Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Mental Models, Taxonomies & Windows of Weltanschuuangs

[Note: "Weltanschauung" is the correct spelling, not "Weltanschuuang". Thanks to Yee Fuang for pointing it out. But I've decided to leave it, misspellings, warts and all - Ivan. 26 Aug 04]

Just read a blog post by Yee Fuang, the latest addition to my list of 'Asian Liblogarians'. She's thinking about Mental Models. Her blog got me thinking too -- seems that libraries have not truly explored what hypertext and Internet-technology-in-general can really do to make the organisation of information more personalised. Take for instance the way librarians build a "librarian's mental model of a book", i.e. what we call 'Biblographic Access Points' -- Title, Author, Subject, Publisher, ISBN etc. Users have no choice but to conform to what we decide are the access points to information.

I have a feeling that most libraries, in building taxonomies, are doing what the Chinese say, "Change soup but not the medicine", i.e. we may be doing things to same way.

Some people have suggested that with today's technology, we should allow users to build their own Access Points to information. I came across an excellent blog on this but can't remember where is it (damn!). Anyway, it sounds logical, doesn't it? We each have different "mental models" in how we make sense of information and the world at large. Libraries should build "information taxonomies", but allow end-users to search for information the way they see it, according to their 'Weltangschuuangs' (i.e. world-views).

Let's use the term "Relationships" as an example:
Women = "Long term" + "Companionship" + "Marriage"
Men = "How to score, big time"*
(*hey, come on it's true ain't it?)

So should any librarian wonder why people are turning away from libraries and plunging into the Internet? Could it be that the appeal of the Internet is that there is no 'right' way to seek information? That no one will notice that you are not searching for it the 'correct way'?

Speaking of 'correctness', I have to qualify that I don't really know what I'm talking about when it comes to "Taxonomies" and "Mental Models". So flame me, correct me, teach me :)

Oops -- a 'Tangential Thought' moment here (i.e. where I digress and ramble):
(1) Perhaps that's why I'm hooked on blogs. It doesn't matter that I'm reading someone's biased view of politics, or a teenager expressing his/ her angst. It all adds to my understanding of how other people view the world, a "Window to their Weltangschuuangs", their Mental Models of things that matter to them.

(2) The word "Taxonomy" is defined as the "scientific process of classifying living things". Hmm... 'Information' as a 'Living Organism'? I'm sure there's an article out there about this.


  1. Tx, Ivan for your gems and nuggets! Got me thinking too.

    Just to share....taxonomies, latest definition = systems of labels that form a hierarchical navigation scheme (defined by Warner, 2004 in his article 'Information architecture and vocabularies for browse and search'). Their distinctiveness (from DDC or LC or UDC) is that the emphasis is on building intuitive structures and using familiar terminology from the users' perspective to facilitate resource discovery.

    I have yet to see how we can build intuitive terms in taxonomies as we come from different backgrounds, have different experiences -- thus using different mental models when we search? How to collate this knowledge?

    I suppose when we want quick information: a definition or some explanation, 'googling' can be quite easy, convenient, intuitive, which is what the majority want. But when it comes to looking for quality, authoritative materials for other needs, e.g. writing a research paper, it doesn't yield much satisfactory result, does it?

    Btw, isn't it 'Weltanschauungs'? Rather than 'Weltangschuuangs'?

    Check out this research paper 'Mental Models of Information' on school students

  2. Anonymous1:46 pm

    Hi Ivan

    u wrote "So should any librarian wonder why people are turning away from libraries and plunging into the Internet?"

    Ever wonder why EVEN librarians' basic instincts to finding "answers" is to google?

    A new generation of people are now armed with information dowsers (those new age thingy that orignated from water and mineral seeking in the grounds) - sniffing at untaxonomised, undifferentiated data nodes in datascapes - to recognise a pattern in the chaotic datascape and nodal points (read Idoru). This is an emergent info seeking behavior.

    For predicting a change or a shift - if only we can somehow i-ching-nise the data.. so that people can detect an oddity , a pattern, a chasm, a peak etc.. by their own pattern recognition skills.

    On a more serious intellectual note, may I "discuss":

    Foucault in his book The Order of Things describes``a certain Chinese encyclopedia'' taht breaks up all the ordered surfaces of our thoughts. The encyclopedia divides animals into the following categories: ``a) belonging to the Emperor, b) embalmed, c) tame, d) suckling pigs, e) sirens, f) fabulous, g) stray dogs, h) included in the present classification, i) frenzied, j) innumerable, k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, l) et cetera, m) having just broken the water pitcher, n) that from a long way off look like flies.''


    see Order of Things outline:

    (some) Women = How to score, big bucks.
    and I read somewhere that "taxonomy is the art of insulting animals, plants and fungi in Latin".

    Cheers, GgL

  3. Anonymous9:38 am

    Hey Rambling Libarian... could u just enlighten me on the "how to score, big time" thingy you mentioned...

    As for the rest of the discussion is too chim for my small brain.



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