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Are Collections Sets?

Karen M. Wickett, Allen H. Renear and Jonathan Furner

ASIST 2011 Annual Meeting
New Orleans, LA, October 9-12, 2011


The concept of a collection plays key roles in library, museum, and archival practice, and is arguably fundamental to information organization systems in general. Locating collections concepts in a reasonably robust ontology should have a number of practical advantages, including revealing inferencing opportunities on the one hand, and supporting consistency and coherence in system design on the other. However, although practices involving collections have been studied empirically there has been surprisingly little attention given to the formal analysis of the concept itself, or related notions like collection membership. With this paper we hope to convene that discussion, beginning with the question: Are collections sets? We consider in detail the substantial arguments against collections being a kind of set, but recognize that at least one version of that claim, one based on considerations from Guarino and Welty's Ontology evaluation rules, cannot be ruled out. We recognize though that ontology decisions, whether practical or theoretical, ultimately come down to weighing competing considerations and not decisive formal arguments. Any conclusions therefore must await the development of alternative theories in subsequent papers. We invite the information science community to join us in this effort.

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