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The Value of Knowledge Organization Systems*   no comments

We are scientists of knowledge and of its order, we have identified the atomic elements of our science (“concepts”) and we have empirically described their behavior, which eerily (or perhaps excitingly) mimics that of elements of quantum theory. That is, we have defined the domain of knowledge, identified its entities (concepts, works, etc.) and the forces that compel them (syntax, semantics, etc.). Ideation is the matter of knowledge and expression compels the conceptual particles that are made up of signs and can be grouped into taxons. Spacetime is represented by the notion of instantiation in which knowledge as concepts move from ideation to expression along a continuum. Spin is the representation of what we know as semiosis, the motion of signification. Strings are spatial objects analogous to instantiation networks or canons. I admit I have presented here a tiny bit of a partial explanation to make my point; for details see please van den Heuvel and Smiraglia 2010, 2013, 2021; Smiraglia and van den Heuvel 2013).

But what is the value of knowledge organization? What value is ascribed to the massive systems for the ordering of knowledge that are the applied products of our science? The question is not new. We can look to classificationists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries for notions of the “economies” of a KOS, usually expressed as the simple elegance with which a complex concept can be expressed (Smiraglia and Szostak 2018).

We can look to the appropriate social outcry at the demise of card catalogs (Baker 1994). What brilliant feats of engineering were the catalogs of major libraries built over a century by armies of catalogers, typists, card printers, card filers, filing revisers, etc., etc. What was the cost of that infrastructure?

(University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign library catalog S-Z along Wright Street dividing Champaign from Urbana.)

What is the value of a knowledge organization system (KOS)? Is it cost divided by benefit? How do we measure benefit? How do we know the true costs? What is the cost of the UDC? What is the cost of the DDC? What about systems like NANDA-I nursing vocabulary (2018) or the NAICS: North American Industrial Classification ( )

(Elichirigoity and Malone 2005) or the United Nations Standard Products and Services Code (UNSPC) classification ( ). What was the total cost of conversion of card catalogs to digital form? What is the cost of conversion of KOSs to linked data (see for example Szostak et al. 2020).

There is, of course, no direct answer to these questions.

A few years ago Greenberg (see for example 2015; 2017) began a series of musings about metadata capital, consulting with economists about the idea that capital was invested in the construction of metadata systems and therefore, metadata should be considered as an economic asset.

It seems that there must be an equation of sorts to the extent that the cost of a KOS can be determined such that the cost should be in ratio to the benefit of the system. IKOS exists for the purpose of identifying gaps in the structure of the science of KO. Each clinic must, from now on, pursue questions of value.


Baker, Nichols. 1994. “Discards.” The New Yorker :70, no. 764-86.

Elichirigoity, Fernando and Cheryl Knott Malone. 2005. “Measuring the New Economy: Industrial Classification and Open Source Software Production.” Knowledge Organization 32: 117-27.

Greenberg, Jane. 2015. “Metadata Capital: Raising Awareness, Exploring a New Concept.” Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology 40, no. 4: 30-33.

GreenbergJane. 2017. “Big Metadata, Smart Metadata, and Metadata Capital: Toward Greater Synergy Between Data Science and Metadata” Journal of Data and Information Science 2, no.3: 19-36.

NANDA International. 2018. Nursing Diagnoses: Definitions and Classification 2018-2020, ed. T. Heather Herdman and Shigemi Kamitsuru. 11th ed. New York: Thieme.

Smiraglia, Richard P. and Rick Szostak. 2018. “Converting UDC to BCC: Comparative Approaches to Interdisciplinarity.” In Challenges and Opportunities for Knowledge Organization in the Digital Age: Proceedings of the Fifteenth International ISKO Conference, 9-11 July 2018, Porto, Portugal, ed. Fernanda Ribeira and Maria Elisa Cerveira. Advances in Knowledge Organization 16. Baden-Baden: Ergon, 530-38.

Szostak, Rick, Richard P. Smiraglia, Andrea Scharnhorst, Aida Slavic, Daniel MartÍnez-Ávila and Tobias Renwick. 2021. “Classifications as Linked Open Data: Challenges and Opportunities,”. In Linking Knowledge: Linked Open Data for Knowledge Organization and Visualization, ed. Richard P. Smiraglia and Andrea Scharnhorst. Baden-Baden: Ergon Verlag, 2021, 24-34

van den Heuvel, Charles and Richard P. Smiraglia. 2010. “Concepts as Particles: Metaphors for the Universe of Knowledge.” In Paradigms and Conceptual Systems in Knowledge Organization: Proceedings of the Eleventh International ISKO Conference, 23-26 February 2010 Rome Italy, ed. Claudio Gnoli and Fulvio Mazzocchi. Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag, 50-56.

van den Heuvel, Charles and Richard P. Smiraglia. 2013. “Visualizing Knowledge Interaction in the Multiverse of Knowledge.” In Classification and Visualization: Interfaces to Knowledge, Proceedings of the International UDC Seminar, 24-25 October 2013, The Hague, The Netherlands, ed. Aida Slavic, Almila Akdag Slah and Sylvie Davies. Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 59‐72.

van den Heuvel, Charles and Richard P. Smiraglia. 2021. “Knowledge Spaces: Visualizing and Interacting with Dimensionality.” In Linking Knowledge: Linked Open Data for Knowledge Organization and Visualization, ed. Richard P. Smiraglia and Andrea Scharnhorst. Baden-Baden: Ergon Verlag, 200-18.

*Published in print as: Smiraglia, Richard P. 2022. “The Value of Knowledge Organization Systems.” IKOS Bulletin 4, no.1 : 23-26.

Written by admin on October 3rd, 2022

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