Book House System

A Danish system developed for information retrieval in fiction. It contains about 3.000 references to books for adults and children. The books have been analyzed according to user preferences and the system is based upon a comprehensive research- and development effort. Developed for PC and Macintosh and based on extensive applications of icons.

The Book House system was in many way an innovative system, based eclectically on many ideas. It used the most advanced computer technology of the day, e.g. color screens and icon-based user interface. It used a kind of facet analysis of indexing fiction etc. Pejtersen abandons many traditional properties of classification systems: the class marks, the hierarchies and the idea of exhaustivity and mutual exclusive classes (and the reason for doing so is that her classification is not meant for shelf arrangement).


When we analyze such a system theoretically, we have to put the questions: Which of the ideas are connected to which kind of LIS-theory? In order to understand the relative merits of different theoretical frames of reference, such an analysis becomes important. The fact that Pejtersen only to a very limited extent refers to literary theory may, for example, be seen as an indication that her approach is different from the ideals of Domain Analysis .


This system is perhaps the best example of a system, which is claimed to be based on user modeling and of applying a cognitive view in knowledge organization. This is, for example, expressed here:


"Traditionally classification and indexing schemes have been developed to reflect the contents of a document in terms of its relationships with the knowledge structure of the subject field to which it belongs and does not usually take the users' request as a focus. What is needed to extend this foundation is an appropriate frame of reference of indexing and searching based on a cognitive analysis focusing on the needs and capabilities of the end user. Among other things, this can lead to solutions which let the user choose search attributes which adequately cover the specific domain of interest and, at the same time, give the user the opportunity to solve his/her problem in a natural way". (Pejtersen, 1992, 573).


In this quote express Pejtersen the view that traditional classification and indexing systems do reflect the subject field but not the the users' needs and requests. This is claimed without any critical examination of such "traditional" systems. From a domain-analytic point of view it may be argued that subject fields develop classification criteria, that are relevant for the users of the domain. That, for example, the genre-concepts developed in fiction  are relevant for the classification in that domain (such genre concepts may be developed by researchers in fiction or by other groups, cf. the development of genre-concepts in popular music, cf., Abrahamsen, 2003). It is thus not demonstrated that "cognitive studies" are superior compared to literature-based studies.


The methodological descriptions of how the system was developed (e.g., Pejtersen, 1989) may underplay the fact that the author has a background in literature studies. Such an attitude may reflect a kind of positivism in which empirical studies of users are seen as better research than scholarly studies of literary genres.







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


Beghtol, C. (1991). Book review of: A. M. Pejtersen: The Book House - Modelling Users' needs and search strategies as a basis for system-design. International Classification, 18(4), 233-235.

Beghtol, C. (1991). Book review of: L. P. Goodstein & A. M. Pejtersen: The Book House- System functionality and evaluation. International Classification, 18(4), 233-235.


Goodstein, L. P. & Mark Pejtersen, A. (1989). The Bookhouse. System Functionality and Evaluation. Roskilde: Risø Research Center. (Risø-M-2789).

Pejtersen, A. M. (1989a). The BOOK House: Modeling user needs and search strategies as a basis for system design. Roskilde, Risø National Laboratory. (Risø report M-2794). Full text file: Pejtersen (1989a) 1 of 4.pdf ; Pejtersen_(1989a)_2 of 4.pdf ;
Pejtersen_(1989a)_3 of 4.pdf ; Pejtersen_(1989a)_4 of 4.pdf


Pejtersen, A. M. (1989b). A Library System for Information Retrieval Based on a Cognitive Task Analysis and Supported by an Icon-Interface. ACM SIGIR Forum, 40-47.


Pejtersen, A. M. (1992). The Book House. An icon based database system for fiction retrieval in public libraries. In Cronin, B. (Ed). The marketing of library and information services 2. (pp. 572-591). London, Aslib.



See also: Cognitive view in knowledge organization



Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 10-12-2009