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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2000

Book Reviews

The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization

Flora Shrode
University of Tennessee Libraries
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization. Elaine Svenonius. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000. 255 pp. ISBN 0-262-19433-3. $37.00 cloth.

In The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization Elaine Svenonius demonstrates how modern challenges of managing digital information relate to long established views about how to characterize information and make it accessible. By first examining what constitutes principles and objectives within this field, Svenonius shows how they relate to techniques. She presents a conceptual view of organizing information rather than focusing on procedures followed in specific approaches. The text explores theoretical foundations of organizational systems and investigates them from a holistic point-of-view in an effort to explain how many approaches share common goals.

"Cataloging" is a deceptively easy label that summarizes what we mean by organizing intellectual information intelligently. In some sense this book is about cataloging, but it goes beyond what that might imply to delve into early discussions of what information organizers should try to accomplish and to show how historical efforts relate to organizing digital information. Svenonius discusses bibliographic languages for works, documents, and subjects and their associated vocabularies, semantics, and syntactical elements. Perennial problems that arise in attempting to establish standards or to set rules for how to identify, describe, and encode the descriptions have been addressed in a variety of ways over time, and Svenonius shows how past analyses inform current efforts. The text revisits fundamental questions that drive the establishment of objectives and rules for indexing and cataloging, exploring the implications in the digital information age.

The book's title connotes thoughts of the lofty goal of organizing the universe of information for easy access. This goal fuels most libraries, the librarians who organize and work in them, and even the idea of the World Wide Web. In addition to information science students and practitioners, The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in organizing information in any form. It presents a concise review of the history of indexing systems, putting them in the context of current trends toward global access to digital information. Svenonius, Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, surveys the history behind principles that contributed to the establishment of cataloging practices around the world. She interweaves historical events, the emergence of theories about how to identify all components of the bibliographic universe, and the growth of various schools of thought about what purposes catalogs should serve. The book is well documented with end notes and a bibliography that reflect the author's extensive knowledge and career-long study and contributions to scholarship in cataloging and access. Dr. Svenonius purposefully writes in an accessible style, explains specialized terminology, and avoids relying on jargon that could burden the text and make it difficult to comprehend. The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization is easy to read in spite of the complexity of concepts it presents. It belongs in academic libraries, especially in institutions that offer degrees and support research in library and information science.

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