To deal with a large body of knowledge, we need to localize and organize it somehow. Where that knowledge is located, or where and how it is organized, or the system by which it is identified and perhaps indexed, might be called the points of knowledge. And certainly, databases connected to and/or indexed with knowledge organization systems represent points of knowledge.

In business terminology, points of knowledge are generally the people who have all the know-how in a particular area. Perhaps, if we take scripture literally, Eve was the first being on Earth who could be considered a point of knowledge, after she started chomping on that apple (or pomegranate, or whatever the forbidden fruit was).

But maybe not. Might the first point of knowledge have been the first creature with a brain? Or before that, the first creature with biochemically dictated reflexes of some sort?

And speaking of apples, was Isaac Newton a single point of knowledge, after he realized what was happening to that one apple, and before he told anyone else?

Might we look at science as a whole as a single point of knowledge? Boy, talk of a moving target, what with the frequent discoveries, and theories proved and disproved. But classification systems, taxonomies, and thesauri that cover scientific topics, or science as a whole (as some of them try to do) could be considered single points of knowledge. Flexibility is the key.

We’ve looked at some knowledge organization systems that could be considered single points of knowledge: the Linnean taxonomy of organisms, Locke’s system of knowledge (a point of knowledge of knowledge!), and the Dewey Decimal Classification, among others.

Let’s move on to multiple points of knowledge origin, where several fields come together. Taxonomists and thesaurus editors frequently encounter this situation, and it can be challenging to deal with. It occurs most frequently with top terms (whose branches could be considered single points of knowledge), where several more specific fields come together and sometimes overlap. Should they be captured separately or together? With facets or different views? (Facets, as described by Ranganathan in his facet theory, provide multiple points of knowledge.)

Here’s a very simple example: Physical biochemistry. Thank goodness for polyhierarchy, with which we can place the topic under more than one broader term (Physical chemistry; Biochemistry). But computer processing is what lets us do polyhierarchy. If we have only one copy of a physical book (remember when we didn’t have to specify “physical” for a book?) on physical biochemistry, where do we shelve it?

We librarians and information specialists get to view anarchy in the universe more often than other people do. And we are the ones who have the job of putting the universe into some sort of order. With a thousand points of knowledge.

Marjorie M.K. Hlava, President Access Innovations


Note: The above posting is the last of a series based on a presentation, The Theory of Knowledge, given at the Data Harmony Users Group meeting in February of 2011. The presentation covered the theory of knowledge as it relates to search and taxonomies.