I have become preoccupied with the idea of keeping tabs on changes throughout the classification and cataloging systems both within the field of Library and Information Science (LIS) and some outlying fields as well. Let’s focus on LIS for the time being. With the progression of thought and terms and what should be considered “politically correct” at any point in time, the LIS field faces the task of determining how things should be classified and cataloged. The goal is to make things more accessible while making it continually more accurate. However, within this voyage for accuracy, there are loads of biases one has to account for within these classifications. For example, cross classification of terms that could mean one thing to a middle class white American and something else entirely to a person in Eastern Europe or Africa or Asia. This could go both ways though, right? Who is to say that our classification systems are the best and most current or even the most correct? Should there be an international system? Who decides that? This could go on forever. At this moment in time, there is no one way of classifying or cataloging and that is okay, because within those differences is the opportunity to learn and grow from others. My primary concern is the lack of communication and interconnectedness between world classification systems and how that affects the rapidly changing information.
I personally think that the changing of language and overall perception is seen most clearly within the Mental Health field. The language used there comes from the American Psychiatric Association and is conveyed through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) which outlines diagnoses. Changing language, that is, the way something is explained or categorized in this sense, is a revision process that can take a prolonged period of time. So what happens when mental health professionals are trying to change the perception of how the general public views something as well-known as suicide? When did it go from “committing suicide” to “completing suicide”? Who considered changing the wording based on the idea that “committing” makes it sound like the person has gotten away with a criminal act (omitting the Church’s viewpoints for simplicity’s sake…let’s pretend we live in an atheistic society for now)? How is that translated to the non-mental health professionals of the world?
The idea of mental health professionals changing how something is portrayed is to tackle it at the ground floor in order to change the public’s sense of a specific thing. With this in mind, and knowing that changing terms in the DSM is time consuming, what really matters when keeping track of these types of changes when looking at an academic library setting? One international system for the electronic exchange of clinical health information is SNOMED-CT (Systemized Nomenclature of Medicine-Clinical Terms) (nlm.nih.gov). SNOMED provides structured medical language that is consistent across the board to draw on the same vernacular and as a way to categorize terms within the medical fields. SNOMED keeps track and maintains this medical database and language, allowing the option for libraries to draw from that resource. Another database is the ICD-10 (International Classification Database) which incorporates the DSM language making it more accessible for academic libraries, universities, academia-related searched, and new keywords out to medical professionals (www.who.int). This database creates a sort of crosswalk between the ICD codes and the DSM codes to increase specificity and classify clinical health issues. The ICD is also largely used for billing purposes, as people and services need to know what they are being billed for, which increases the need for precision of the database.
So how are these resources helpful in the classification, cataloging and changing of terms? Let’s go back to suicide. Instead of the term “suicide” let’s pretend that the APA decided to change it to “picking flowers” because that sounds nicer. If someone were to do a search for the new term “picking flowers,” a week after the new term was decided upon, the chances of there being anything written on picking flowers in slim. However, within search engines, there is an electronic crosswalk between suicide and picking flowers which links the old term with the new. The extent of the crosswalk depends on who is maintaining those search engines and from where they are receiving their information. Would Google have a relationship with the APA to keep track of changing terms? Perhaps.
Now if it’s once again “committing” vs. “completing” the database would implement fuzzy logic which doesn’t require it to be one or the other, only that they can be close enough within the same meaning in order for the software to alert the database of the parameters (like a thesaurus). This comes in handy, especially as medical terms are being updated constantly. Libraries can have access to those types of systems and software as they are all Internet-based though they can be costly, especially if only being used for research. However, libraries form a powerful lobbying force and can often negotiate a more cost-effective contract.
The possibility of accessing these databases on an academic level and the interconnectedness of those databases with the APA relieves some of my fears about the loss of changing information within the mental health field. However it gets me thinking about other fields of study that may or may not have those options for sharing information. If so, do they also share their information and open it up to libraries? Would there be a need for a more vastly overlapping, more inclusive cataloging system in the world we live in today? We would probably need to take that on a case-by-case basis but the general idea is the same. Regardless of topic, there is always some benefit with information sharing that includes library systems which can help to maintain and catalog the influx of information as it comes in this now digital world.