University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign campus)..

The role of classification in the modern American library : papers presented at an institute conducted by the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science, November 1-4, 1959 (Volume 1959) online

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Online LibraryUniversity of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign campus).The role of classification in the modern American library : papers presented at an institute conducted by the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science, November 1-4, 1959 (Volume 1959) → online text (page 1 of 15)
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in the

Allerton Pork Institute


Allerton Park Institute
Number Six




Papers Presented at an Institute

conducted by

The University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science

November 1-4, 1959

Distributed by

The Illini Union Bookstore

Champaign, Illinois

Copyright 1959

The University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science

Lithoprinted by

Ann Arbor, Michigan

6 Z0,


The autumn institutes on professional librarianship, which are
sponsored jointly by the University of Illinois Graduate School of
Library Science and the University Extension Division, are held at
Robert Allerton Park, a University-owned country estate near Monti-
cello, Illinois, each year. This volume contains the papers presented
at the sixth of these institutes, held November 1-4, 1959. The series
was inaugurated in 1954 with an Institute on School Library Adminis-
tration. In 1955, the" subject of the institute was Developing the
Library's Personnel Program; in 1956 The Nature and Development
of the Library Collection was discussed; in 1957 the topic was The
Library as a Community Information Center; in 1958 attention was
focused on Library Service to Young Adults. The 1959 Institute was
devoted to the Role of Classification in the Modern American Library.

In planning for an informal meeting of a small group it is some-
times more satisfactory if speakers will point their papers toward
representatives of a certain kind of library, or a certain size of
library, or towards service to a special group of library users.
There seemed to be no way to mark off one group of classifiers from
another; the interest in classification can exist in a librarian from
any size or type of library. It was decided that this institute would be
addressed to those librarians who have a deep interest in the whole
field of classification and the program was planned to present a broad
picture of classification today. That this is an interesting subject can
be adduced from the registrants who came from many kinds of libra-
riessmall public, large public, college and university, research,
special libraries, and school libraries to hear about and discuss the
state of classification today. The majority of the registrants came
from Illinois and nearby states, but there were others from distant
points and more would have come if the accommodations at Allerton
Park had been greater.

Planning the Institute was the work of a committee of the faculty
of the Graduate School of Library Science, composed of Frances B.
Jenkins, Donald E. Strout, and Thelma Eaton, chairman. Harold
Lancour, who is an ex officio member of all institute committees was
not in residence at the time of the meeting but he did take part in the
planning during its early stages. Other members of the faculty who
were present for as many meetings as their classes permitted helped
in many ways to make the meeting go smoothly. Special thanks are
due to Jo Ann Wiles, Library Science Librarian, for assembling the
collection of classification schemes, and to Dewey Carroll for assum-
ing the responsibility for that exhibit at Allerton House and taking over

any other small chores that needed doing. As always special thanks
are due to the staff of the Extension Division and Allerton House for
their cooperation and the many services most graciously rendered.
And finally our sincere thanks to the speakers, who took time from
their own busy schedules to come and share their knowledge and ideas
with us, and to the registrants who by their interest made the institute
a living thing.


Urbana, Illinois
February 1, 1960


Table of Contents

Foreword v

The Administrator Looks at Classification

Robert B. Downs 1

^- The Development of Classification in America

Thelma Eaton 8

I/Classification Today Shadow or Substance

Mortimer Taube 31

The Classified Catalogue as an Aid to Research

Herman H. Henkle 42

>XA Classification for the Reader

Ruth Rutzen 53

The Enduring Qualities of Dewey

Heartfall H. Young 62

Library of Congress Classification for the Academic Library

Irene M. Doyle 76

One Mathematician Looks at the Classification of Mathematics

Robert G. Bartle 93

Classification in a Special Library

Isabel Howell 103

I/What Lies Ahead in Classification

Jesse H. Shera 116


Donald E. Strout . 129


The Administrator Looks
at Classification

Robert B. Downs

Director, Graduate School of Library Science
University of Illinois

A strong case can be made out, I am convinced, for the proposition
that many librarians are obsessed with classification for the sake of
classification. With rare exceptions, investigation has revealed, li-
brary users are totally indifferent to classification, so long as it does
not actually interfere with their finding the books they want. If they
have thought about the matter at all and were given a choice, the
readers would vote for the utmost possible simplicity in whatever
scheme of classification is adopted. Logical sequences, a fetish wor-
shipped by numerous classifiers, mean little to all except an occasion-
al professor of philosophy.

Though I would not argue for it, there is a good deal to be said for
the accession order in arranging the books in a library simply num-
bering the first book received 1, the second 2, and so on ad infinitum,
filling every shelf to capacity, and saving much space. Such a plan
appears to have worked satisfactorily in the half -million volume li-
brary of the London School of Economics, but that is a closed shelf
collection and perhaps belongs to a special category.

Carrying the thesis further, I would maintain that librarians,
principally in colleges and universities, have been guilty of wasting
millions of dollars in elaborate and unnecessary reclassification pro-
grams, using funds that could have been spent to far greater advantage
to everyone concerned in building up their book resources. To be
specific, consider the cases of two of the most poverty-stricken uni-
versity libraries in the country: The University of Mississippi and
the University of South Carolina, both of which have expended tens of
thousands of dollars in recent years, changing over from one standard
system of classification to another. Meanwhile their book budgets
were at about the level of a college library without any university pre-
tensions. Here is almost incontrovertible support for such critics as
Lawrence C. Powell, when they charge that librarians are more con-
cerned with housekeeping than with books and reading.

What exactly does the library patron scholar, research worker,
student, or general reader have a right to expect of library classifica-
tion? One thing he should not expect, because it is a practical impos-
sibility, is to find all the materials on any given subject grouped to-
gether. This was, of course, convincingly demonstrated by the Kelley

studies. 1 A characteristic of the literature of virtually every modern
field is that it cuts across subject lines. There are no longer any
watertight compartments if there ever were. The physicist, to illus-
trate, is interested not only in the strictly physical literature, but in
biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and other related areas.
The lawyer is concerned not simply with legal treatises, but with
psychology, medicine, political sciences, economics, sociology, and
nearly everything else under the sun. Every classifier is familiar
with innumerable cases of border-line books books that could just as
logically be placed in one classification division as another, or per-
haps several others, with the final decision usually resting upon the
interests of the particular institution.

No less responsible for the scattering of materials on a specific
topic is format. Even if it were possible to group together all the
separately-printed monographic titles, vast quantities of references
on most subjects must remain scattered in periodicals and other serial
publications, government documents, newspapers, collections of es-
says, reference works, and bibliographical compilations.

We can only conclude, therefore, that the most perfect system of
classification ever devised by man, or likely to be invented, can be but
partially successful in any aim to bring together all related materials
on whatever subject. It follows logically, therefore, that the users of
libraries must anticipate supplementing the undoubted values of clas-
sification with catalogs, periodical indexes, documents indexes, essay
indexes, printed bibliographies, and similar tools. The deficiencies of
classification can be partially offset by expert cataloging, with which
classification must always remain interdependent, but even the com-
bination does not provide a complete answer. Eventually, perhaps,
some form of automation, indexing every idea dealt with in the li-
brary's collections, may furnish an adequate solution.

When people enter a library to find a book, I suggest that they will
ordinarily use one of three approaches. If there is a specific title in
mind, it will be located through author or title in the catalog. This
approach is characteristic of the scholar who, in most instances, will
know or is presumed to know exactly what he wants. The only signi-
ficance of classification for him is as a finding device. The student
and general reader, on the other hand, are often uncertain about their
requirements, except that they are interested in a subject. They may
attempt to solve their problem by going direct to the shelves (assum-
ing there is an open stack system), or through inspection of subject
entries in the card catalog. Of these two approaches, the catalog is
almost invariably more reliable and more complete, though that method
lacks the psychological satisfaction of seeing and handling the books

Whether the library collection is to be arranged for the convenience
of the specialist or for the generalist, simplicity of classification is to
be preferred. Here is another spot where the librarian is frequently
tempted by art for art's sake, stringing out the classification symbols,

whether letters or numbers, to interminable lengths. It may be mis-
taken judgement to fix an arbitrary limitation, but it seems to me
difficult to justify a subject classification of more than six characters
for any book, and if author and title symbols are added, these too
should not be allowed to exceed a half-dozen. Anything beyond that
number complicates location and shelving problems, and increases the
labor and expense of classification.

But, assert perfectionists among the classifiers, scientific and ex-
act classification often requires carrying numbers out to eight, ten,
or even more places. This, to me, is comparable to the value of pi in
mathematics. No matter how far it is extended, it is still imperfect,
and for ordinary purposes I am willing to settle for 3.14 instead of
3.14159265 or pi extended to infinity.

As an old New York Public Library alumnus, I recall how simple,
yet generally efficient, is the scheme developed over sixty years ago
by Dr. John Shaw Billings for that great research institution. Here, in
one of the world's largest libraries, three letters are usually sufficient
to classify any book in the collection. The principle of the classification
is so clear that a new stack attendant can readily grasp it in a few
minutes' time. Cutter numbers and minute subdivisions do not clutter
up or confuse finding a book on the shelf. This also is a closed-stack
system, though that fact I think does not destroy the validity of my
argument. Given the class number, any intelligent person can quickly
locate a specific title.

When life can thus be so uncomplicated, why should college librar-
ies of less than 100,000 volumes adopt, as dozens of them have done,
anything so detailed and complex as the Library of Congress classifi-
cation? Some are apparently under the delusion that they will even-
tually reach the size of Harvard or the British Museum, and conse-
quently they must be ready for the future. Meanwhile, as the price of
preparing for that unlikely contingency, their students and faculty for
generations to come must struggle with a system too involved for them
to understand or appreciate, a scheme they have not met in high school
and will probably not find in any public library they may use later, and
which puts unnecessary obstacles in their way in using the college li-

It is not proposed here to weigh the respective advantages and dis-
advantages of the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal classifica-
tions. That has been done ad nauseam and by experts. According to
Eaton's investigations 2 , less than two per cent of the academic librar-
ies in the United States use anything other than one of these two
schemes, and the percentage is at least as high for public libraries.
As a practical matter, it would be difficult to justify adoption of any
classification other than Dewey or L. C. in an American library, ex-
cept perhaps for an occasional highly specialized collection. These two
are the only schemes for which any provision has been made to keep
updated, and both possess the important advantage of having their clas-
sification numbers printed on Library of Congress cards. Despite their

acknowledged defects, the Dewey and L. C. have proven themselves in
the fire of several generations' experience.

From the point of view of an administrator, the chief question in my
mind is this one: Having adopted one scheme, either L. C. or Dewey,
for a library, is it wise to change? Assuming classification has been
in the hands of competent personnel, and has been applied as efficient-
ly and expertly as human frailties permit, can the librarian make a
reasonable case for reclassification? My candid opinion is that he

According to Maurice Tauber, who has studied the matter more ex-
haustively than anyone else, to my knowledge:

Most of the reasons for reclassification have been based on
either or both of two assumptions: (1) That the use of the new
classification achieves a grouping of the books in the collection
that is of greater educational significance and shows to the users
the currently accepted relationships among the branches of
knowledge more effectively than did the system being replaced,
and (2) That the adoption of a new classification will reduce the
costs of technical processes. 3

Tauber believes that there has been considerable rationalization
among librarians who have attempted to justify reclassification. There
is little concrete evidence that the hoped-for benefits actually ma-
terialize. We do know, however, that the cost involved in complete or
extensive reclassification runs into large sums of money, that it fre-
quently extends over decades of time, and may seriously interfere
with the use of the library while the work is in progress. Another
consideration brought out by Tauber in a further study is whether an
inferior classification system and catalog appreciably handicap library
users. His findings cast substantial doubt on the matter, from which
he concludes:

The burden of proof rests upon the librarian to show that the
outmoded classification and the antiquated catalog interfere with
the use of library materials or increase the cost of preparing
them for use. It is not possible to answer definitively the ques-
tion of whether a particular library should reclassify or recata-
log. If its present status is such as to interfere greatly with the
proper functioning of the library in its service to scholarship,
then a change is indicated; otherwise, changes should be made
with considerable caution. Only as greatly improved service can
be seen to result from reorganization may the tremendous costs
involved be justified. 4

A case study of the difficulties of reclassification was described by
Harriet MacPherson. 5 The project was to transfer about 4,000 vol-
umes from the 650 class in Dewey to a special classification developed

for the Columbia University School of Business Library. This would
seem a rather small operation. Yet the reclassification involved the
removal, frequent remaking, and the refiling of 4,000 shelf list cards,
and the actual handling of all the volumes. The last step meant veri-
fication of the books with the cards, frequent recataloging of the books,
fitting the books into the new classification scheme, and labeling the
volumes with new numbers. The entire process required the services
of two people for more than two years. Their work was continually
hampered and retarded by delays in locating the books, caused by
such factors as many books being charged out to readers, some vol-
umes being on reserve in departmental libraries, professors on sab-
batical leave having carried off a few volumes, some books being in
the bindery, and others having been lost. Here in microcosm are the
problems confronting a large library in even more aggravated form
when it decides to reclassify.

The question of whether a library afflicted with an obsolete and
wholly inadequate classification should reclassify poses quite a dif-
ferent problem from the decision to change from, say, Dewey to L. C.
or from L. C. to Dewey. About a dozen years ago, I was a member of
a survey team for the Cornell University Library. We were called
upon to advise on the retention or abandonment of a homemade plan,
the Harris classification, adopted in 1891. Some 800,000 volumes at
Cornell had been arranged by this curious scheme, based on the old
British Museum system of press numbers, a fixed location device.
The surveyors agreed that there was no alternative to discontinuing
this outdated, inflexible, and inconsistent arrangement, which had for
all practical purposes broken down, and replacing it with the Library
of Congress classification. Under such conditions, there was no
question that reclassification was essential, even though it involved
the Library in estimated expenditures of $600,000, and fifteen to
twenty years of disruption.

Undoubtedly, more studies are needed of the way people actually
use library catalogs and classification, as a basis for administrative
decisions. We then might be able to operate more on fact than on
theory. Paul Dunkin, who, as Head Cataloger at the Folger Shake-
speare Library for a number of years, had an excellent vantage point
from which to view scholars at work, offered some observations on
how, specifically, an Elizabethan scholar proceeds with his researches.
Such a scholar, reports Dunkin:

works with Elizabethan handwriting (palaeography), Francis
Bacon (philosophy and law), Elizabeth and Essex (history and
biography), 'rogues and vagabonds' (sociology and economics),
and Thomas Cartwright (religion), as well as with the plays of
Shakespeare (literature). 6

Comparing their basically different approaches to classification,
Dunkin pointed out that, "The librarian's classification is, so to speak,

vertical; the scholar's, horizontal." Perhaps the twain are destined
never to meet.

In the Classics Library at the University of Illinois is a prime ex-
ample of the scholar's horizontal classification, achieved mainly by
ignoring the librarian's classification. Discarding the literature clas-
sification in Dewey for the Classics, all Latin authors are arranged in
one large alphabetical group under a single class number, and similar-
ly all Greek authors are in a straight alphabetical sequence under
another number. There have been assembled here philosophy, church
fathers, economics, the languages, the arts, the literatures, antiqui-
ties, history and biography, without any effort to subdivide by specific
topics. The basic concept is to bring together books according to
their use. This scheme, which was devised fifty years ago, for a li-
brary of 35,000 volumes, is apparently exactly what the scholar wants,
and generations of them have expressed their satisfaction with it. The
essential idea has been incorporated into the L. C. classification's
treatment of the classical literatures.

As a general rule, however, tinkering with a classification arrange-
ment creates more problems than it solves. If one has adopted the
Library of Congress or Dewey scheme, it is best to adhere to it and
not attempt to introduce innovations to meet what may be regarded as
special situations. As a keen critic of classification, Berwick Sayers,
remarked, "Librarians are seldom able to leave their classification
alone." Mr. Sayers added that "the moving about of classes to suit
the convenience of the furniture arrangements, the adjustments made
with biography, fiction, other literature, and in music, occur to one
as often causing difficulties .... changes are often unskillfully
made and the advantages they give are not always so great as their
authors imagine." It is the adoption of special, homemade schemes
of classification and radical modifications of standard classification
schedules that have more frequently brought about the need for re-
classification than has dissatisfaction with an established plan. The
amateur usually fails to realize the complexities of classification,
when he starts changing it.

In trying to represent the point of view of the administrator in this
paper, my aim has been to consider those aspects of classification
that involve administrative problems and relationships. Chief among
these are costs, efficiency, the convenience of the reading public, and
the relation of classification to the library service as a whole. Those
are considerations that concern every professional- minded librarian,
and not merely administrators.

Classification means different things to different people. Robert
Graves in his book 5 Pens in Hand relates what he calls his favorite
story about nomenclature:

An old lady was taking a pet tortoise by train in a basket from
London to Edinburgh, and wanted to know whether she ought to
buy a dog-ticket for it, as one has to do in England if one takes a


cat by train because cats officially count as dogs. "No," said
the ticket inspector, "No mum ! Cats is dogs, and rabbits is
dogs, and dogs is dogs, and squirrels in cages is parrots, but
this 'ere turkle is a hinsect. We won't charge you nothing,

mum!" 8


1. Grace O. Kelley, The Classification of Books, an Inquiry into its
Usefulness to the Reader (New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1937)

2. Thelma Eaton, Classification in Theory and Practice, a Collec-
tion of Papers (Champaign, 111.: Illini Union Bookstore, 1957), pp.
29-42, 45-58.

3. Maurice F. Tauber, "Subject Cataloging and Classification Ap-
proach the Crossroad," College and Research Libraries, III (March,
1942), 153-54.

4. Maurice F. Tauber, "Reclassification and Recataloging in Col-
lege and University Libraries, Reasons and Evaluation," Library
Quarterly, XII (October, 1942), 845.

5. Harriet D. MacPherson, "Reclassification of College and Uni-
versity Libraries," College and Research Libraries, I (March, 1940)

6. Paul S. Dunkin, "Classification and the Scholar," College and
Research Libraries, in (September, 1942), 336.

7. W.C. Berwick Sayers, "Failures of Classification Considered,"
Library World.XUV (March, 1942), 129.

8. Robert Graves, 5 Pens in Hand (New York: Doubleday, 1958)
pp. 333-34.

The Development of
Classification in America

Thelma Eaton

Professor of Library Science,
University of Illinois

The story of the development of classification from Aristotle to
Ranganathan has been told so often that, as I worked on this paper, I
found myself wondering what I could possibly contribute to the subject.
In our planning sessions the committee had agreed that it was desir-
able to provide some kind of a summary of classification practices
before we attempted to analyze the conditions which exist today and to
divine what the future holds. Even so, as I stand before you this
morning, I find myself wondering if we might not have done better to
omit the history and begin with the stimulating and provocative talk
which will follow this introductory speech. But to fulfill our program
I shall talk briefly on the development of book classification in Amer-
ican libraries. In theory I should cover the period from colonial
times to the present, and I shall touch on some of the earlier attempts

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryUniversity of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign campus).The role of classification in the modern American library : papers presented at an institute conducted by the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science, November 1-4, 1959 (Volume 1959) → online text (page 1 of 15)