Friday, August 25, 2006

LibraryThing on whether Pluto is a planet

UPDATE: The backlash begins!

As many of you know, the International Astronomers Union recently voted to demote Pluto from its former planetary status. Librarians, or at least the Dewey Blog, have been following the debate for some time now. For Dewey the stakes are high. Books about Pluto are classed at 523.482, within "Trans-Uranian Planets,"* which is in "Planets of the Solar System" schedule. Is it time to reshelve?

Beyond Dewey, the Pluto vote raises many of the same issues as library classification in general. Both involve authority and are understood as binary. In general, the librarians have better intellectual grounds. A book must really reside on one shelf**, and who better to decide this than the people who use it everyday?

Meanwhile, the Pluto vote won't affect any astronomers actual work, nor, say, the "findability" of Pluto for the rest of us. The vote is a classic "pseudo-event." I for one don't see why the IUA's opinion—rather, the opinion of the 400-odd (of of 2,700) conference attendees who still remained on the last day—on the matter should be definitive.*** What do the astrologers, historians of science, linguists and poets have to say?

Or, for that matter, how about LibraryThing members? Funny you should ask!

Related tags: planetsRelated tags: Pluto

So you see, Pluto is "kind of" a planet. It's not planetary enough to be included on the related tags for planet. But the related tags for Pluto include "planet."

So, it's "sort of" a planet. Or maybe it's a planet, but not a very good example of one. That's a perfect LibraryThing answer. Non-binary, non-authoritative. Pretty good answer though.

*Another item from the classification schedule revealed!
**And, under a physical card catalog, it must have a discrete number of subject cards.
***The Dewey blog takes it for granted that OCLC's classification should be affected by the vote. The NYT reports that school publishers were holding up textbooks. Having been directly involved in the production of school textbooks, I say bullshit.


Blogger prosfilaes said...

Linguists are in the job of specifying what is, so they would merely say the obvious. Likewise, historians of science would merely point out that things that were at one time considered elements or whatever at one stage of understanding lost that status at later stages; Pluto is hardly the first object in the Solar System to have lost the planet status.

I would argue that the reason astrologists don't have a claim is because they don't make a claim. If they were a science, the data would reveal either a binary devision between astrologically significant objects and non-astrologically significant objects, or there would be factors of astrological significance and astrologers could argue about the lines based on their standards. If astrology was a serious field of home belief in the last couple centuries, astrologers would haven't followed astronomers in adding and removing planets (like Ceres) for the last 200 years. At this point, I think they've abdicated any right to pontificate on what is and isn't a planet.

10/12/2008 2:44 PM  

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