies" in arts and demonstrates how these paradigms have influenced major KOS such as UDC, DDC, LC and the Arts and Architecture Thesaurus


When given systems are always more or less a reflection of a certain view of the domain being organized, it follows that the construction, evaluation and use of a KOS should be based on a reflective consideration of such views. In other words: It becomes important to consider different epistemologies, both at a general level and at a domain specific level.


Domain analysis is an attempt to provide relevant subject knowledge within the domain of LIS in a way that strengthens the core LIS perspectives and competencies. Knowledge organizing systems and processes are understood from a study of the domain that is being organized. The way domains are being analyzed is mainly by studying the actors in the domain (sociologically) and the theoretical assumptions (epistemologically).


An example of a thesis written by a graduate student in knowledge organization is Abrahamsen (2003). This is about the music domain. Although the papers are very different there are enough similarities between Ørom (2003) and Abrahamsen (2003) to provide an idea of what the domain-analytic approach to knowledge organization is when it is generalized from a specific domain.


The domain analytic approach is an important theoretical addition to other approaches. It is also an approach that preserves the librarians' core qualifications and identity compared with computer science. A librarian or an information specialist who knows something about the domain of, say, arts, has better qualifications to help users, to classify and index literature and to search and select information. It should be possible within a few teaching hours to provide knowledge about a domain such as arts corresponding to the content of Ørom (2003). Although no amount of knowledge is never enough, such an amount will clearly provide an important foundation. The domain analytic approach does not substitute LIS knowledge with ordinary subject knowledge, and much knowledge from the other approaches should be integrated. 


Each system of KO is always more or less biased towards one or another view or paradigm. There is no neutral platform from which the views may be evaluated. This does not imply, however, that any view is as true or fruitful as any other.  The users too, are influenced by the same paradigms, and their "information needs" are determined by the way the look at the field. In order to make it possible for users to find the information they need and to navigate in information systems must systems of KO be explicit about the view on which their organization is based. This make epistemological and sociological studies of the domain important.


An example of applying domain analysis to the indexing of pictures is provided by Kjellman (2006).





Abrahamsen, K. T. (2003). Indexing of Musical Genres. An Epistemological Perspective. Knowledge Organization, 30(3/4), 144-169.


Buckland, M.; Jiang, H.; Kim, Y. &  Vivien Petras, V. (2001). Domain-Based Indexes: Indexing for Communities of Users. In: 3e Congrès du Chapitre français de L'ISKO, 506 juillet 2001. Filtrage et résumé informatique de l'information sur les réseaux. Paris: Université Nanterre Paris X. pp 181-185.


Hjørland, B. (2002). Domain analysis in information science. Eleven approaches - traditional as well as innovative. Journal of Documentation, 58(4), 422-462.


Hjørland, B. (2004). Domain analysis in information science. IN: Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. New York: Marcel Decker. Pp. 1-7. Online (only available to subscribers:


Hjørland, B. (2007). Domæneanalyse. Præsentation 4 semester. BA 2007


Hjørland, B. & Albrechtsen, H. (1995). Toward A New Horizon in Information Science: Domain Analysis. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 1995, 46(6), 400-425.


Hjørland, B. & Hartel, J. (Eds.). (2003). Special Issue of Knowledge Organization on Domain Analysis. Knowledge Organization, 30(3+4), 125-245. (Click for Content pages).


Hjørland, B. & Nissen Pedersen, K. (2005). A substantive theory of classification for information retrieval. Journal of Documentation, 61(5), 582-597. Click for full-text pdf Click for summary of arguments.


Karpatschof, B._(2000). Human activity. Contributions to the Anthropological Sciences from a Perspective of Activity Theory. Copenhagen: Dansk Psykologisk Forlag. (Front, cover + xii + 513 pages). Re-published with acceptance from the author and copyright-holder. Front_Table of contents.pdf; Chapter_1.pdf; Chapter_2.pdf; Chapter_3.pdf; Chapter_4.pdf; Chapter_5.pdf; Chapter_6.pdf ; References-Index.pdf


Kjellman, U. (2006). Från kungaporträtt till läskeetikett. En domänanalytisk studie över Kungl. bibliotekets bildsamling med särskild inriktning mot katalogiserings- och indexeringsfrågor. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet. (Skrifter utgivna av Institionen för ABM vid Uppsala Universitet. Volym 2).


Ørom, A. (2003). Knowledge Organization in the domain of Art Studies - History, Transition and Conceptual Changes. Knowledge Organization, 30(3/4), 128-143.




See also: Domain (Epistemological Lifeboat);  Domain analysis (Core Concepts in LIS);




Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 26-03-2007





  1. What is the difference between being an ordinary subject specialist and being a LIS-professional working in a given domain?

  2. At least two explicit approaches to organize knowledge in a domain existed prior to 1995: Facet-analysis and bibliometric mapping. What is the relation between these methods and domain-analysis?

  3. Discuss three ways for selecting journals to a library: 1) Purely bibliometric (such as journal impact factor  or Bradford's law) 2) user oriented methods  3) domain analytic methods. 

  4. Consider a given domain, for example, psychology. What are the differences and relations between "things" in the domain (ontological issues), disciplines and sociological issues and "approaches" (epistemological issues)?

  5. Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of domain-analysis as an approach to LIS, as you see it.