Thoughts on Everything is Miscellaneous – Chapter 1

The first chapter of David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous brings up an interesting thought on sorting through personal things—if you can’t find a place for it you’re more likely to get rid of it. This is true in terms of library collections as well as personal, home based organization systems. There might not be a place because the designated space is already full of better versions (black cardigans, for example) or because it’s so strange that it’s hard to know where to put it (a propeller hat, for example) and you determine therefore that it isn’t necessary.

His point about organizing digital photos is also related to the Library of Congress Flickr account we discussed in my cataloging class. Where Weinberger suggests that in the future “labeling photos will become a social process, with others pitching in to help us organize them.” This is exactly what the LC has created for users’ benefits; the collective knowledge pool will result in far more access points for photographs than an individual cataloger could come up with. Google is doing this as well. The Google Image Labeler is an extremely entertaining way to idle away time on the internet. Google comes up with random images, you and another anonymous user label them, and the terms you both come up with are compiled to make their image database more specifically accessed. For points! (What can you even do with these points?) This practice may have some disadvantages—if enough people label enough photos, the number of results that come up even within very specific search terms could grow to be very overwhelming—but the quantity of information is already overwhelming enough that worrying about a bell curve seems somewhat hasty.

Weinberger’s discussion of user-based file labeling on Flickr initially made me question the necessity of controlled vocabularies. I think they are still useful on a small scale, but if cataloging ever truly enters the world of cloud computing and there’s a giant database in the sky that everyone contributes to, it seems likely that catalogers will collectively come up with a huge variety of terms that can then be accessed all at once. On the other hand, while it easy to look at a photograph and say, “Yes, that certainly is a photograph of a dog with a red clown nose. And there’s another. And seventeen more. I’ll pick the one with the brown dog,” it’s much more difficult to say “here are nineteen different articles on the role of women in the Civil War. I’ll pick the …shortest one?” Since textual materials have so much more content than photographs the cataloging requires a lot more specific metadata.

Weinberger. (2007). Everything is Miscellaneous. New York: Times Books. Chapter 1: The Power of the New Digital Disorder

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