17 Where is it being Organized?

Bibliographic control requires fixing a document in the
bibliographic universe by its space-time coordinates.

Having identified the resources, reasoned about our motivations, limited the scope and scale, and determined when and by whom the organization will occur, we come finally to the question of where the resources are being organized.

In ordinary use, “Where” refers to a physical location. But the answer to “where?” often depends on whether we are asking about the current location, a past location, or an intended destination for resources that are in transit or in process. The answer to the question “where?” can take a lot of different forms. We can talk about an abstract space like “a library shelf” or we can talk about “the hidden compartment in Section XY at the Library of Congress,” as depicted in the 2004 movie “National Treasure.” We can answer “where?” with a description of a set of environmental conditions that best suit a class of wildlife, or a tire, or a sleeping bag. We can answer “where?” with “Renaissance Europe” or “Colonial Williamsburg.” “Where?” can be a place in a mental construct, or even a place in an imagined location.

In the architectural design of an organizing system, its physical location is usually not a primary concern. In most organizing systems, the matter of where the organizing system and the resources are located can be abstracted away. So, in practice, resource location often is not as important as the other questions here. Physical constraints of the storage location should generally be relegated to an implementation concern rather than an architectural one. The construction of a special display structure for a valuable resource is not an independent design dimension; it is just the implementation of the user interface. (See “The Implementation Perspective ”)

Physical resources are often stored where it is convenient and efficient to do so, whether in ordinary warehouses, offices, storerooms, shelves, cabinets, and closets. It can be necessary to adapt an organizing system to characteristics of its physical environment, but this could undermine architectural thinking and make it harder to maintain the organization over time, as the collection evolves in scope and scale. (See “Organizing Physical Resources”)

Digital resources, on the other hand, are increasingly organized and stored “in the cloud” and their actual locations are invisible, indeterminate, and generally irrelevant, except in situations where the servers and the information they hold may be subject to laws or practices of their physical location. For example, a controversy arose in Canada in 2013 when researchers discovered that Internet service providers were, for various technical and business reasons, routinely routing trans-Canada web traffic through the United States. Because Canada has no jurisdiction over data traveling through cables and servers in another country, there was considerable outcry among Canadians who were concerned that their personal information was being subjected to the privacy laws and practices of another country without their knowledge or consent.

Sometimes location functions as an organizing principle in its own right, which in practice essentially collapses many of these architectural distinctions. This is frequently the case in our personal organizing systems, where we may exploit the innate human capability for spatial memory by always putting specific things like keys, eyeglasses, and cell phones in the same place, which makes them easy to find. But we can also see this happening in systems as complex and varied as: real estate information systems; wayfinding systems, such as road signage or mile markers; standardized international customs forms with position-specific data fields; geographic information systems; air, ground, sea, and space traffic control systems; and historic landmark preservation.

In “Organizing Places” we consider the organization of the land, built environments, and wayfinding systems. “The Structural Perspective” discusses the structural perspective on resource relationships, and in some systems, it may be very significant where resources are located in relation to one another. In The Barnes Collection, for example, works of art are physically grouped to enunciate common characteristics. Conversely, zoos do not mix the kangaroos with the wild dogs, and the military does not mix the ingredients for chemical weapons (at least, not until they plan to use them). There are also circumstances where resources can only exist in (or are particularly suited to) particular environments, such as the conditions required to grow wine grapes or mushrooms, or store spent nuclear fuel. UPS advises companies on where to put their warehouses and shipment centers. These are more substantial than questions of presentation, but it is debatable whether it falls under the storage or logic tier (you could have the principle of “keep the mushrooms somewhere moist” while not dictating where particularly).

Sometimes the location of an organizing system seems particularly salient, as in the design of cities where the street plan can be essential for orientation and navigation, and is embodied in zoning, voting, and other explicit organization, as well as in informal organization like neighborhood identity. But even here, it is really the people who live in the city who are being organized and whose interactions with the city and with each other are being encouraged or discouraged, not the physical location on which they live.

Indeed, in designing an organizing system you will often find that questions about location tumble naturally out of the other five design dimensions. For instance, questions about “when,” “what,” and “where” are often inseparable, particularly when an organizing system is subject to outside regulations, which tend to have geographical jurisdictions. “Where” is also commonly bound up with “who” and “why,” when locational challenges or opportunities faced by a system’s creators or users necessitate special design consideration. (See “Effectivity”)

Location can be critically important to an organizing system—too important, in fact, to be considered alone. The question of “where?” is best considered in context of the other five design dimensions as a whole; a narrow focus on where the resources are being organized too often privileges past convention over architectural thinking and perpetuates legacy issues and poorly organized systems.


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The Discipline of Organizing: 4th Professional Edition Copyright © 2020 by Robert J. Glushko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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