The ethics of classifying the world: from library catalogues to AI


  • Clare Thornley Clarity Research
  • Marta Bustillo University College Dublin
  • Christoph Schmidt Supprian Trinity College Dublin, Ireland



Artifical Intelligence, ethics, Library and Information Studies, classification systems, terminology


This paper reports on an initial  exploration of  knowledge classification ethics: What are the important ethical issues in how we classify knowledge and what kind of cognitive, cultural and social impacts may they have? An important part of Knowledge Management is the classification and organisation of knowledge to make it findable and reveal connections in related subjects. Discussion on the ethical aspects of this issue have recently been brought to the fore in both Library and Information Studies (LIS), in terms of objections to Library classification terms, and also in AI which can classify data using data sets which themselves reflect existing injustices and bias. The ethical implications of both types of knowledge classification can be better understood when the classification ethics debate in LIS and AI are used to  inform each other. Findings include that AI provides clarity on measuring adverse outcomes whilst LIS provides nuance on the potential cultural and psychological harm of inappropriate terminology and inaccurate positioning within ‘worlds of knowledge’.