What is a document?

what is a document?
“What is a document?” is the question Michael K. Buckland deals with in his essay for an issue of Media Studies journal. Concerning Shakespeare I’d likely ask – whether a textual or an antilope should be a document or not. This might conveniently result as the most particular concern in this essay. Watched from a different prospect, it would rather be like this: Whether or not a document has to be called a document should be identified via its function.

The modern documentalists, as Buckland names them, have emphasized this new dimension of objects of information management (or information science).

“Ordinarily”, Buckland wrote, “information storage and retrieval systems have been concerned with text and text-like records (e. g. names, numbers, and alphanumeric codes)” (p. 1).

Buckland lists up a lot of different point of views from the scope of what he calls and what seems to be called documentation. The approach to documents changed

“with the rapid increase in the number of publications, especially of scientic and technical literature” (p. 2).

But the proposition of this statement is forfeit during the evolving argumention in Buckland’s essay. What was once called bibliography was about 1920 named documentation and from the 1950ties on a

“more elaborate terminology, such as ‘information science’, ‘information storage and retrieval’, and ‘information management’, increasing[ly] replaced the word ‘documentation'” (p. 3).

Problems created by the proliferation in print,

“led, in turn, to a new and intriquing question that received little direct attention then or since” (ibid.).

Some people began to think from a different prospect on this topic. On of these was Suzanne Briet. She was one of those who started to present a more sophisticated and of course a more functional definition of what a document itself can be. They started developing the idea that a document can be what objects documentation deals with. Hence they could also ask how extendable documentation is or was and they started investigating likely on the boundaries of information managements scope. Briet thought of documents as evidence – somehow an aspect that cultural anthropologists as well have a look at (artifacts). For Briet though even an antilope could be identified as a document.

“But [only] if it were […] taken to a zoo and made an object of study, it has been made into a document” (p. 6).

The latter was, in my eyes, the most sophisticated aspect of those presented in Buckland’s essay though I decided to present it to the reader’s eyes. A bunch of other solutions what a document can be are introduced there either, though I did not want to mention them in this case. Mainly because Buckland shortened a lot of their argumentation just to present a whole of different answers to the question what a document can be like; this is a point I have to merely criticize on Buckland’s essay.

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