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DANS: A Catalyst for Knowledge Organization and Structure Research*   no comments

1.0 KO and KS Research: From the real world

Research is the formal, self-conscious process of inquiry for the discovery and production of knowledge and the subsequent explication of theory. Knowledge Organization (KO) is the “science of the conceptual order of knowledge” (Smiraglia 2014, 4) and Knowledge Structure (KS) is a research paradigm in which the structural tools of KO are applied to syntactic representations [of knowledge] that yield structural classes [for] multi-dimensional understanding” (Smiraglia 2020, 46). Thus, research—formal discovery for theory-building—in KO is devoted to unlocking the conceptual elements of that which is known, while, simultaneously, research in KS is devoted to revealing the underlying multi-dimensional fabric and anatomy of knowledge.

Discovery of concepts, their orders, and the subtrate implications of those orders must be rooted in real-world problems. This is why even so-called “theoretical” research (this is research that tests hypotheses in order to reject alternatives until a theory can emerge) must be rooted in milieus that present questions that need specific applications as answers.


Instantiation: The multidecade evolution of the theory of instantiation began with the problem of disambiguating clusters of catalog entries for musical works (think: Beethoven Symphony…. (Smiraglia 1989)) but has been demonstrated to have relevance in evolutionary biology (Greenberg 2009). A real world “problem” presents a question that has larger implications and on analysis leads to structural conclusions such as that the substrate of RDF triples that constitute the Semantic Web are themselves (as are all information objects) to the process of instantiation (realization in time) and therefore constitute classes that require disambiguation (Smiraglia 2008).

Nanoscale patterns in the outer skin layers of humans (Adams et al. 2023): Biologists studying the exoskelotal structure of roundworm nematodes who have transparent structures have discovered “pillars” that form a kind of “scaffolding,” forming not only an “intricate architecture” but “complex structures and intricate patterning.” Patterns, of course, indicate clusters, which can be described as classes, which will need, in turn, disambiguating. A very real-world biological structure presents also a substrate biological knowledge structure. (See: )

2.0 Catalysts for KO and KS Research

The science of knowledge organization owes its formalization to founder Ingetraut Dahlberg, who laid out a plan for independent institutes that would have as their sole objective the study of concepts and knowledge structures (Dahlberg 2007; 2008).

The Institute for Knowledge Organization and Structure, Inc. ( ) is the first institute developed with this sole task as its mission.

At least three major coordinated research environments have generated a fair amount of publication. These groups were all formed by prolific researchers in KO whose work was grounded in real-world applications and the construction of KO systems (KOSs). Ultimately, each of these groups has served as a catalyst for critical research in KO, and arguably in KS. The entire domain of KO, then, relies to some extent on the input of catalytical groups to constantly massage and ultimately deepen the granularity of the domain’s intension.

The oldest and most revered is the Sarada Ranganathan Endowment and the Department of Library & Information Science, University of Mysore, Mysore, India. The Ranganathan endowment produces annually a series of lectures on critical problems in knowledge organization and publishes the journal now titled Journal of Information and Knowledge.

The prolific Brazilian group GPFAPOI: Formação e atuação profissional em produção e organização da informação (Training and professional performance in production and organization of information) formed in 1995 by José Augusto Chaves Guimarães and Natália Bolfarini Tognoli at the Faculty of Philosophy and Sciences, Marília Campus of São Paulo State University Júlio de Mesquita Filho – UNESP ( ). The group has been influential in domain analysis, the ethics of knowledge organization (Martínez-Ávila et al. 2015), and archival applications of KO (Guimarães and Tognoli 2015), among a host of other topics.

Also notably prolific was the Knowledge Organization Research Group (KOrg) at the School of Information Studies of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Originally formed in 2008, the group eventually hosted international conferences on ethics in KO, held annual retreats, invited guest fellows to join them on campus, and generated three anthologies: Cultural Frames of Knowledge (Smiraglia and Lee 2012), Ontology for Knowledge Organization (Smiraglia and Lee 2015), and Dimensions of Knowledge: Facets for Knowledge Organization (Smiraglia and Lee 2017)). Through interaction with the CIDOC-CRM Conceptual Reference Model for cultural heritage ontology ( ) and the Dutch Virtual Knowledge Studio (Daga, Scharnhorst and Smiraglia 2023, 137) project “Knowledge Lab,” the group served as a catalyst for nascent research in KS.

3.0 DANS

DANS (officially Data Archiving and Networked Services), is an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW or Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen ) and of the Dutch Research Council (I or Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek ). DANS is described as the “Dutch national centre of expertise and repository for research data” ( ), supporting a wide bench of services for scholars to make their data available for research. At present there are data stations for social sciences and humanities, archaeology, life health and medical sciences, and physical and technical sciences. DANS also supports a Data Vault, a shared service called DataVerse, and a wide program of Data Expertise, which brings together researchers, data professionals and other archives to work for sustainable storage and sharing of research data.

DANS has for many years supported a group of honorary fellows, distinguished researchers from related sciences whose own work intersects with the goals of DANS. The present essay shows how DANS has been one of the most productive institutional catalysts for research in KO and KS.

3.1 The KOSo Observatory

The Knowledge Organization System Observatory, KOSo, was a project of DANS begun in 2017 to create a centralized directory to knowledge organization systems. The term “observatory” arose from conversations in the knowledge organization community over time. The goal was to create a repository from which researchers could interact with KOSs. The result of the project was a complex spreadsheet replete with live hyperlinks to extant systems in the social sciences, humanities, and life sciences. The results of the project are available in IKOS’ website: (Coen, Smiraglia, Doorn and Scharnhorst 2019).

3.2 The NARCIS Classification

NARCIS (National Academic Research and Collaborations Information System) was a DANS-maintained national research portal for Dutch scholars. An open access repository of publications and datasets was combined with texts of peer-reviewed publications. To facilitate research and retrieval a classification was created and named for NARCIS. The classification allowed symbolic representation of not only the contents of the portal but also of the Dutch national research milieu. As part of efforts to study the NARCIS Classification the methodology known as “comparative classification” was generated. In comparative classification, sets of ontical positions (essentially concept statements) are classified using two or more different KOSs to quantify aspects of each, such as granularity, expressivity, synthetic capability, etc.

In September 2018 DANS hosted a two-day colloquium ““Trajectories for Research: Fathoming the Promise of the NARCIS Classification,”” 27-28 September. The proceedings from this colloquium were published in a special issue of Knowledge Organization (v. 46, no. 5 2019). In addition to providing a forum for detailed discussion about the NARCIS classification, the colloquium also succeeded in bringing together diverse points of view about national research classifications.

3.3 Digging into the Knowledge Graph

Digging Into the Knowledge Graph (Di4kg ) was a project funded under the Trans-Atlantic Platform’s Round Four Digging Into Data Challenge. The purpose of the challenge was to explore sustainability of data-intensive projects. Di4kg was specifically designed to explore best practices for Linked Open Data (LOD) in KOSs in general, and in the social sciences and humanities in particular. Two use cases comprised the majority of work in the four-year project. The humanities project was the creation of LOD for the contents of the Renaissance polyphony CMME (Computerized Mensural Music Editing) project (, which was accomplished by IKOS using existing library LOD venues coordinated through the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF ). The social sciences project involved the UNSPSC United Nations Standard Products and Services Code classification ( ). The project concluded with the publication of an anthology Linking Knowledge: Linked Data for Knowledge Organization (Smiraglia and Scharnhorst 2021).

3.4 Visualization of topic clusters in bibliographic databases

Wang and Koopman (2019) also presented a conference paper and a more extensive journal article about their work with the Ariadne information retrieval tool developed experimentally to investigate topical clusters in the OCLC bibliographic database (Koopman, Wang and Scharnhorst 2015; 2017).

3.5 DANS Infrastructure as Knowledge Structure

Another collaboration featured the knowledge infrastructure represented by DANS, and in particular its role in mediating information exchange among stakeholders (Borgman, Scharnhorst and Golshan 2019).

3.6 KOSs for Digital Humanities

September 2023 saw a workshop at DANS: “Knowledge Organisation Systems: Digital humanities practices and archiving challenges. How much semantic interoperability is feasible?” Approximately simultaneously a poster was prepared for the first post-pandemic international conference of the Association for Information Science and Technology, London, October 2023 (Scharnhorst et al. 2023) The poster, like the workshop, brought together many research streams in which DANS participates, most notable in this case DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities .

4.0 Conclusion: Research Interactions and Alliances for Catalyzing KO and KS

Given that research is the rigorous pursuit of solutions through discovery and that research in KO and KS must be rooted in real-world problems. The maturation of KO as a science has been assisted by a set of very prolific catalyst research groups. DANS clearly has become one of these engines of discovery in KO and KS. Although the mission of DANS is not primarily that of a research institute, it is clear from the evidence compiled here that through the very real-world querying of applications problems in KO and KS DANS has taken a place of honor in the emergence of theoretical research as substrate for very real-world KOS applications. From the KOSo Observatory to the role of semantic interoperability, DANS has catalyzed streams of thought that point to the evolution of new paradigms for research in KO and KS.


Adams, Jennifer R. G., Murugesan Pooranachithra, Erin M. Jyo, Sherry Li Zheng, Alexandr Goncharov, Jennifer R. Crew, James M. Kramer, Yishi Jin, Andreas M. Ernst and Andrew D. Chisholm. 2023. “Nanoscale patterning of collagens in C. elegans apical extracellular matrix.” Nature Communications 14, article no. 7506. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-43058-9

Borgman, Christine L., Andrea Scharnhorst and Milena S. Golshan. 2019. “Digital Data Archives as Knowledge Infrastructures: Mediating Data Sharing and Reuse.” Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 70, no. 8: 888-904.

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Scharnhorst, Andrea, Pascal Flohr, Vyacheslav Tykhonov, Jerry De Vries, Hella Hollander, Jetze Touber, Wim Hugo, Richard Smiraglia, Yann Le France, Ronald Siebes and Enno Meijers. 2023. “Knowledge Organisation Systems in the Humanities: Semantic Interoperability in Practice.” Poster. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology

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*Excerpted from: Smiraglia, Richard P. 2023. “DANS: A Catalyst for Knowledge Organization and Structure Research.” IKOS Bulletin 5, no.2: 109-126. [57 references].

Written by admin on January 18th, 2024

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