Talk by Robert J. Glushko

Speaker: Robert J. Glushko, School of Information, University of California-Berkeley

Title: The Discipline of Organizing

Date: 04/09/2012

Time: 4pm

Room: Psychology 101

Abstract: We organize things, we organize information, we organize information about things, and we organize information about information. But even though “organizing” is a fundamental and ubiquitous challenge, when we compare these activities their contrasts are more apparent than their commonalities.  As a result different concepts and methods have evolved that are embodied in the disciplines of library science, publishing and content management, business process analysis, data science, information systems design, and other fields that are studied and taught in the ISchools.  These fields don’t always agree in how they approach problems of organizing, the words they use to describe what they do, and in what they seek as solutions.

We propose to unify many perspectives about organizing with the concept of an Organizing System, defined as an intentionally arranged collection of resources and the interactions they support.  Every Organizing System involves a collection of resources, and we can treat things, information, and information about things or information as resources.  Every Organizing System involves a choice of properties or principles used to describe and arrange the resources, and ways of supporting interactions with the resources.  By comparing and contrasting how these activities take place in different contexts and domains, we can identify patterns of organizing and see that Organizing Systems often follow a common life cycle.  We can create a discipline of organizing in a disciplined way.

This new approach cuts across traditional categories of resource collections; we can describe familiar categories like libraries, museums, and business information systems as design patterns that we can then use to apply knowledge about familiar domains to unfamiliar ones; someone with a business or informatics background can better understand libraries and museums and have intelligent conversations with librarians and museum curators… and vice versa.  We now have a generative, forward-looking framework for organizing any collection of resources, especially those that that don’t cleanly fit into the familiar categories, and we can more easily invent new kinds of interactions for them.

This work to develop the Discipline of Organizing is the collective effort of a score of ISchool professors and graduate students from several institutions, and will result in a textbook targeted for the “core” or “gateway” courses at ISchools. This book will be published in early 2013 simultaneously as a printed book, as an ebook, and as an open content repository to support collaborative use and maintenance of the content by all of the ISchools using it.


Robert J. Glushko is an Adjunct Full Professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.   After receiving his PhD in Cognitive Psychology at UC San Diego in 1979, he spent about ten years working in corporate R&D, about ten years as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and now has worked ten years as an academic.  His interests and expertise include information systems and service design, content management, electronic publishing, Internet commerce, and human factors in computing systems.  He founded or co-founded four companies, including Veo Systems in 1997, which pioneered the use of XML for electronic business before its acquisition by Commerce One in 1999.