De Goya a gofres: knowledge organisation at the Prado

It’s always great when you can incorporate your interests and passions into your work. The assignment for the Knowledge Organisation module last semester required me to construct a classification system for the corporate knowledge of an imaginary establishment. This is sometimes known as a corporate taxonomy, and it’s really a way of organising all the different kinds of information needed to perform the functions of a particular organisation or department. The taxonomy should also provide a way to present and disseminate relevant information to those who interact with it, whether they are internal staff or members of the public. For the purposes of this assessment, we could either invent a fictitious organisation or use an existing one as a guide. This is where I got excited…! I had chosen the scenario of a cultural establishment open to the public, and thought that a museum would make a good example…

The Prado. (Note: does not contain dinosaurs… or gunpowder.)

Photo by Schnäggli (Own work) [CC license via Wikimedia Commons].

Yes, you can probably guess exactly which museum I used as my real life guide. The Prado contains many diverse works of art from various periods and countries, and it’s one of my favourite museums in Europe. It’s also a historic building in its own right, having been originally designed to house a natural history collection – hence the large central hallway, presumably intended to accommodate the vast skeletons of dinosaurs. At one point it was even used as a gunpowder store by Napoleon’s troops. Having visited it many times over the years, I’m reasonably familiar with its collections, the building itself and the sort of exhibitions which they hold, but their website was also extremely helpful in this respect. My taxonomy therefore covered everything from Titian to toilets, Rubens to radiators, paintings to postcards and even the (possibly imaginary) waffles, or gofres in Spanish, served in the museum café. As you can probably appreciate from these examples, I had to assume a lot of information for the purposes of the assessment. In a real life situation there would have been a lot of preliminary consultation with the museum itself to find out exactly what was required.

I can only hope that my indicative classification scheme did justice to the breadth of activities carried out there. This module was my favourite out of the whole year, and this assessment in particular was a great exercise, and very applicable to a working situation. Firstly, it allowed me to appreciate just how complex organisations can be, and secondly it gave me a vital grounding in the use of faceted classification schemes in a real life context. To me, the faceted structure seemed to work very well in describing complex relationships between disparate parts of the organisation, so it was generally very relevant to the task.

Part of the scheme also involved a thesaurus of controlled terms, which was designed to form the reference tool for classifying documents and objects in the museum itself and its archive. This is where I slightly indulged myself by including in the vocabulary some of my favourite Spanish artists and their paintings. One was Goya and his Black Paintings, also used as an example in my thesaurus entries. Another was Velásquez and some of his major works such as Las Meninas and The Surrender of Breda*. These being important works for both visitors and researchers, they also formed part of my imaginary portal** to allow access to the information in the classification.

I was only able to include a very small part of the collection to illustrate how my scheme worked, and it would be great to have the opportunity to carry out the process on a larger sample, or even the full collection! Of course, my taxonomy was in English, whereas in a real situation it would be in Spanish, although I did include the Spanish names of artists as synonyms to aid information retrieval and classification.*** My Spanish learning continues apace, so perhaps one day..! Having successfully completed and enjoyed this module, I am now thinking that taxonomies and knowledge organisation in general is an area of study and work which I would like to pursue further. What form that will take, I’m not too sure of at the moment, but it’s definitely something to look into.

 


*If you’re interested in these works, see my other post about them here.

**I should point out that the Prado’s own website is already organised very well, with a fairly comprehensive site map, and this was invaluable in my preliminary research for the taxonomy.

***There is a whole world of research and examples of multilingual taxonomies, which are a much more complex, yet equally fascinating, animal.

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