How Do We Classify The Stars In The Universe?

One of the advantages of developing a universal classification system for any field of study is the ability to make distinctions between things that may share certain characteristics but are nonetheless different. A standardized system also facilitates the communication of knowledge to others. The 2016 Forbes article,  “How Do We Classify Stars in the Universe?” illuminates how this is no less true in the field of astronomy when differentiating among stars.

The article consists of an historic overview of how the stars were able to be classified. It explains that an intuitive basis for distinguishing among stars is their color and brightness. Other information can be discerned from the color of a thing, such as its temperature. However, one challenge that needed to be contended with was that the divisions in color are not always so clearly defined. Luckily, a technique called spectroscopy, in which the light is broken up into individual wavelengths, has enhanced the ability to examine the differences in color. Consequently, Angelo Secchi, the 19th century Italian astronomer has been able to formulate the first sophisticated classification system for stars, divided as follows:

“1. Class I: a class for the blue/white stars that exhibited strong, broad hydrogen lines. 2.Class II: yellow stars with weaker hydrogen features, but with evidence of rich,  metallic lines. 3.Class III: red stars with complex spectra, with huge sets of absorption features.”


The original three Secchi classes, and the accompanying spectra that go along with them. Image credit: from a colored lithograph in a book published around 1870, retrieved from AIP.

“The original three Secchi classes, and the accompanying spectra that go along with them. Image credit: from a colored lithograph in a book published around 1870, retrieved from AIP.” (Image and description are taken from the article)


Only a few decades later, researchers were able to build on the work of Angelo Secchi.  Edward Pickering and his all-female team at Harvard created the Draper System, subdividing each of Secchi’s Classes. Class I was subdivided A-D, Class II was subdivided E-L, and Class III was M. The decision to establish subdivisions emerged from the understanding that  the extent to which the stars exhibited the features designated by each Class fell on a spectrum.

In 1901, Anne Jump Cannon, one of the original team members, further refined the Draper System. The adjustments she made included simplifying the alphabetized system which ranged from A-M to one which only included the letters A, B, F, G, K, M, and O. She also developed an accompanying numerical system, ranging from 0-9, which corresponded to how blue or how red a star was within each lettered Class. The following image illustrates the culmination of Cannon’s effort.

O-stars, the hottest of all stars, actually have weaker absorption lines in many cases, because the surface temperatures are great enough that most of the atoms at its surface are at too great of an energy to display the characteristic atomic transitions that result in absorption. Image credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF, modified to illustrate the stars that demonstrate this phenomenon.


I think this article is relevant to our class because it gives us a sense of the many different areas of study to which classification systems have been  applied to advance knowledge. Thanks to Cannon’s contribution, subsequent astronomers were able to learn  more about the nature of the stars and their composition. Astronomy is just one of many examples in which classification systems have been used. Other classification systems include the periodic table, and binomial nomenclature (the system adopted to classify different species.) I did not previously make any connection between the classification systems we use in libraries and these other systems. Of course there are differences among them, both in what is being classified, and how it is being classified. However, I think I now see how the motivation for developing them has been similar, which is the need to describe something precisely. As a result, any functional classification system that I know of has multiple levels of division. This is just as true for Dewey as it is for the Draper System.

-Benjamin Ottenstein, INFO 653-01





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Posted in Uncategorized, Classification, Knowledge Structures

Jerome Robbins and the NYPL: How can dance, history, and politics interact in an archival context?

The task of archiving dance is notoriously sisyphean. As an inherently ephemeral medium, what constraints is dance archiving subject to, and how can those be overcome? Further, choreographers are historically “behind the scenes,” not often subject to the scrutiny and celebration of performers. How can the the collection of a single choreographer provide a point of access to the history of New York City and marginalized communities? What cataloguing methods should be adopted for this task, and how do we situate these items in the context of an academic library setting? All of these questions are considered in the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

In the most recent exhibition “Voice of My City: Jerome Robbins” and New York, curator Julia Foulkes presents Robbins’ life story through an intersectional lens, combining urban history, media studies, art history, and sociology. She includes images, diaries, correspondence. Through her choice of pieces and organization, Foulkes provides a necessary political and social angle to the collection. She states that one of her organizing principles was to focus on Robbins himself rather than simply his work. In contextualizing his life as a gay, Jewish person in a rapidly developing city post-World War Two, Robbins’ work gains more dimension and footing in history. The exhibition is just a snapshot at what potentials dance and choreography archives have to offer, and new frameworks to consider in their organization. It made me curious about the Jerome Robbins Division as a whole.


The Jerome Robbins Papers are a small section of the division donated in 2003. Consisting of 578 boxes, the papers consist of any written documentation pertaining to Robbins’ work: correspondence, scripts, scores, set designs, financials, and production materials, spanning 1930 to 2001 (the bulk being from 1940 to 1998). The papers are arranged into 11 box series, with 16 subseries, each box alphabetized. Within each box, the papers are filed chronologically. While the finding aid prepared provided invaluable descriptions of each box, I found the organization of the papers to be arcane. Only 2 items are digitized and accessible via the internet, and the finding aid contains no guide to a controlled vocabulary. This makes sense, given the date the collection’s processing was finalized (2003). But in its current state, the collection remains impenetrable to the Robbins illiterate, myself included.

I’m curious to see how a semantic approach could provide more points of access to both Robbins’ work and life, and if linked data could make the collection more dynamic. An expansion of controlled vocabulary and wider digitization would make it possible to engage with Robbins’ work in different contexts. I believe that archives should never be a unilateral medium, and the Jerome Robbins Division (more specifically, the papers) provide the opportunity to interrogate the relationships between dance, identity, and urbanization, rather than simply focusing on Robbins’ creative output.  As Foulkes proved in her choice of arrangement, it is indeed possible to do this.

-Sarah Goldfarb, INFO 653-01

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Posted in Archives, Cataloging, Classification, Libraries, Linked Open Data, Preservation, Uncategorized

Dewey? At This Library With a Very Different Outlook They Don’t

The 2007 New York Times article titled “Dewey? At This Library With a Very Different Outlook They Don’t” documents how one public library, the Perry Branch Library in Gilbert, Arizona, had decided not to use the Dewey Decimal System to organize its collection, preferring to adopt a system akin to one that would be used in a bookstore, dividing books based on subject matter. The decision to switch came after observing the habits of the user population. It was found that users tended to browse the collection informally as opposed to searching for a specific title in mind. Despite the age of the article, I still believe its content is relevant for today’s information professionals.

As explained in the article, Dewey, which remains the predominant classification system  used in public libraries, is a more extensive and precise model of classification than what has been traditionally implemented in a bookstore setting. It “sought to categorize books by organizing all knowledge into 10 broad classes, with each class further broken down into 10 divisions and each division into 10 sections.” Its precision is still why many continue to find it attractive. It makes it very easy to locate a specific book. However, it was determined that because patrons tended not to be looking for  specific books, an alternative classification system might be more amenable to user needs. Harry Courtright, the director of the Maricopa County Library District, is quoted as making this exact point. Conversely, an academic library would likely continue to opt for a method which would promote specificity, because such libraries are most often used by students and faculty, whose primary interest would be to find materials relevant to their student or professional needs. This would be even more the case with special libraries, such as law libraries, which cater to an even more exclusive element of the population.

The article also delineates some limitations of Dewey. It has proven to be not fully adequate in accounting for such subjects as cooking or travel, and its Christian and Eurocentric biases have been noted in recent years. Still, the article demonstrates that many librarians remain ambivalent about abandoning Dewey. One librarian hyperbolically characterized what the Perry Branch Library was doing as “heresy” in a blog-post.

Notwithstanding the objections some librarians may have with deviating from Dewey, it would seem from this article that, perhaps, at times, there can be a clash between two values held by information professionals when it comes to classification. These are the  values of “usability” and “precision.”  While at this time, I do no feel sufficiently informed or equipped to be a judge myself, one may argue that the average user of a public library might not need the precision which is offered by Dewey, and the younger users may even find Dewey out-of-date, confusing, or both. This may suggest that there may be a reason to take the experiment that was tried in Gilbert, Arizona seriously. On the other hand, Dewey is not without its advantages.

-Benjamin Ottenstein, INFO 653-01

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Posted in Books, Cataloging, Classification, Libraries, Uncategorized

The Opportunities (and Consequences) of Emotionally Intelligent Technology

As illuminated in the opening of Kate Crawford’s article for The New York Times, there is a fear that technology/machines will surpass human intelligence. Computers are already smart enough to solve complex equations faster than the blink of an eye as well as defeat the world champion chess player. As more companies are investing in AI and machine learning, we are seeing a proliferation of attempts to make machines more human-like, such as with Alexa, Google Assistant, social bots, and even video games. Now, there is debate on how to design emotionally intelligent machines. The concept of an emotionally intelligent robot is not new, as we’ve seen in sci-fi literature and film, but as our understanding of human emotion progresses, we grow closer to applying these understandings to technology.

Some opportunities to emotion-detection technology can be seen in the possibility of combating mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and even loneliness. It can also help in education based on the learning styles of the student and provide emotional support to those in need. Research is looking into how we perceive (and classify) universal emotions in the face and body language. Understanding the history of emotion, such as research on facial expressions previously carried out by Duchenne, Darwin, and Eckman can help with the classification system. Current studies on animal (non-human) emotion and consciousness can also aid in our understandings. The benefits of emotionally intelligent devices may improve our human experiences with technology, but as seen in our class readings there are consequences to how machines are learning.

A major consequence is in how machines learn to detect emotion, either by the programmer or by the information it is fed by society. In a discussion on information as evidence, Buckland, M. (1991) states “In a significant sense information is used as evidence in learning–as the basis for understanding. One’s knowledge and opinions are affected by what one sees, reads, hears, and experiences.” Buckland is referring to human knowledge and opinions, but this can also be applied to how machines are learning though information. In separate articles by Hannah Devlin and Kate Crawford, we gain insight into how machine learning algorithms are learning  the biases and discriminatory language of society. Emotional intelligence may dangerously add another layer if used for certain purposes, such as policing future criminal activity based on a person’s emotional history or mental health.

For further research on designing emotionally intelligent technology, we need to consider how information is classified, and how these classifications can be perceived as or lead to discrimination and biases. Another important thing to consider is what we’ll do with the massive amount of data that is constantly being collected. A part of our job as information professionals is to consistently ask questions about how information is being created and communicated, and how these practices are evolving as more technologies emerge.

For more information, check out this brief, illuminating summary on emotion-reading machines, published by TedEd.

Alexandra Srp, INFO 653-02

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Crossroads of analog and digital preservation at Net Archival exhibit

The Net Archival exhibit currently at the New Museum presents a range of options for digital preservation for net art in the 90s. It’s interesting to compare the pieces featured to the questions in Owens’ outlining of the challenges of digital preservation. In the case of this socially-constructed net art, the platforms were often the nature of the artifact because they represented quite distinct personal communications. Beyond this I don’t think the pieces generally were such that needed to tailor to specialist researchers, as they were meant to be presented as complete, so to speak. I suppose this makes them at a crossroads between analog and digital preservation, in the sense that they needed to be migrated, but not necessarily reinterpreted to determine what aspects are for the keeping, or rather they knew and stated that the collaborative aspects were what they wanted to present.

In this sense I think the exhibit chronicles an earlier section of the web which was less sophisticated in niches of identity. A mode of metadata in which all objects describe other objects seemed less present, so it’s indeed interesting to think about later modes of digital preservation as seemingly all in appeal to special interests, and connected to larger and larger pieces.

So, in avoidance of the self-reactive qualities and possible alienation of total access, I do think there’s an interesting case for even digital objects to be observed in unique settings. For example one of many interesting pieces in the New Museum exhibit was a 3D print of an old Iraqi artifact destroyed at the Mosul Museum in 2015 (by ISIS). The artist was Morehshin Allahyari and it’s noted in the description that she made twelve of this particular series of 3D prints, and that this is the only one she has allowed to travel outside the original region. This is because she wants it to not be degraded and to maintain some of its cultural specialty.

In an abstract way, I mildly like or find liberating the idea of extreme access and availability, as a very wide of accepted presence could help one take the edge off oneself—like everything, or at least within groups, is present and accepted so there’s nothing so particular about oneself, then allowing you to pursue your interests. But I also think this is naturally a privileged perspective, and that very wide access, most of the time will be turned into its own kind of beast and filter bubble, excluding people who don’t meet the standards or concepts of its most determinate members. So I would generally favor classification and particular settings for things as relating to identity development though these are ideas I look forward to toying with more.

–Peter Defenderfer, INFO 653-02

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Reorganizing the Library

The Sorted Library (source)

As we discussed in the first day of class, libraries, particularly public libraries in town and neighborhood branch locations, and standard stacks in academic libraries, rely on a set of standards, from architectural layout to signage to even staff roles, to help a patron navigate to the information they seek. Any personalization usually exists in decoration, presentation, and within the minds and persons of the community that uses the space.

What happens when you break a library collection into smaller collections that stray from standardization and lean into personal taste? The Sorted Library in Brooklyn is a non-circulating reading room that calls itself “a cultural organization that is rethinking the modern library experience.” It offers patrons the chance, as most libraries do, to browse its shelves–and then reshelve them in a way that makes the most sense to them (these newly-made, temporary self-librarians) not by genre or author name, but by “Books My Mom Teaches to High Schoolers” or “Books Sometimes Used to Justify Shitty Behavior.”

(I won’t lie that when I first heard about this experimental library, and how it would organized (and re-organized), it gave me extreme anxiety.)

This really shows the line between collection and organization, when it comes down to how much control the organizer has over the collection. The Sorted Library allows organizers to act as collectors and ultimately curators; working within the limits of the materials provided, they create a collection that was conceived in their own mind, and then leave it to be dismantled and rebuilt by the next visitor. The standards of library cataloging and organization break down even further when realizing that the collections can only be kept track of in-person (which already is by appointment) and on one outlet of social media. The internet is forever, but these posts may outlast the collections they reflect.

And as we look at the founder’s vision for the future of the Sorted Library, at what point does this space cease to become a library or (abstractly) catalogued collection and crosses over into the realm of curated exhibit or even interactive art piece? It already calls itself a cultural organization–what catalogued spaces fall under that broad definition? To move the focus from the patron and a system that they can understand and take part in, to setting up a museum-like labyrinth of imitation personal libraries of 21st century thinkers, asking that the patron navigate these without knowing what will be in each and how they are organized (assuming or not that the patron has familiar knowledge of the historical figures represented), and then create their own moveable collection as they browse and pull books from each room–does this kind of cataloging experience deserve a different name?

As readers’ paths to books become more linear through digital databases and searching and endless computations of metadata keywords, it is fascinating to see a library that feels more like walking into an apartment where each roommate has a shelf to organize themselves. What this can contribute to the evolution of libraries is still nebulous, but I look forward to seeing what it can bring to the discussion about objective cataloging, collecting, and organization.

Maddy Newquist, INFO 653-02

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The Brautigan Library: Classification in a fictional library made real

On a recent episode of This American Life (“The Room of Requirement,” December 28, 2018), Sean Cole tells the story of the Brautigan Library. The Brautigan Library is a real place based on a fictional library that is the setting for the Richard Brautigan novel The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. In the novel, the address of the library is given as that of the real-life Presidio branch of the San Francisco Public Library, but this is a very peculiar sort of library: it never closes and is staffed by only one librarian, the narrator, who lives there. Its collection consists entirely of unpublished books that people submit to the librarian.

In the first chapter, the librarian states:

We don’t use the Dewey decimal classification or any index system to keep track of our books. We record their entrance into the library in the Library Contents Ledger, and then we give the book back to its author, who is free to place it anywhere he wants in the library, on whatever shelf catches his fancy.

It doesn’t make any difference where a book is placed because nobody ever checks them out and nobody ever comes here to read them. This is not that kind of library. This is another kind of library.

(from the novel as quoted by Cole in the episode; emphasis mine)

Even though no one can read or check out the books in this library, their authors gain personal satisfaction, relief, or closure in submitting them. The library exists “to gather pleasantly together the unwanted, the lyrical and haunted volumes of American writing” (from the novel as quoted by Cole).

The episode goes on to tell the story of the creation of the real library based on this fictional one. A man named Todd Lockwood was so inspired by Brautigan’s vision that, after years of dreaming about it, he started the Brautigan Library in 1990 in Vermont. In this library, as in the novel, people submitted their unpublished manuscripts; unlike in the novel, though, people did come to browse and read the manuscripts, and there was more than one librarian. The library did have a ledger, but instead of recording submissions, librarians recorded descriptions of all the visitors. The TAL episode doesn’t mention whether or not any sort of classification system was used in this iteration of the Brautigan Library, which was forced to close in 2005 because of a lack of funding and resources. However, in 2010, the library and its contents were moved to Vancouver, Washington.

Brautigan Library sign:

Image: Joe Mabel

The Brautigan Library in its current iteration consists of a room in the basement of the Clark County Historical Museum and is curated by John Barber, a faculty member of the Creative Media & Digital Culture program at Washington State University, Vancouver. Cole notes that the library now is more like its fictional counterpart than ever before—the books aren’t often read by anyone, and there is only one librarian, who is available at all hours to accept new books (PDFs submitted online). However, the Brautigan Library now uses a classification system—the Mayonnaise System (named after the last word in Brautigan’s most famous novel, Trout Fishing in America). In this system, manuscripts are categorized by category, then year of submission, and then order in which they were received. The Mayonnaise System has thirteen categories: Family, Natural World, Spirituality, Love, Humor, Future, Adventure, Street Life, War and Peace, Social/Political/Cultural, Meaning of Life, Poetry, and All the Rest.

books on shelf in Brautigan Library

Image: Joe Mabel

I wanted to write about the Brautigan Library because I was struck by the way Brautigan specifies in the original novel that the collection is not organized according to any classification system, because a library with no users doesn’t need to be. Thus, the focus is not on patrons, but on the satisfaction of the manuscript submitters, allowing them not only to unload or release their unwanted work, but also to place their book wherever feels most right. While in its current iteration the real-life Brautigan Library may be closer to its fictional counterpart than in the past, the introduction of a classification system, while perhaps necessary in a practical sense, to me alters or removes some of the magic of Brautigan’s original vision.

Brautigan Library room with bookshelves

Image: Joe Mabel

–Alicia Hyman, INFO 653-02

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Posted in Cataloging, Classification, Libraries, Library, Uncategorized

Archiving Performance Art in India, Asia Art Archive

Prepositions for an Archive of Performance Art in India,” “Ideas,” Asia Art Archive

Asia Art Archive is a Hong Kong-based organization that collect materials on the recent history of art from Asia and facilitate the creation of scholarship around them. Ideas is an online journal of AAA that I follow, where you can find articles, interviews, collections highlights on a variety of topics around contemporary Asian art history and archives.

In the newest article, titled “Prepositions for an Archive of Performance Art in India,” AAA interviewer speaks with Samudra Kajal Saikia, Project Researcher of a new initiative to establish an archive to document and exhibit the history of Indian performance art. Saikia talks about the early process of drafting an knowledge structure to successfully archive performance art. Since the format of performance art in India varies greatly while only limited amount of scholarship has been placed on this piece of art history and key movements are yet to be identified, it makes the process of documentation even harder. In the interview Saikia proposes to select representative artworks to establish a basic archiving format, though difficult and selective, aiming to accommodate as much as possible the varying nature of artworks.

On the other hand, due to its ephemerality, performance art itself is unarchivable and could only be remembered by documentary materials produced before, after, or along with it. Because of this heavy reliance on accompanying information, Saikia points out the issue that “sometimes the material in some of the categories would contradict those in the other folders, since the artists’ account did not match the spectators’ account, or the documentation itself did not align with the narrative the artist shared.” Do we emphasize on the artist’s intentions? Or the experience of participants/observers/documentarians? This gap between the artist’s original language and its effects given to viewers is also a key point for consideration in the process of archiving performance.

Archiving performance art, especially creating a new archive to document an piece of art history that hasn’t been thoroughly studied require expert knowledge from both fields of art history and information science. Departing from here to think about contemporary art at large, more and more unconventional formats have emerged, asking for increasing fluidity in knowledge organization to document them. 

by Evian Yiyun Pan, INFO 653-02

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The Preservation of Illustrative Manuscripts

In September, I traveled to Ireland and one of the most incredible places I went was Trinity College Library to see the Book of Kells. I have always been fascinated with old manuscripts and the preservation process that goes in to making sure they can be on display for the public to see. Because of this interest, I volunteered in 2016 to be a docent when Shakespeare’s First Folio came to my undergraduate university and I learned a lot about the process of how to keep these ancient texts in good condition so they can be admired for many years to come. So when I got to witness the Book of Kells in Ireland, which is much older than Shakespeare’s First Folio, it was shocking that it was in such amazing condition and still available for the public to witness.

The article “Preservation Takes Rare Manuscripts from the Public” by Paul Lewis bought up a topic of creating exact copies of many illustrative manuscripts such as the Book of Kells. It was said that these copies would be a way of keeping the original manuscript from becoming damaged over time, since with every use these manuscripts become more damaged. Many scholars shared their opinions on the idea of making copies of the manuscripts.

Dr. Bernard Meehan, who was the curator of manuscripts at Trinity College Library said, “we feel a strong duty to let it [the original copy of the Book of Kells] be seen.” It seems that Dr. Bruce Barker-Benfield from the Bodlean Library has the same opinion about keeping these original manuscripts out for the public to witness when he says, ”to understand what a medieval illuminated manuscript really is, you must turn the pages yourself and see the light flashing off the colors and the gold.” With that in mind, both Meehan and Barker-Benfield realize that the general public cannot touch and hold these valuable manuscripts because the oils on our skin deteriorates these special pieces of history. However, it is mentioned that under proper care, such as a temperature regulated room, dim lighting, and storing these manuscripts in glass casing so they cannot be touched, there is no reason that the original manuscripts cannot be viewed by the public.

What I found most interesting about this article was when it was written (1987) and how the author seemed sure that the only way to give the audience a hands-on experience with a manuscript is to make a copy of it instead of allowing the original to be viewed. However, when I went to the Book of Kells in September and even volunteered as a docent in late 2016, these two historical texts were most certainly the originals. While witnessing these two manuscripts there was a lot of emphasis on what needed to happen to make sure they were not damaged. At the Book of Kells, when I walked into the room that had the original manuscript on display, it was noticeably cooler and much darker than the rest of the exhibit was. While I was a docent, one of my duties was to make sure the temperature in the room and in the case where the folio was stored was at the right temperature; also, to make sure the room had the proper lighting so the folio was not damaged. But in both of these scenarios, there were digital copies available which offered a more hands-on experience for those who came to witness these manuscripts.

Therefore, even though making copies of these manuscripts may be a good idea, especially if the library or museum wants the public to have a hands-on experience with the piece, it seems like the idea of presenting a copy is not one that many scholars like the idea of. More people seem to agree that the emphasis shouldn’t be on making physical copies of the manuscripts but should be put on the preservation and presentation of the original manuscript. From my experience with ancient texts, it seems like digital copies are always a good way to ensure a more hands-on experience that does not involve damaging these texts.

Hannah Bauer

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by Hugh McLeod

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