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Visions for a Topic Mapped Library
I was issued a challenge the other day: If you were given the power and the resources to shape and run a national library today, what would you do differently with Topic Maps?
First, in order to understand Topic Maps and why I’m so keen on it, you need to understand how Topic Maps and its data model is closer to human cognition and epistemological ideals than what we’re normally used to: relational databases, the notion of an atomic metadata record, the thinking that overlapping collections are hard, the construct of a book as an atomic object, the thought of marshaled information viewpoints (guides vs. the reference librarian), the thinking that taxomatic classification schemes work in a rigid process, etc. etc.
How do we know that what we’re doing ensures that our goals are met? Is our thinking working for us, alongside us, behind us, against us?
Our task as librarians always has been, and probably always will be, to both to preserve knowledge and encourage its use.
This apparent dichotomy lies on the border between the “collection mentality” and the “education mentality”; some librarians have only one of these, some both (and in a few rare exceptions, neither!), and then there are various mixes of the two. In my view, there is no dichotomy: they are two sides of the very same coin, and I suspect that the artificial divide comes from technological barriers that I believe Topic Maps can shatter.
The challenge of Topic Maps in libraries is very dear to me, because one of the primary reasons I started in the library sector in the first place was to pursue my passion for knowledge management, identity control, relationship management and – perhaps most importantly! – to help protect human cultural heritage from the ignorant and unengaged. I wanted to introduce Topic Maps and serious identity control, semantic data modeling, and perhaps convert library domains into Topic Maps and merge them across today’s silo mentality and limitations.