In his article “The Notion of “Category”: Its Implications in Subject Analysis and in the Construction and Evaluation of Indexing Languages,” Barite examines the current functionality and perspective of what a category is, and how categories effect the construction of indexing languages. Problems come when followers of the current way of using categories are not willing or able to analyze other avenues for uses, and indexers use other, similar terms when they should use the term category.
To categorize objects, we must first define an object. Object attributes that condition its study: 1) naturally dynamic and mutable; 2) real or ideal; 3) may have delimitation problems (can be placed in more than one category); 4) occur or flow along the time-space continuum. Typical characteristics for categories are: 1) all categories are sectorial ones (can be fragmented to be part of other categories); 2) all categories imply a specific level of analysis; 3) categories are levels of analysis external to the object (analysis, not object elements); 4) categories are mutually excluding; 5) every category is highly generalizable; 6) every category may have variable levels of subdivision; 7) there is not a limited collection of categories.
Historically, categories existed in the realm of philosophy, but Ranganathan brought it to library science when he expressed categories as a tool to analyze objects in his Theory of Classification. He constructed a system of classification called the Colon Classification. Decades later, librarians are still using categories in the same fashion. Is this the most useful way of using categories in library sciences? Barite claimed that it is not possible to characterize (or define) categories using the original Philosophies way of things from which Ranganathan extracted his information; it is too much of a conceptual difference from philosophy to library science. The Theory of Classification characterizes categories as only relevant to analyze objects, phenomena and knowledge. Instead, Barite leans toward an encyclopedic dictionary’s general definition of a category – general characteristics or temperaments applied as a whole to all beings and to the other manners or modalities displayed by them. Occasionally, the terms category, characteristic and class are used interchangeably, causing confusion since they are different.
Categories are currently used only with classifications, or those who make indexing languages. Barite states that eventually, indexers will have to incorporation categories into their indexing work, as they are already having to take the current indexing language apart to adapt the current language to user requirements. For classificationists, categories are used for three activities: 1) design, planning, and structure of index languages (or other systems of knowledge: classification, thesauri, taxonomies); 2) modification of classification tables; 3) analysis of index languages by a parameter set capable of comparing and contrasting related concepts. Barite suggests that those that follow Ranganathan’s idea for category use are not able to see other avenues for categories as they are too close to the subject.
Barite insists that the Ranganathan definition of use of categories is antiquated and doesn’t analyze for everything, yet he says that the Theory of Classification is used for objects, phenomena, and knowledge. I would say that these three things cover just about everything, particularly since Barite gives major emphasis to what an “object” is, when Ranganathan’s definition clearly includes objects. This paper would have been more insightful if giving clear ideas on what should be improved for future use of categories. He proposes greater attention to the topic, and that users are unable to see what other avenues to take for using categories, but gives no suggestions for those other avenues. Like an old supervisor used to tell me, don’t complain about something unless you’re going to give suggestions.