Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto - OCS, 15th INTERNATIONAL ISKO CONFERENCE

Font Size: 
Axel Ermert

Last modified: 2018-06-19


Objectives: The purpose of this paper is to introduce main features of the International Standard ISO 5127:2017 “Foundation and vocabulary of information and documentation” and to examine whether, and how, it could be a contribution to today’s Knowledge Organization (KO).

Methods: Textual analysis; comparison of KO systems; outlining the structure, basic assumptions and intentions of the International Standard; some hints to needs and requirements for terminology in the information sector and for interoperability between its many different branches and professions; bits of narrative report on contents and on development history of the Standard.

Main results and conclusions: Terminology is one of the three cornerstones of KO (systems and practice), with two aims: to contribute to the foundations of any KO system and procedure; and to give a descriptive outline of the sector (field) and the procedures in which society handles its information work and its information processes. The “Terminology” of a KO system itself acts as a meta-tool, a self-referential instrument vis-à-vis the KO system. As stipulated by terminology theory and by the relevant ISO standards, each specialized field of human knowledge and practice should have an explicitly verbalized terminology at its basis (e.g., as a specialized ISO standard). ISO 5127 is especially important since it is intended as a vocabulary that is overarching most of the branches / professions / functions in the information sector. (ISO 5127 here is compliant with the most advanced approaches to work out unified procedures for describing all types of information material in various sectors, as is also the approach of the new international cataloguing code “RDA Resource Description and Access”.) ISO 5127:2017 contains 2.000 definitions and their terms, in some 18 sections and 131 subsections.

The trias of bibliometrics (on the dissemination and distribution of documents), classification / thesauri (KO systems), and conceptual analysis and work may well be regarded as the core / at the basis of KO. First “formal” setting out of definitions (= precise verbal expression of concepts) for the KO system itself (meta-toll) are encountered as early as 1905 and 1932 in the work of IID/FID. At the same time, somewhat parallel (or initially even in hidden competition ?), another distinct area of study in the foundation of KO emerged, called “Terminology Research”, founded with the ground-breaking study by Eugen Wüster published in 1932. For the first time, this study very explicitly stated that no term should be put to application without a proper definition, and that, actually, all scientific term systems should be concept-based: the concepts should be defined and put in relation to each other first, and then the appropriate terms assigned to them. In this way, the third cornerstone of KO can be regarded as having been added to it. No surprise that from this point of departure it became a main demand that each technical field (also as represented in an ISO Standards Committee) should have its own established and clearly spelled out technical terminology (possibly fixed in an ISO standard itself). And so for the field of “Documentation” / KO, as ISO Standard ISO 5127.

This paper will investigate the “terminology” under a number of questions:

How does the terminology define its scope ? How is it related to some of the existing general KO systems (like UDC, ASIS&T thesaurus, etc.) ? How is the terminology built – what are the techniques and the prescriptions ? Are there basic criteria for a “good terminology” to be observed ? What are the basic concepts upon which it is built ? Does the terminology have a potential to underpin, or contribute to, other KO systems ? How does the terminology group, and subdivide, the “information field” ? Does it build on particular sources ? How deep is the level of detail treating of its subject ? To which degree is the terminology of ISO 5127 a dictionary, a reference work, a concept system ?

ISO 5127 has broadened its coverage against previous approaches (ISO 5127:2001 with 1.200 definitions). The broadening of the coverage of ISO 5127 mainly aims to better interconnect various branches in the information sector such as archives, documentation centres, photo or phono archives, museums, libraries, publishing etc. It also covers the much grown role of various kinds of communication and of differentiated forms of knowledge. This is done, thirdly, with due consideration given to the components of IT and to digital procedures which are at the core of today’s KO (even though “traditional” analogue practices continue to play an important role). ISO 5127, in fulfilling these functions, aims to provide both an overarching general vocabulary that gives the general basis for understanding information and documentation processes (also across the various domains), and branch-specific vocabulary reflecting branch-specific features and procedures (e.g. archives vs. libraries, etc.) so that these are respected but also put in context. Thus, interoperability and interworking is aimed at being achieved by a commonly shared basic vocabulary and by respecting and understanding domain-specific vocabulary by explaining and highlighting its specialty through contrast against specialized vocabulary in another branch. Translation of a core term/concept system “Documentation” into many languages is a second vital purpose of ISO 5127 – just the same as it is of concern to some major present-day classification (KO) systems

The building of, and placing the concepts within, a concept system considerably adds to their understanding and determination; it adds a lot of “knowledge” about them, even beyond an explicit verbal expression in the definition itself. ISO 5127 meets its 3 factual functions to different degrees. From the point of view of KO theory it is important here to note that definitions can be formed from various viewpoints / along different criteria – this needs to be harmonized when they shall fit into one overall concept system.

ISO 5127 is an attempt at a big “leap forward”. Its present presentation of a collection of material needs to be refined, improved, tested against theory and practice. It is an appeal to the professional community for collaboration and to continuously improve the shape of the terminology system.