I was originally attracted to the study of library and information science through an interest in knowledge organization. I first became aware of the Library and Information Studies program at the University of Alberta when, a few years ago, I stumbled on the course webpage for a previous version of LIS 535 (which was then called "Indexing and Abstracting"). At the time, I was trying to find out if the University offered any courses in back-of-the-book indexing.

A few years further back, I thought that it would be a great idea to create a database of all the magazine articles I was reading so that I could find them again. The project did not get very far, in part because I was frustrated by rather primitive technology, but more because I ran into several dilemmas I could not easily resolve.

For example, I started wondering how I could ever, for example, find two articles from Scientific American using the same search if I indexed one using the term "atomic physics" and the other with the term "nuclear physics". I also wondered if I should index every mention of an interesting topic, or just the main subject focus of an article. Furthermore, if I read an article about the solar system that discussed one or individual planets in detail, should I index the article with "solar system", "planets", "Uranus", or all of these terms?

In other words, I was running into issues of specificity, exhaustivity, and the challenges of retrieving documents that were indexed using uncontrolled keywords. However, I was unaware at the time that others had not only encountered the same issues, but also had developed solutions to them.

Thesauri address a number of these problems, first because they are controlled vocabularies, but also because the general to specific (broader term to narrower term) relationships also guide an indexer to choosing a term at the appropriate level of specificity.

With several institutions in Alberta and across the country engaging in projects to digitize all sorts of historical information resources, I anticipate a need for new thesauri to be developed in very specific subject areas, such as the political history of Alberta. Although it is possible to index such a collection without using a comprehensive controlled vocabulary, taking the effort to develop one could greatly enhance the findability of these digitized resources. I look forward to the opportunities these initiatives may present.