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Preface to the Second Edition

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 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.

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.

Disciplinary Customization

Multidisciplinary collaboration poses its own challenges. How can a book satisfy the need for breadth, to represent all the disciplines that contribute to it, without compromising the need for depth, to treat each contributing discipline in a substantive way? Our design solution was to write a core text and to move disciplinary and domain-specific content into nearly six hundred supplemental endnotes tagged by discipline. This book design 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.


The chapters of the complete book contain 649 endnotes. The category or categories assigned to each endnote is indicated with a superscript code after the note number, classified in categories, as follows:

  • Computing: Computer science, software engineering, and computing technology.
  • Information Architecture: Data and document modeling. Information architecture is about the design of information models and their systematic manifestation in user experiences, for people using web sites, or in other contexts that are information-intensive.
  • Web: Web architecture, web standards, and particular web sites and web services.
  • LIS: Library and information science; these are not the same, but this is a conventional disciplinary category. Endnotes that discuss issues that apply broadly to libraries, museums, and archives are also categorized here.
  • Museums: Endnotes that discuss issues that apply more narrowly to museums and cultural collections are categorized here.
  • Archives: Endnotes that discuss issues that apply more narrowly to archives are categorized here.
  • CogSci: Cognitive science as a discipline can be defined as the intersection of psychology, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, and computer science. This category of endnotes includes those that broadly discuss human perception, decision making, problem solving and other activities that affect organizing systems and actions, especially personal ones.
  • Linguistics: Endnotes that discuss issues that apply more narrowly to language construction and use are categorized here.
  • Philosophy: Endnotes that discuss issues that apply more narrowly to philosophy are categorized here.
  • Law: Copyright law, license or contract agreements, “cultural property,” terms of use and so on.
  • Business: Intellectual capital, human resources, access control, branding, decision support and strategic planning, economics.

We do not claim that this set of endnote categories is complete, and indeed we encourage instructors whose perspectives on organizing complement those of the book’s authors to propose new categories for endnotes, BD (Big Data), Bio (Bioinformatics), GiS (Geographic Information Systems), and Hum (Digital Humanities) have been mentioned. We look forward to notes from these fields that will extend the disciplinary customization of the book.

The Second Editions

For 2014 we have added supplementary content across all editions, and we have added new capabilities that take advantage of digital delivery on ebook readers or in web browsers. These include:

  • Self-review quizzes: The “Key Points” section at the end of Chapters 2-10 can toggle to become a self-review quiz function in which each Key Point is the answer to a Question.
  • Case studies: Organizing system case studies have been moved into Chapter 11, “Case Studies” and new contributions have been added.

  • Additional graphics: Fifty-seven new graphic images, including photographs, screenshots, graphs, and charts are included in this edition. An interpretive caption is provided for all photographs.

  • Improved Accessibility: Primary descriptive text is included for all figures and photographs to facilitate use by readers with visual disabilities. We have attempted to employ best known practices and have consulted with leading accessibility experts.

  • More navigation links: To facilitate reading and discovery of related material, more navigation links (see, see also, etc.) are found in the text, endnotes, and sidebars.

  • Endnote type markers: The superscript numbers that mark endnotes include a bracketed annotation to indicate the “type” of endnote.

  • Expanded bibliography: The bibliography has expanded with new citations, and with inclusion of works that are mentioned in the surface text but not really cited, per se.

  • Bibliography back links: Anything that has the logical purpose of a link is implemented with selectable text that executes the link. All of the entries in the bibliography include a link back to a primary citation. For example, the citation for the original print edition of this work, (Glushko 2013), is linked to a Bibliography entry whose identifier, [Glushko2013b], links back to the citation.

  • Glossary back links: Many of the definitions in the glossary are transclusions from the text of the chapters, in which case they offer a link back to the section from which they were sourced.

  • Most of the acronyms listed in the glossary are transclusions that link back to their first mention. These links typically take the form of a phrase, followed by an acronym, such as National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).

We continue to review content for lapses in spelling and grammar, as well as making improvements to the hypertext experience. However, we do not maintain a detailed list of such minor changes to the content.


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.

Audience Customization—A Family of EBooks

In the summer of 2014 the book had been adopted by about 20 schools for a variety of courses in information organization, content management, collection development, and information architecture. The new editions build on this successful foundation to make the book even more effective and engaging as an academic text or as a provocative reading for people who want to be more self-aware and effective about how they organize the resources they deal with in their personal and professional lives.

These manifestations of The Discipline of Organizing contain substantial new and revised content about the active resources that make up the “Internet of Things,” and how the field of information architecture can be viewed as a subset of the discipline of organizing. One chapter was completely revised (9) and one is completely new (11). Many new user-contributed case studies make it easier for readers to recognize and apply lessons to their own organizing problems. Both editions take great advantage of the digital medium with nearly 60 new pictures and illustrations, enhanced hypertext for cross-references and external citations, and interactive study guides to test on key points.

O'Reilly Media is the publisher of the following editions in August 2014:


The Professional edition remains the definitive source for advanced students and practitioners who require comprehensive and pinpoint connections to the classic and contemporary literature about organizing. It contains almost 600 endnotes, tagged as connecting to one or more of the eleven contributing disciplines, to provide the links into and bridges between them. The Professional Edition includes additional case studies, comprehensive bibliography, glossary, and index.


The Core Concepts edition is an abridged version that is simpler to read because it does not tempt the reader with this deep scholarly web of endnotes. Instead, it seeks to reinforce the concepts and design patterns with numerous “Stop and Think” exercises, and omits some of the theoretical nuance of the Professional edition to put more emphasis on concrete examples. Designed as a textbook for undergraduates, it omits all of the endnotes but includes additional “Stop and Think” exercises designed to increase engagement and comprehension. In this edition, the bibliography lists core entries across the spectrum of disciplines, including titles from many of this book’s authors and contributors. Website

We have created 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, 16 August 2014