We have the Greeks to thank for the development of the first library catalog – the Pinakes, composed by Callimachus in 245BC is popularly considered the first catalog, basing its contents upon the holdings of the Library of Alexandria. This system divided all works into six genres and five areas of prose and then each category was alphabetized by author.
Two thousand, two hundred and fifty-seven years later, we have ‘progressed’ to a system that is built upon a strikingly similar concept. Folders, containing files, nested within cabinets were all the rage from 1898 when Edwin G. Seibel first invented the vertical filing cabinet. As computers began to dominate the business landscape in the 1980’s and 90’s, it seemed only natural that the familiar organisational structure that had held it’s own for a hundred years be adapted to the digital world.
Now, in 2012, it is time for the folder and filing system of Callimachus and Seibel to be respectfully dispatched to the recycle bin of history. Directory tree hierarchies – and their evil twin, nested folders – should die.
Directory tree hierarchies are cumbersome, illogical and inhibitory to collaboration in the modern era.
In education, an industry not known for envelope-pushing innovation, the nested-folder has become the friend of every miserly, pedantic, unprofessional educator that still exists. Squirreling resources away into a school’s resource directory in such away that no modern person could ever hope to find it – let alone share, or collaborate on it – has become the hall mark of ‘efficient’ or ‘organised’ teachers.
As the students that we teach continually experience life in a collaborative & social world, there must be a revolution in the mind-set that teachers have regarding the organisation and storing of digital resources.
Folders can store files – but folders cannot be used to organize files. As an isolated entity, the folder fails to reflect the multi-faceted connections that exist between the information that it contains and the information that folder nearby (or far away) might hold. As for finding information within a nested-folder structure, an experiment is the easiest way to demonstrate the point. Ask a colleague to give you access to their folder hierarchy – now try to see what information is within the directory.
Now, ask the same colleague if you could have access to their electronic music collection. What can you find there?
Typically, modern music applications use metadata to create a system of organizing information into a manageable, searchable, format. If I want Jazz, I sort by genre. If I want Aretha Franklin, I sort by Artist. You get the point.
Why do we do it differently with educational resources? Why do we organize the information in modern-looking but old-school serving filing cabinets when almost all other information is Google-fied or iTunes-ied? Why do we hide resources from each other, from our students, from other teachers’ students by burying them in folders nested next to Grandma’s Chicken Recipes?
As long as educational institutions insist on using an out-dated model for storing and sharing local resources, the ideals of collaboration, professional reflection and supportive instruction will remain an out-of-reach hope.