Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bibliographic recursion?

In my ongoing effort to become more well versed in information science outside of my immediate discipline, I have recently been reading about programming languages and their underlying concepts. One of these is recursion, which allows for formulas, functions, etc. to be referenced within their own definitions. In art, recursion happens when, say, a room depicted in a painting has a painting on the wall of the room. In informal logic, this is analogous to "begging the question", but that's another story...

I observed bibliographic recursion today as I was poring over a book I was cataloging. I noticed that the table of contents included the page number for the table of contents. Perhaps this is common in books, but today it gave me pause, and I'm immediately of two minds about it. On the one hand, what purpose does it serve to tell the reader where to locate the page s/he is already looking at? On the other hand, the table of contents can also be seen as a representative summary of the contents of a resource; in this light, it is perfectly appropriate.

One can also imagine a more egregious example of bibliographic recursion. Now, authors often cite themselves, usually from previous works they have written (composers do this too, when they recycle melodies, arias, etc.). But imagine, if you will, a bibliography of bibliographies (they exist, I promise), in which a citation for the bibliography in hand is included. I'm almost tempted to research this to see if it has occured... Almost.

No comments: