Report from NASKO 2015 at UCLA

by Mike Lauruhn

UCLA's Royce Hall was the setting of the biennial North American Symposium on Knowledge Organization (#NASKO2015) on June 18-19, with the Department of Information Studies serving as host. Over the two days of the symposium, the variety and range of papers was impressive and represented the many different ways that the field of Knowledge Organization is approached. The papers included project overviews and status updates, papers heavy in metatheory and philosophy, and papers about history and contributions to the field.

Some highlights: 
Hilary Thorsen of Stanford University Libraries presented Ontologies in the Time of Linked Data. In it, she gave an overview of the popular Linked Jazz project as and example of development of a domain-specific ontology for Linked Open Data (LOD) applications. She talked through the steps of approaching the music domain and engineering an ontology for Linked Data while expressing the important elements and relations for the domain of jazz musicians and their networks. The presentation was very insightful, frank, and practical.

Rebecca Green from OCLC's Dewey Services team spoke about how the complex relations between indigenous peoples in the United States and the United States government are (or aren't) manifest in DDC. She argues that many of the instances that people point out are a result of misunderstandings, but others are areas where the DDC needs to consider improvement. Some of the complexities are a result (or reflection) of treaties, designation recognized tribes, and the sovereignty of reservations - which inconsistent conflict or coincide with how geographic locations from elsewhere in the schema. She also cited previous criticism of treatment of indigenous peoples and where improvements have been made. It was a thought provoking talk that helps highlight what can happen when schemas reinforce stereotypes. Later in the symposium --through his papers and conversation -- UCLA's Greg Leazer highlighted the need to address culture, language, and ethics in KO work.

Murtha Baca and Melissa Gill from the Getty Center discussed their paper Encoding Multilingual Knowledge Systems in the Digital Age: the Getty Vocabularies. It focused on the Getty vocabulary properties (Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT®), the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN®), and the Union List of Artist Names (ULAN®)) as schemas that are evolving in hopes of finding their potential to play key roles in the the Linked Open Data environment. The talk specifically addressed the processes that the Getty undertakes to develop the cross-cultural and multi-lingual aspects that make the their schemas valuable. Among the challenges beyond translations is addressing homographs that have entirely different meanings across cultures (Retablo as an example when compared as objects in Spain vs. Latin America). A nice presentation that would be insightful to members of the LODLAM community. 

Every talk was greeted with insightful questions and constructive criticism. The symposium remains an important format for bringing together diverse approaches and aspects to a field that is consistently in transition, but still relies heavily on its legacy. Looking forward to future activities from this community.