Taxonomy in the time of technology: Deichmann is the municipal library in Oslo. Last week they opened a library for children, age 10-15. All good, you might think. Commendable. But what images do you create in your head? Chances are, you would be very very wrong. Perhaps it would not be surprising that the kids can cook, read, listen to music, play. Seen that kind of thing before; where libraries try to be everything‚ and often failing. But this one is truly a little different …. The bookshelves are suspended from cables and cranes on the ceiling, and their positions can be changed. That could perhaps be handy, or it might be a bit gimmicky.
But what caught my interest, is the way they sort, classify and order books. Adults are used to look for formal systems of classification to be able to find anything. Bookshops sort stuff like fiction, crime, by language, travel, nonfiction etc. This is very good if you know what you are looking for. But not so good if you just want to find something interesting for a long train journey. Libraries with formal systems like Dewey Decimal System do essentially the same. In short; you have to decide on subject, genre etc.
What this library do, however, is to take advantage of technology, to allow the taxonomy to break down entirely. Or to say; there are other classifications that are just as useful, if not more. They have shelves for thin books, called “short and sweet”, a shelf for “scary”, one for “animals”. But these are rather vague groupings, so here is the thing: the patron reads a book from the scary-shelf. She does not find it particularly scary at all, and then places it on a different shelf, which she reckons is a better fit. CHAOS! I hear you say…
…but every night, a drone whizzes around and scans all the books (they have some kind of RFID-thing in the spine). So nothing is lost, and everything is gained.
There is a thing in theory around tags that say that over time, a group of people will reach a consensus. If the shelves have useful names, then there is a chance that over time, the books will find permanent homes.
I am too old to gain access, but I suspect we will find out.
(Featured image: Marco Heyda)