The Politics of Classification
Instructor: Melissa Adler
Dates: July 1st through 26th, 2019
Credits: 1.5 CEUs or 15 PDHs
To classify is to make a statement. In libraries we assign subject headings, call numbers, and other labels to the materials to which we provide access. Any given classificatory act is a statement regarding the "aboutness" of a work, how it relates to other works, how it is likely to be discovered, the discipline to which it belongs, or who the anticipated readers are. In this course, we will unmask the political aspects of structures and naming practices in library classifications, including the Library of Congress Classification, the Dewey Decimal Classification, Library of Congress Subject Headings, and social tagging. We will situate these systems in the historical moments in which they were created, as well at the present, and we will look at key moments in which library activists effected change. The course is organized around a few specific headings and classifications that demonstrate political and cultural conditions, events, and ideas. For a final project students will independently investigate a heading, section, or category.
Melissa Adler, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information & Media Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. Her research concerns the history of knowledge organization systems as they intersect with state and cultural discourses. Adler’s book, Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organization of Knowledge (Fordham University Press, April 2017), is a study of the history of sexuality through the lens of Library of Congress classifications and categories. She has also published articles in Knowledge Organization, Library Quarterly, Information and Culture, and other journals. Interview with Melissa Adler
This is an online class that is taught asynchronously, meaning that participants do the work on their own time as their schedules allow. The class does not meet together at any particular times, although the instructor may set up optional sychronous chat sessions. Instruction includes readings and assignments in one-week segments. Class participation is in an online forum environment.
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