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Preface to the First Edition

Robert J. Glushko

In our daily lives organizing is a common personal and group activity that we often do without thinking much about it. Organizing is also a fundamental issue in library and information science, computer science, systems analysis, informatics, law, economics, and business. But even though researchers and practitioners in these disciplines think about organizing all the time, they have only limited agreement in how they approach problems of organizing and in what they seek as their solutions.

This book analyzes these different contexts and disciplines to propose a discipline of organizing that applies to all of them. Whether you are organizing physical resources like printed books or museum paintings, or digital resources like web pages, MP3s, or computational services implemented in software, you are creating an Organizing System—an intentionally arranged collection of resources and the interactions they support.

The transdisciplinary concept of Organizing System lets us see that resource selection, organizing, interaction design, and maintenance take place in every one of them. We can also identify many design principles and methods that apply broadly when we describe resources, create resource categories, and classify resources by assigning them to categories. A vocabulary for discussing common organizing challenges and issues that might be otherwise obscured by narrow disciplinary perspectives helps us understand existing organizing systems better while also suggesting how to invent new ones by making different design choices.


This book began as the lecture notes from a graduate course on Information Organization and Retrieval I have taught since 2005 at the University of California, Berkeley. My goal was to teach these traditionally distinct subjects in a more integrated way. The former is the focus of library and information science, while the latter is core to computer science and informatics, and their conventional textbooks and topics are widely divergent. But while these academic disciplines are divided, in the “real world” information organization and retrieval are increasingly intermixed and converging.

With the World Wide Web and ubiquitous digital information, along with effectively unlimited processing, storage and communication capability driven by Moore’s Law, millions of people create and browse websites, blog, tag, tweet, and upload and download content of all media types without thinking “I’m organizing now” or “I’m retrieving now.” When people use their smart phones to search the web or run applications, location information transmitted from their phone is used to filter and reorganize the information they retrieve. Arranging results to make them fit the user’s location is a kind of computational curation, but because it takes place quickly and automatically we hardly notice it. Likewise, almost every application that once seemed predominantly about information retrieval is now increasingly combined with activities and functions that most would consider to be information organization.

We needed a book that could bridge—or better yet, synthesize—the two disciplines of library science and computer science. We believe that their intellectual intersection is the study of organizing, and in particular, the analysis and design of Organizing Systems.


A book motivated by the prospect of multidisciplinary synthesis implies a multidisciplinary collaboration to create it. The principal authors of this book are mostly professors or former professors at different universities whose backgrounds include computer science and software engineering, library science, digital humanities, and cognitive science. Many of the other authors are former graduate students currently working in major web firms, web start-ups, consulting organizations, academic and government research labs, and law firms. This diverse set of authors with different backgrounds and aspirations gives this book a broad and contemporary perspective that would be impossible for a single author to achieve.


Multidisciplinary collaboration poses its own challenge. A book that brings together multiple disciplines contains many specialized topics and domain-specific examples that might overwhelm the shared concepts. Our solution is to write a “lean” core text and to move disciplinary and domain-specific content into “tagged” endnotes. This allows the book to emphasize the concepts that bridge the different organizing disciplines while enabling it to satisfy the additional topical needs of different academic programs. There are six types of endnotes, listed here in order of their frequency in the text:

  • Citation — additional detail not tied to a particular discipline.
  • LIS — Library and Information Science; these aren’t the same, but this is a conventional disciplinary category.
  • Computing — includes Computer Science, Software Engineering, and Web Architecture.
  • CogSci — Cognitive Science, which includes Cognitive Psychology, Linguistics, and Philosophy.
  • Law.
  • Business.

In the print version of this book readers can customize their experience by turning to the endnotes section of each chapter. In the initial ebook versions, readers can follow hypertext links to the associated endnotes.


We have thought since the beginning of this project that this book should not just be a conventional printed text. A printed book is an intellectual snapshot that is already dated in many respects the day it is published. In addition, the pedagogical goal of this book is made more difficult by the relentless pace of technology innovation in our information-intensive economy and culture.

The emergence of ebook publishing opens up innovative possibilities for this book. We are already working on a next-generation ebook application that can create a vastly more engaging and integrated reader experience with the tagged endnotes. Instead of requiring the reader to follow a hypertext link, our ebook application will present selectable icons that dynamically transclude the endnote text into the core text. Furthermore, we are making the set of endnote types completely extensible. In addition to the six types that occur in the book as first published, any instructor or institution will be able to create other endnote types to meet new requirements for customization. Website

These additional endnotes will join a living repository of resources to enhance the use of the book among the instructors and students using it in university courses. “A living repository for collaboration” is not just a cliché here. We have been experimenting with this idea for over a year with a companion website,

The multi-disciplinary multi-campus collaboration needed to create this book has grown broader over time to include discussion and sharing of lecture notes, course assignments, and exam questions. In addition, student created-content such as course-related blog posts and commentary has also been shared between schools using the book. The site also contains a blog by the book's authors and instructors. New versions of ebooks will be distributed through the site as they become available.

Robert J. Glushko, 31 December 2012