I’ve been known to call the difference between “classifiers” and informal “taggers/searchers” a religious war. (I’ve also been known to say the same thing about formal and informal learning supporters.) Wall Street Journal reporter Andrew LaVallee cites a library technologist who agrees with me on at least the former. LaVallee’s article “Discord Over Dewey” describes an Arizona public library branch that has abandoned the Dewey Decimal System and uses subject tags instead. The evidence, which he acknowledges is confounded by other differences between local branches, shows 900 items a day being checked out at the tag/search library, versus 100-150 at the classification library.

LaVallee does a lovely job describing the issues and what this means to libraries as organizations faced with extreme technological change and change with their audience. This is an example of the evolution of a sociotechnical system.

In an upcoming article for the journal Organization Science, I join Ray Zammuto, Ann Majchrzak, Deborah Dougherty, and Samer Faraj in saying that “It is no longer possible to design or modify organizations without recognizing that IT is part of the fabric. And it doesn’t make sense to study the dynamics of human behavior within organizations without taking into account how information technologies might affect it.” The librarians mentioned in the article are dealing with this reality.

I’ve also seen similar skirmishes in organizational settings. An organizational team I was mentoring had to decide, or not decide, to force a categorization system for file naming in a new document management system. Clear factions arose and I am pleased to say the issue will be determined by the data. Some groups will be using a strict (interestingly, numeric – somewhat Dewey-like) file naming convention, other groups will be tagging and using less formal naming conventions. A later assessment will determine which should be promoted for the larger implementation.

Both of these approaches as used by libraries are “active” versus “passive”. Yes, I clearly fall on the side of promoting passive approaches, but librarians are doing the active work for us. We can then use our increasingly more sophisticated search skills (actually, that’s a good topic for a future post – do we have more sophisticated search skills now, or are we just better at scanning the results from less sophisticated searches?) to find what we want.

Information Technology services companies are working to support all modes. Egnyte, for example, provides a content sharing application that allows teams to create folders and/or to tag their content and enable sharing via these tags.

Service providers and enterprise content managers grapple with what should be done, versus what will be done. The discussion often focuses on taxonomy vs. folksonomy and is one of the more interesting dynamics we have playing out on our own desktops.