The web and the pyramid: Hope Olson's vision of connectedness in a world of hierarchies

Barbara H. Kwaśnik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Hope Olson's mission is to analyze our traditional knowledge-representation systems from the point of view of those whose voices are not well reflected. Her focus is not only on the content of these schemes but also, and perhaps especially, on their structures. There is no structure more established than the hierarchy and yet the hierarchy makes assumptions and imposes rules that have shaped our world view. In her 2007 library Trends article, "How We Construct Subjects: A Feminist Analysis," she takes apart the the notions behind hierarchies and brings to bear feminist thinking to offer a penetrating critique followed by a careful evaluation of implications. By way of examples she explores several existing schemes: The Dewey Decimal Classification, thesauri, and the library of Congress Subject Headings to demonstrate how there do exist ameliorating (non hierarchical) techniques, but how they do not adequately solve the problem. Having laid out the limitations of our existing tools, both in content and in structure, she suggests rewriting and restructuring our schemes so that the all-important connections are visible - a web instead of a hierarchy. The article, written almost a decade ago, continues to be prophetic of what modern approaches and ways of thinking can achieve. As such, an analysis of the article serves here as a way of explicating Hope's rich and penetrating intellectual contributions and her critical yet hopeful vision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-372
Number of pages6
JournalKnowledge Organization
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2016


  • Element
  • Hierarchies
  • Hope Olson
  • Structure
  • Work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Library and Information Sciences


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