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Knowledge Management and Indexes

date: 2014-03-14 12:13:14 -0400


This semester I am teaching a knowledge management (KM) course. I will be posting entries throughout the semester that describe, critique, summarize, outline, etc. KM articles that my students are not reading. The purpose here is to leverage the amount of material I can expose them to.

Article under discussion:

This post is about:

Zedelmaier, Helmut. (2007). Facilitas inveniendi: The alphabetical index as a knowledge management tool. The Indexer, 25(4), 235-242.

Notes and discussion:

Last week I outlined an article that covered ethical research topics within knowledge management. Given the ethical perspective and the argument in that article, I think it makes sense to step outside the main channels of KM literature and cover a KM topic with a historical perspective.

The article (reference above) discusses the history of various knowledge management tools, including encyclopedias, indexes, and like.

Zedelmaier begins by bridging historical studies of premodern encyclopedias (and other forms of compendiums) to current knowledge management studies.

He then highlights the importance of the index as a tool

used to ensure the effective and rapid retrieval of information from the often enormous apparatus of knowledge (p. 235).

And outlines several criteria of encyclopedias. Specifically, they

must be accessible, allow rapid familiarization with a particular (or the entire) domain of knowledge, and be arranged in such a way that the knowledge they contain is quickly retrievable (p. 235).

Some key ideas with some modern equivalents I've added:

  • Encyclopedias were once used as a kind of handbook, containing how-tos and instructions rather than just topical articles. Today we might think of Wikibooks1) as the modern equivalent and the current companion to Wikipedia 2) as scholars thought of encyclopedias in times past.
  • In terms of an “instruction manual”, the encyclopedia has roots in bibliography, such that modern equivalents might be applications such as CiteULike, Zotero 3), Mendeley 4), and others.
  • Note-taking and compiling were important knowledge creation functions. Modern equivalents might include such things as Evernote 5) and other note-taking software 6). Perhaps also applications such as Pinterest 7).
  • Various forms of indexing. Think of modern equivalents: Subject indexes 8), Web indexes 9), Bibliographic indexes 10).

I'm reading into this, but you can see an important conceptual relation between indexes and hyperlinks:

Indexes, Gessner claims (1548: Fol. 20v), should not give folio or page numbers, but should rather refer to chapter and paragraph numbers in order to provide a standardized network of references, valid irrespective of edition (p. 237).

Hyperlinks, for example, have the capability to refer to specific pages but also to parts of a page. This is a powerful way to interact with text, documentation, or recorded knowledge more generally.

There is also a relation between indexes and read behavior. For example, indexes allow for a systematic ability to approach a text non-linearly. That is, an index allows readers to skip about a work rather than read it from beginning to end.

the new printing technique only refined methods of textual organization which had led to a liberation from purely linear ways of reading and had already been in widespread use in universities for over 300 years before the printing press appeared (p. 237).

Are alphabetically sorted indexes “unscholarly”? Is there a relationship between the unscholariness of an index to its ease of use?

Albertus Magnus, for example, saw alphabetical arrangement as a modus non philosophicus, it breaks up the coherence of knowledge. Yet he also said that the use of alphabetical order leads to ad facilitatem doctrinae, and is therefore in the interest of the user (p. 239).

Indexes are a powerful form of organizing knowledge. When codifying a domain of knowledge, it's important to consider how the parts of the codification are referenced as well as how the references themselves are organized.

The ability to retrieve information or knowledge has an impact on the tacit/explicit knowledge distinction. Think of, for example, the high velocity/turbulent (HVT) 11) article. Part of the reason tacit knowledge is so well valued in such HVT environments is because information/knowledge storage and retrieval of codified knowledge is much slower than the brain. In such scenarios, training, preparation, and experience (the development of tacit knowledge) are more helpful for decision-making.

  • categories:
    • academic libraries
    • knowledge management
    • LIS658
blog/knowledge-management-and-indexes.txt · Last modified: 2021/03/10 09:15 by seanburns