Interdisciplinary aspects of Knowledge Organization

Knowledge is not first and foremost organized in libraries or by librarians.  A much more adequate picture of the state of affairs is described by Wallerstein (1996, p. 30): 


"Thus, between 1850 and 1945, a series of disciplines came to be defined as constituting an area of knowledge to which the name “social science” was accorded. This was done by establishing in the principal universities first chairs, then departments offering courses leading to degrees in the discipline. The institutionalization of training was accompanied by the institutionalization of research: the creation of journals specialized in each of the disciplines; the construction of associations of scholars along disciplinary lines (first national, then international): the creation of library collections catalogued by disciplines” (emphasis added).


This example shows that knowledge organization in libraries is a reflection of the establishment of concepts and knowledge structures in other parts of society, for example, in the universities. The connection to universities (and other institutions of higher learning and research) is substantiated in the role of such institutions to produce the knowledge, which is later organized in libraries. This was recognized by the founders of knowledge organization who realized that the organizing of books in libraries must be based on the organization of knowledge, such as this is revealed in scientific publications. 


This example shows that if library classification should be up-to-date is should reflect the current organization of the scientific and scholarly disciplines. In other words: the serious study of library classification should be based on, among other things, knowledge about the social organization of knowledge in institutes of higher education, disciplines and journals. The social organization of knowledge is studied by disciplines such as the sociology of knowledge (including the sociology of science), the history of knowledge (including the history of ideas and the history of science). All this may be termed the social organization of knowledge and it is clearly relevant to Library and Information Science (LIS). LIS is also contributing to these fields, for example with bibliometric studies.


There is, however, also fields which study what has been termed the intellectual organization of knowledge (cf.,  Whitley, 1984/2000).  When scientists produces models of parts of the world (e.g. zoologists of the animal world or physicists and chemists of the chemical worlds), such models are not social models, but ontological models. Although social constructivists might claim that such ontological models are in reality purely "social constructions" (and thus not based on a reality outside the social world) they are at least only  indirectly (if at all) reflecting a social organization of knowledge. The intellectual organization of knowledge is first and foremost reflected in theories and concepts (conceptualizations), why the study of knowledge organization within LIS must include the study of theories, conceptualizations and concepts. LIS classification of knowledge is also based upon scientific models of reality. This is evident, for example, in the classification of biology and chemistry. 

The tendency within LIS have been positivist in the sense that knowledge claims have been confused with knowledge without much concern with controversies and different conceptions. A paper such as Ørom (2003) can be taken as a model for how LIS should relate to different theories and conceptions (and thus to different ontological models of reality). 


Different disciplines have different perspectives on how knowledge is basically organized:





Wallerstein, I. (1996). Open the Social Sciences, report of the Gulbenkian Commission on the Restructuring of the Social Sciences. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. 


Whitley, R. R. (1984). The Intellectual and Social Organization of the Sciences. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (2nd ed. with a new introduction 2000).


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




Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 06-05-2006