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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is misleading. In 1953, the Special Libraries Association had a
membership of 2,489. 1 In the Special Collections index found in the
American Library Directory, there are several thousand special
collections listed. Many of the special libraries in the Association
are very large research libraries; many of the special collections
are found in very large general libraries. There are far too many
subjects involved for me to attempt to deal with them, but out of the
whole dilemma, several points finally emerge, which I would like to
note in passing: The special libraries seem to revolve around about
seventy-five subjects, no more. The libraries devoted to Law, Medi-
cine, Theology, Music, and the Theater have formed large associations
of their own; libraries serving the other subjects make up the mem-
bership of the Special Libraries Association. Even in 1951 the special
classification schemes, which were then on file with the Association
dealt, for the most part, with these seventy-five or so main topics.
There is a 1958 list which I have not seen. 2 How it has changed since
1951, I would like very much to know; but I do not believe that I will
ever be able to arrive at the matter of how to organize a discussion

I 103

of classification in a special library from this approach, or this defi-
nition, and I must search for something more specific.

Another definition of a special library is the one employed by John
L. Thornton who says in his book called Special Library Methods, 3
"A special library is one devoted to the use of special sections of the
community." He classifies by function rather than by stock, and all
libraries other than public and county libraries are considered. In-
cluded are the technical and commercial branches of university li-
braries and even the university libraries themselves which, he says,
are a string of special collections whose functions are special although
their stock may embrace all literature and all knowledge. This de-
finition is not at all satisfactory to me either. It would make my
paper overlap with several others. I wish Mr. Thornton could have
been more specific about functions. I think he is correct that it is
function rather than stock which makes a special library special, but
he seems to refer to the reference function only. He has not singled
out anything else.

The definition which is entitled "What Makes Us Special?" 4 I
find most provocative was proposed by Katharine Kinder in an article
in September, 1953. It is a simple, practical statement. She says in
the first place: "the special library exists as a service unit within
an organization having non-library objectives." I am aware that this
phrase "having non-library objectives" lacks precision. I wrote two
pages about it, but this paper is addressed to a special audience, and
there are easier ways of dying than being bored to death. Miss
Kinder is employed by the Johns Manville Research Center, and I
think we all know what she meant. I tore up the wordmongering and
propose to accept the phrase at its face value for the present. I will
come back to it shortly.

Miss Kinder says in the second place: "Library materials are
collected and information services developed with the needs of the
special organization in mind." And in the third place she says: "The
special library is usually a small one both in amount of material held
and in number of staff members."

To repeat, then the three characteristics of a special library are:

(1) Sponsorship by an organization which exists by non-
library purposes.

(2) Custom-made services.

(3) Small size

I think the effect of sponsorship on the library's stock-in-trade is
profound, and thus indirectly, by regulating the stock, it regulates
the choice of classification system. We shall refer to the stream-
lined services and small size in passing as we discuss the important
issue of sponsorship.

To make a beginning, let us take on one hand the scientific depart-
ment library of an average, medium-sized university. On the other
let us describe three specialized libraries in the highly specialized


city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In this assortment, two of the libraries
would satisfy Miss Kinder's requirements as special libraries, two
would not.

The first type for our consideration, the departmental library,
meets all of Miss Kinder's specifications but one. It certainly func-
tions as part of the departmental organization. The librarian does all
sorts of odd chores for the department. Space is always limited, and
the staff is sure to be small. Although the General Library tries to
give satisfaction about the technical processes, the department is free
to criticize the administration and you may be sure does so roundly.
The departmental librarian can, if she wants to, arrange the books by
size. But notwithstanding this appearance of freedom, one seldom
finds any extensive collecting or cataloguing done in the departmental
library. Indexing, yes, perhaps, but information files, if they are
kept, are usually ephemeral, as, for example, trade catalogs in an
Engineering library. The shadow of the Main Library falls across
everything, and certainly it exists "for library objectives" if the
phrase means anything at all.

The classification would have to be brought into some sort of
harmony with the over-all scheme, and around this the criticism
usually centers. The general library classifier does not have the
department's special interests in mind. The classifier feels the pull
of other departments and suffers from lack of contact with the men
in the field. She is properly unwilling to force books into numbers or
letters where the department has pet projects or vacant shelves, but
no matter how correct she may be, when the books reach the depart-
ment, they must be put on the existing shelves, and everything has to
be shifted and dummies substituted if the books will not fall into the
desired places. Some may have to be returned to the General Library
to make space, but the department would hardly be free to throw them
out, then and there. The department is a special collection, without
doubt, but it functions as part of a whole, and nobody is permitted to
forget it. Many of the special classification schemes collected by the
Special Libraries Association, referred to above, were made by large
libraries for their departments.

Several years ago E.M. Grieder contributed to Special Libraries,
a fine article called "Functional Independence in Special Libraries." 5
He writes especially of professional college or school libraries in
universities, including large departmental libraries. He argues that
the classification and subject heading work should be done in the de-
partment because it makes, he says, a better atmosphere. Even if
this were done, it would not make any difference in the matter of
sponsorship. The shadow of the Main Library would be none the less

Samuel Sass of the General Electric Company Library in Pittsfield,
Massachusetts, estimated the number of special libraries which are
really parts of large public and academic libraries at about 500. If
these were withdrawn, the total number of real special libraries would
be reduced to about 2,000. 6


When the visiting librarian goes to Oak Ridge, it is hard to see the
woods for the trees, as we say in the vernacular. Fortunately, there
was a fine article written in 1947, "A Cataloger's View of the Atomic
Energy Commission Library Program." 7 After the reorganization of
the whole lay-out in 1948, another article appeared in the Tennessee
Librarian. The two together give a much clearer picture than either
one alone. The following account is abbreviated from the historical
summary of events provided in these two articles.

When the atomic age dawned on December 2, 1942, the first opera-
tion at Oak Ridge was begun by the Manhattan Engineering District of
the United States Corps of Engineers. At that time two significant
decisions were made. One was to pursue several methods for separat-
ing the fissionable isotope of uranium. It was not known at that time
which method would prove to be most efficient. One contract was given
to the Tennessee Eastman Company working with University of
California scientists and associated firms; a second was made with
the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Company working with scientists
from Columbia University; a third contract was made with the DuPont
Company working with men from the University of Chicago. In 1946,
there was established the Atomic Energy Commission which took over
from the Manhattan District. The contractors varied somewhat until
at last Carbide became the chief contractor to operate the research
and production activities of Oak Ridge. To carry out its training and
educational activities, the Commission then made an agreement with
a number of southern universities to organize and operate the Oak
Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies. At present there are thirty-six
universities sponsoring this Institute which purchased some forty
acres of land for a permanent campus.

The Institute of Nuclear Studies, then, has a library to which I
will return shortly. Since 1955, the Union Carbide Nuclear Company
has operated the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Oak Ridge
Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Both of these plants have libraries.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory Library which consists of a
Central Research Library and three branches, now occupies 26,000
feet of floor space and has 70,000 scientific books and journals and
130,000 reports. The budget is $300,000 and the staff numbers 37
members. All the usual functions of procurement, organization of
materials, reference, and loans are performed. A full-time translator j
is useful. A photocopying service is maintained. Indexing and
bibliographical projects are carried on in connection with the large
report collection. The whole operation is called a research laboratory!
Much of the material is "classified" they say, but here the matter of
semantics raises its head in elementary form. They are not using
library terminology, but I shall not belabor that point for this audience.

The next library, that of the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant,
also operated by the Union Carbide Nuclear Company, consists of three
parts: the Central Library, the Engineering Library, and the Film
Library. Reference, bibliography, abstracting, and indexing services i


are performed. A reference collection containing one copy of each
Atomic Energy Commission Report has a card catalogue of its own. For
the Engineering Library, specifications and standards from federal
and industrial sources are procured and kept. The Film Library con-
sists of training and safety films for the use of the staff. The informa-
tion that the library has broad activities, that it provides films for the
Christmas party and garden books for the engineers, does not strike
me as significant one way or the other.

Both the Gaseous Diffusion Plant Library and the National Labora-
tory Library are special libraries, I think. Not a single word to they
let drop about how the books are arranged, but they are mighty sharp
about some other things. The fact is that the librarians are simply
not interested in anything but the purposes of the organization. We
invite them to association meetings but they seldom come. I think that
if I were asked to design a coat-of-arms for the city of Oak Ridge, I
would emblazon for them on a field of electric blue an IBM computer,

The Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies Library is, however, a
very different matter. The institute is, as I have said, a non-profit
educational corporation of thirty-six universities. The most of its
programs and activities are carried out under direct contract with
the United States Atomic Energy Commission, but it also administers
some programs for the National Science Foundation in cooperation
with the Commission. The whole Institute has a staff of about 200 in
four program divisions: (1) University relations, (2) Special training,
(3) Medical Division, and (4) the Museum Division which operates the
American Museum of Atomic Energy and the Atomic Energy Com-
mission's traveling exhibit program.

A union catalog for the area includes cards for the Union Carbide
Nuclear Company's Library in Paducah, Kentucky. A list of 3,000
serials available in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge area has been published.
A strange silence is preserved about the physical arrangement of the
books, but let us go on about the stock. Books and periodicals on the
sciences and the uses of atomic energy constitute the major part of
the library's 30,000 volumes. Over 2,000 of these are on microcard.
An important segment of the collection is devoted to medical literature.
Foreign language dictionaries and reference books and books on in-
dustrial management are important. The documents collection contains
"non-classified" reports. It is felt that the library bridges the gap
between the plant libraries and the community. The public has access
to the shelves. A "Book notes" column appears in the local news-
paper. The Library contributes cards to the National Union Catalog
and new serial titles to the appropriate publication. Most of the ma-
terial appearing in the Nuclear Science Abstracts is held in this li-
brary. All of these activities constitute, in my opinion, operation for
"library objectives."

Still, nothing is said about book classification, but by referring to
the earlier article by the cataloguer one finds that the Library of

I 107

Congress system was in use in 1949, and it is certain that it still is.
This is not surprising. It is clear from the library's participation in
national projects that this library sees itself not as a small self-
contained unit like the others, but as a working part of the real whole.
The whole may have no physical body; it may exist only as a disem-
bodied ghost, but it is an entity in the mind of the librarian and the
organization responsible for the financing, and it exercises a control
over the library similar to that which the deceased King of Denmark
exercised over Hamlet. A classification scheme had to be used which
would place the books in some definite order, related to the order in
other libraries which were also parts of the same whole the em-
bodied parts of the ghostly whole, if you please. The form of the ghost
begins to take shape. Whatever it is, it was brought into being by the
desire of some libraries to pull together to cooperate.

Samuel Sass writing in Special Libraries for April, 1959, points this
up nicely. 8 He quotes Mr. Schwegman of the Library of Congress
staff. Mr. Schwegman attributes the absence of special libraries from
cooperative enterprises to their lack of cataloguing controls and
fluctuating collections. He admonishes us, the special libraries, to
raise our professional standards. A reply in the following issue of
Special Libraries states simply that special libraries are not sup-
ported for cultural reasons but for their usefulness to business.
"We" the author says, ''work under pressure". 9 There is a different
kind of pressure, however, which has the opposite effect. We, too,
work under pressure, but it is pressure of a special sort.

The Tennessee State Library, for example, belongs in the class
with the Institute for Nuclear Studies Library. Our book stock,
goodness knows, bears theirs no resemblance, but there is another
function which I believe we have in common. This is a function simple
to state, but very hard to live with. When it comes in, peace goes
out. It is the function that might be called service to scholars. The
trivia of today become the source materials of tomorrow. Discarding
is a desperately serious matter. The collecting program is extreme-
ly heavy, and cooperation is the only hope. It is essential, if we are
to survive, that we visualize ourselves as part of a whole. This may
be some sort of logical fallacy that makes me connect our situation
with that at the Institute. It may be argumentum ad hominem or it
may be our old friend post hoc ergo propter hoc. Call it either one
or both, but I believe that the same thing affects us that affects the

We could be a modern stream- lined library if it were not for the
scholars we serve. We could stop our present method of cataloguing
and punch cards. We could abstract articles from books, magazines,
and newspapers, and we could number our ninety- five counties, the
T.V.A., Jackson, Polk, and Johnson, Davy Crockett, Cordell Hull, and
Sergeant York. If not that, we could make cards for about four hun-
dred uniterms which would see us through with a number left over for
Tennessee Ernie. Then we would be all ready to go. Go where? Oh,


we could answer all sorts of questions ! What questions? Now this
is no matter for jesting.

There is no doubt whatever that a good index would help us. There
is not a single good historical index for the State of Tennessee any
better than the one in the Tennessee W.P.A. Guide. The index we
want would cost us about $30,000.00. Very few states do have good
historical indexes and we all need them. It is true that a large num-
ber of our questions are fact-finding questions, but there is another
type, too. A searcher might want to see everything we have on a
certain locality Hamilton County, for example. You might as well
say to a card catalogue "all those who are absent raise their hands."
Under how many different headings is that locality a subdivision?
But a retrieval system would handle the question easily. So would
about five hundred cross-references in the catalogue. There is,
however, still another type of question, which we find difficult to
handle. The client may say, "I am interested in the half-breed
Cherokees in Tennessee. I think that many of them did not go to Okla-
homa. I want to make a study of the Indian removal with the half-
breeds especially in mind." The best answer to that is found in the
shelf- list under E78, E85, and E99. We shall be looking for books
with biographical appendices. The notes on the cards, and the sub-
ject headings will do their share of the work. We need information
retrieval all right, but we also need a good card catalogue and a good
shelf list arranged by a well-made classification scheme. The In-
stitute needs the same thing we do. It is the teaching function and its
attendant responsibilities which require a library operated for li-
brary purposes. The book collection must be allowed to build itself
up without too tight a rein put on it by discarding to make space; and
the classification should be, as Mr. Ranganathan puts it, "non-criti-
cal." It should have "Reticence." Indeed it should.

For another reason, too, the classification is important to a li-
brary which aims at completeness in its chosen field. We need it to
indicate to us where we stand on our collecting program. Nothing
shows up gaps in a collection like a good arrangement, designed by
an expert in the field. Again, when we must report our holdings to
some agency preparing a Guide for Research (something like Dr.
Philip Hamer's projected Guide for the National Historical Publica-
tions Commission) we need a good classification. It would be impos-
sible for a librarian "imperfectly educated" (to use Mr. Allen Tate's
courtly term) to write an adequate summary without a well-made shelf
list to lean on. It is not an accident that there are four special li-
braries invited to the meetings of the Southeastern Research Library
Association: the Air University at Maxwell Field, the Institute of
Nuclear Studies, the Virginia State Library, and the Tennessee State
Library. The reason for their inclusion in this group is, to para-
phrase Edwin Markham:


They drew a circle that shut us out,
Heretics, rebels, things to flout;
But Love and we had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took them in.

Love is a strong word. Perhaps we were only possessed by an ac-
cretion of foresight. In any event, we saw what Ralph Esterquist wrote
at the time of the organization of the Mid- west Interlibrary Center, 10
"Few special libraries are able today to operate independently of the
great university libraries, and in the world of tomorrow they are
going to be even less able to be all things to their users."

As an example of the truth of this statement, I want to quote what
the onetime director of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission
said to me several years ago. I went with a young woman from the
Tennessee State Planning Commission to a meeting of the National
Legislative Conference, which took place in Madison, Wisconsin. It
was an excellent opportunity to make some observations about the
operation of Legislative Reference Libraries. I was new at the Ten-
nessee State Library and pursued the matter with great industry.
The Kentucky director had a Ph.D. in history and I knew him to be
well able to hold his own in research work. I sat by him in the plane
going back to Chicago. He was most insistent that the Commission
needed a specially organized library of ephemeral material, clippings,
pamphlets, and such. "What do you do?" I said, "When you have a
really weighty research report to work out?" "Oh", he said, "I go to
Lexington, to the University of Kentucky Library." Yes, a special
library is as independent as a hog on ice. Or, to use a more dignified
quotation: "Let him who thinketh that he standeth take heed lest he

At this same meeting, I made another observation which brings up
the next point I want to make. I think that a special library often has
an exceptionally large amount of non-book material in its collection,
and from this circumstance some of the special expansions of clas-
sification result. For instance, in the Wisconsin Legislative Refer-
ence Library it was the custom to put items such as reprints, bro-
chures, small pamphlets, and other oddments in envelopes which
were classified to stand on the shelves. This is an old library and
modern equipment for ephemeral material was not available. I be-
lieve that vertical files did not become popular until after 1912. Any-
way, the shelves crawled ,vith pamphlets in Gaylord binders just as
the Tennessee State Library's shelves used to do. I think that the
library had this material catalogued and that it tended to slow down
the weeding and discarding of it at the same time that it slowed down
the binding of monographs and periodicals. I think that the non-book
material necessitated the creation of an expansion of the classifica-
tion or the use of a special scheme like Glidden's to take care of it,
and I think that separate uncatalogued collections of reprints, maps,
and clippings would have been a better solution to the problem.


An article by Gracie B. Krum bn the Burton Historical Collection
in the Detroit Public Library 12 was especially interesting to me since
our field is local history. Miss Krum said that they, too, classify all
sorts of things like clippings and photographs and programs. They
did, at the time that the article was written, type the Dewey number
for the locality in red over the subject number. They also prepared
and filed in the catalogue analytical cards for articles in the Michigan
History Magazine, now called Michigan History. The Magazine pub-
lished an index to volumes one through twenty-five in 1944, but since
that time there has been no other cumulation, and it is now necessary
to search sixteen volumes individually. I have been investigating the
matter of indexes for the purpose of making the Tennessee Historical
Commission as miserable as possible. An index every twenty-five
years is not unusual in the state historical field, but one longs for a
big volume like Swem's Historical Index of Virginia History, or for a
regular system of indexing like the beautiful Mississippi Valley His-
torical Review which cumulates a new one every ten years. How much
better it would have been if the library had prepared copy for a printed
index which all of us might purchase ! New methods of off-set print-
ing make this less expensive than it used to be.

Please do not think that I am comparing our library with its large
rangy responsibilities as a state library with the beautiful Burton His-
torical Collection. I do want to say, however, that when each appro-
priate state agency shoulders the responsibility for a state-wide col-
lection of newspapers, guide to place-names, list of state maps and
atlases, guide to manuscript collections, and so forth and so forth,
and when state historical agencies index their quarterlies, there will

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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 12 of 15)