Educational Issues in Knowledge Organization (KO)


Master of LIS Module on KO in English Spring 2006


Master of LIS Module on KO in English Spring 2007


Master of LIS module IN DANISH Forår 2007


Goals and expectations in teaching KO


Ideas for writing term papers


Education for librarianship focuses primarily on the tasks and processes that future librarians are expected to perform professionally. Examples are: Selecting books and other documents for collections, cataloging and subject indexing items in collections and helping users searching information. Library education started originally as practical instruction in the routines of a specific library (apprenticeship). The educational field became increasingly more academic and research based. As a consequence the focus moved from specific procedures and systems in specific libraries to more general principles. With the development of electronic databases the field changed name in most places to Library and Information Science (LIS), because electronic databases such as MEDLINE or Science Citation Index provided advanced principles not developed in the library sector itself which any serious study of knowledge organization (KO) or information retrieval in libraries has to relate to.

Thesis 1: The teaching of Knowledge Organization within "library science" (LS) had developed to a broader field within "library and information science" (LIS) including not only documentary databases (subject bibliographies) but also principles from archives and museums and Internet. (cf. Knowledge organization). This development is seen as necessary when KO is considered an academic discipline and research field.

There is also another important thing to consider. One does not learn to organize knowledge by just learning about specific systems such as the Dewey Decimal Classification or any other kind of system. Knowledge is always about something specific, and one cannot classify documents without knowing how things are related "in reality" according to recent scientific findings and theories. Subject knowledge has thus always been considered extremely important in knowledge organization. Just as one cannot teach a course in say, physical chemistry, based on just knowledge about teaching, one cannot either organize knowledge in any domain without solid subject knowledge in that specific domain. Advanced systems of KO, e.g. the Medline database, therefore demand high degrees in the subject to be indexed (here biomedicine). The same is more or less the case in libraries. This was recognized by, for example, Richardson & Bliss, who wrote: “Again from the standpoint of the higher education of librarians, the teaching of systems of classification . . . would be perhaps better conducted by including courses in the systematic encyclopedia and methodology of all the sciences, that is to say, outlines which try to summarize the most recent results in the relation to one another in which they are now studied together. . . .” (Ernest Cushing Richardson, quoted from Bliss, 1935, p. 2).

This suggestion was in practice followed (more or less) in schools of LIS. The Royal School of Library and Information Science in Denmark (RSLIS), for example, actually had departments for science and technology, social sciences, and humanities, which were teaching subjects such as special bibliography, subject literature, subject encyclopedism, and the philosophy and communication of subject knowledge. Foskett (1974), Langridge (1976) and Vickery (1975) are examples of textbooks introducing knowledge organization in the social sciences, the humanities and in the sciences, respectively for LIS education. The challenge of subject knowledge in the LIS curriculum is to make an theoretical integration which at the same consider the disciplinary differences and form a coherent theoretical frame for knowledge organization and information retrieval. In RSLIS the departments for different subjects were integrated in a new structure in 1999. Students have to take courses in KO and information seeking in specific domains and the Domain Analytic approach to information science (i.e., Hjørland, 2002) was developed as a theoretical frame of reference of IS to cope with the core problem of how to tackle subject knowledge in the education of information specialists.

Thesis 2: The teaching of Knowledge Organization within LIS has to consider the importance of subject knowledge and the different needs in different fields of knowledge.

Although there are many difficulties and challenges, a text such as Ørom (2003) can be taught at about 4 hours of teaching (more or less depending on preexisting knowledge). This should of course be
accompanied by teaching of other subjects, including epistemology and analyses of specific systems for knowledge organizing. Students who have understood and learned an article like Ørom's should be better librarians concerning how to select art documents, how to index/classify art documents, how to search information about arts and how help users concerning art (as well as designing and evaluating systems for KO in the domain of art studies). Such a teaching should also provide better understanding of information problems in any other domain: It should, so to speak prepare the students to look for the relevant dynamics in a domain. The teaching of general knowledge organization should not be based on the illusionary view that one is better of if one knows nothing about any specific domain. On the contrary: General knowledge about KO must be based on generalizations made from studies of specific domains. One such generalized model is the revised UNISIST-model of communication structures and document types (cf., Fjordback Søndergaard, Andersen & Hjørland, 2003). In such ways may subject knowledge be included in educational programs and still provide a unique LIS-perspective.  


Bliss, H. E. (1935). A system of bibliographical classification. New York: H. W. Wilson.

Broughton, V.; Hansson, J.; Hjørland, B. & López-Huertas, M. J. (2005). [Chapter 7:] Knowledge Organization. IN: European Curriculum Reflections on Library and Information Science Education. Ed. by L. Kajberg & L. Lørring. Copenhagen: Royal School of Library and Information Science. (Pp. 133-148). [Report of working group on LIS-education in Europe. Working seminar held  in Copenhagen 11-12 August 2005 at the Royal School of Library and Information Science.] Available:

Fjordback Søndergaard, T.; Andersen, J. & Hjørland, B. (2003). Documents and the communication of scientific and scholarly information. Revising and updating the UNISIST model. Journal of Documentation, 59(3), s. 278-320.


Foskett, D. J. (1974). Classification and Indexing in the Social Sciences. 2nd Edition. London: Butterworths.

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


Juznic, P. & Badovinac, B. (2005). Toward library and information science education in the European Union. A comparative analysis of library and information science programmes of study for new members and other applicant countries to the European Union. New Library World, 106(1210/1211), 173-186.


Langridge, D. W. (1976). Classification and Indexing in the Humanities. London: Butterworths.


Lasic-Lazic, J.; Slavic, A. & Banek Zorica, M. B. (2003). Curriculum development in the field of information science: knowledge organization courses. Proceedings of the 26th International Convention MIPRO, Opatija, 19-23 svibnja 2003. Opatija : MIPRO HU, 2003. pp. 116-122. Available:


Lørring, Leif (2004). Behind the curriculum of library and information studies. Models for didactical curriculum reflections. World Library and Information Congress: 70th IFLA General Conference and Council 22-27 August 2004 Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Vickery, B. C. (1975). Classification and Indexing in Science. 3rd Edition. London: Butterworths.

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


The figure below is taken from Lørring (2004) and illustrates the central place of knowledge organization within the LIS-curriculum.






Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 06-04-2007





















































Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 06-04-2007