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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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be less necessity for large, closely classified collections supported
by special classification schemes and catalogues.

It is not the purpose of this paper to criticize or evaluate any of
the classification schemes used by large public or university libraries.
I do want to say, however, that in the special library world the silence
which seems to brood over the subject of classification is explained,
in part at least, by the 20% who are members of the research family
by birth, and the 20% who are members of it by adoption. These li-
braries find fault with the systems used, but extensive departures
would entail consequences which they do not care to face. We are
guilty ourselves. We try to unload the responsibility on somebody
else. We wish devoutly that somebody would put L.C. numbers on
cards made by the Bureau of Railway Economics and oh, how we wish
that the Library of Congress would get on with the K schedule.

But what about the rest of the libraries - the ones that exist by
reason of their usefulness to the business which supports them, the
ones whose major responsibility is to serve each his own master?
Miss Kinder takes another step in describing them when she says:
"Some less typical functions are records management and the ar-
ranging and indexing of company papers. Responsibility for historical
and archival material is frequently delegated to the library." It


seems likely to me that "company papers" are, in many cases, man-
uscript collections, classified (if they are classified) by rules elabor-
ated in the American Archivist rather than in library journals. This
archival responsibility makes a complicated situation which, I believe,
with Miss Kinder, is not unusual in a special library.

For example, in the Methodist Publishing House Library we had a
collection which required book cataloguing and classification at the
same time that it served an archival purpose for the organization. I
want to explain what I mean by this because it brings up the last point
which I want to make.

The Methodist Publishing House Library in Nashville was estab-
lished long years ago as a service primarily for the Editorial Division
of the old Methodist Episcopal Church, South. When the various
branches of the Methodist church were united, the libraries from
Cincinnati, Chicago, New York, and other centers were moved into
the Nashville Library and combined. This gave us an exceptionally
fine collection on the Church and on Methodism. We had, besides,
copies of all books published by the various branches of the church on
many different subjects. Gradually, as the Publishing Division came
to trust us (and also, one might add, as their problem grew more
acute) we became the custodians of the mint copies which were held
by the Division as a very serious publishing obligation. Since these
had to be kept sacred, we were obliged to keep additional copies for
the use of readers. It was a collection of about 30,000 volumes with
many different imprints. We found full cataloguing and classification
necessary to keep the books in order. We used the Library of Con-
gress system with a special expansion to take care of the Sunday
School literature.

Every four years, after each General Conference, a new Board of
Education designed a new set of Sunday School books. We arranged
these in chronological order so that the output of each Board could
be distinguished from that of every other. Soon we noticed that in the
changes of format and in the subjects chosen for study we had an in-
dependently interesting and constructive historical record. I believe
that the Publishing House Library is the only one in the world where
such an observation on Sunday School literature could be made. The
development, for instance, of the idea of friendly animals makes a
curious commentary on a changing civilization. A bear came up to
our car window one day in the Smokies. Looking in his face, I was
not so sure about this friendly animal business. I think it would have
been met with outright ridicule a hundred and fifty years ago.

The expansion we used was essentially an archive expansion on a
subject classification number. It fit neatly into the closely classified
Methodist collection making a contribution of its own in doing so. It
was a unique expansion, but it was a unique collection serving a
unique purpose. It did not occur to us to send a copy to the Special
Libraries Association. I will come back to this in a few minutes.

The remainder of the library was a small working reference


collection for the use of the editors and the staff. Space in the refer-
ence room was limited; when a new book came, an old one had to go.
We found that we got along nicely with no classification at all. We
used the time saved to index obituaries, but Mr. Schwegman was cor-
rect. We lacked bibliographical controls and the collection fluctuated.
I think that this situation, great thoroughness on one hand and great
simplicity on the other, is characteristic of many special libraries.

Now to return to the Loan Collection of Special Classification
Schemes of the Special Library Association. I am going to crawl out
on the end of a limb by expressing a few personal opinions. It seems
to me that many of the special schemes are a clear waste of time.
Many of them are undated and consist of one or two typed sheets.
Many came from the same three or four large college or public li-
braries, not special libraries, but libraries hardly comparable to the
Library of Congress. Many of these expansions were made before
the L.C. schedules were published. If it is true that special libraries
are usually small and the librarians trained in the subject rather than
in library science, the poor things should be warned against special
schemes the very thing which this collection seems to encourage.
The arrangement of books ought to facilitate the building up or the
rounding out of the collection, and it is impossible, I think, to make
a good plan based on anything but a very large collection. The leav-
ing of space in the scheme ought to indicate that books to fill the gaps
are known to exist. The library can then be selective, but the librar-
ian ought to know the framework of the whole subject from the start.

To repeat, then, I think that it is usual to find in a special library
great complication side by side with stark simplicity. For the former
a classification based on a larger collection is indicated. For the
latter either a system which can be simplified, as L.C. cannot, or no
classification at all would suffice. It would be found, I think, that
from the study of the complicated schedule many of the non-book
collections would fall into place and the whole conception of the
special library's function would be clarified. The special library
would then stand between the company and the community to the ad-
vantages of both.

In closing, then, I want to call attention to the need in library
schools for more teaching of different methods of classification; not
that one expects them to be used, but that the contemplation of several
systems puts the ubiquitous Dewey in a better light. With the air
full of Documentation and the public libraries full of everything on
earth but books, it is no time for us to make babies of our young
people teaching them B for biography, F for fiction and a Cutter num-
ber taken from the author's name. If the Library of Congress system
were taught first, the other system would be easier later and one
could be sure that the student had at least had a good look at a large
field. The conception of non-book material in the regular schedules
and the use of chronological and geographic tables would be of great
advantage no matter what scheme the student might use later. Then


if a brief introduction were given to archive work, government docu-
ments would not seem so alien and so difficult.

The current emphasis on Documentation seems to me to be whole-
some, but I find myself in a position of some opposition to Mr. Ranga-
nathan as he expressed himself on "Special Librarians hip". 12 He
says that the special librarian needs to make a shift from the thought
unit of the book to the thought unit of the periodical article. I say so
does she need to raise her eyes from the microscope to take a look
at the wide world of the whole profession. Documentation on one
hand and cooperation on the other ought to see us through. For
Coperation we need Classification; for Documentation we need Scholar-
ship; let us attack the problem with renewed vigor. The game is
worth the candle.


1. Directory of Special Libraries (New York: Special Libraries
Association, 1953).

2. Bertha A. Barden and Barbara Denison (comps.), A Loan Col-
lection of Classification Schemes and Subject Heading Lists on De-
posit at Western Reserve University as of November 1, 1958 (4th ed.;
New York : Special Libraries Association, 1959)

3. John R. Thornton, Special Library Methods, an Introduction
to Special Library Methods (London: Grafton, 1940).

4. Katharine L. Kinder, "what Makes Us Special?' Special Li-
braries, LXIV (September, 1953), pp. 274-275.

5. Elmer M. Grieder, "Functional Independence in Special Li-
braries," Special Libraries, XXXIII (March, 1942) pp. 73-75.

6. Samuel Sass, "Must Special Libraries be Parasites?" Special
Libraries, L (April, 1959) p. 150.

7. Charlotte Forgey Chestnut, "A Cataloger's View of the Atomic
Energy Commission Library Program," Special Libraries, XL
(November, 1949) pp. 367-370.

8. Samuel Sass, "Must Special Libraries be Parasites?" Special
Libraries, L (April, 1959), pp. 149-154.

9. Charlotte Wilcoxin, Reply to above article, Special Libraries,
L (July-August, 1959), p. 264.

10. Ralph T. Esterquist, "The Midwest Inter-Library Center",
Special Libraries, LXI (December, 1950), pp. 348-349, 371-372.

11. Gracie B. Krum, "Classification and Treatment of Local His-
torical Material," Catalogers' and Classifiers' Yearbook, Number
Eight, 1939, (Chicago: American Library Association, 1940), pp. 76-81,


12. S.R. Ranganathan, "Special Librarianship-What It Connotes)"
Special Libraries, XL (November, 1949), pp. 361-367.


What Lies Ahead in Classification

Jesse H. Shera

Dean, School of Library Science
Western Reserve University

Of all the modes of human intellectual activity prognostication is
probably the most treacherous. It may not influence people, but cer-
tainly it will alienate one's friends. No one paid much heed to the
warnings of the unfortunate Cassandra, and there is no record that
either the Oracle of Delphi or the Cumaean Sibyl -had any bosom com-
panions. But every well-ordered conference needs a sacrificial goat,
and for that role I probably possess a natural affinity, even though my
sex may differ from that of the Sibyls.

Because the crystal ball is always, at least potentially, cloudy the
temptation is ever present to seek refuge in definition, ambiguity, or
riddles. It was no accident that the Sibylline leaves were scattered.
Thus one might be quite within his rights to ask rhetorically what is
meant by librarianship? by classification? and by the future?
Doubtless, I too will end by "hedging my bets'* in this way, but for the
moment, at least, I shall throw discretion, rather than prophetic
words, to the winds and declare bluntly and without equivocation that
I think library classification is here to stay.

Not long ago I remarked to a friend who has long been a leader
among special librarians, that on recent visits to England and Brazil
I had been repeatedly asked why librarians in the United States were
so belligerently opposed to classification. My friend's reply was im-
mediate, explosive, and, I am afraid, very typical of most of us
"That's easy, because it's no good!" The substance of this essay,
then is as much a protest against such a misunderstanding of the
role of classification in librarianship, as it is a forecast of the future
Like the Apostles' Creed, it may be regarded as, "The essence of
things hoped for the substance of things unseen."


Niels Bohr has reminded us that knowledge is synthesized within
the human mind as a conceptual framework, a framework that ideally
at least is an unambiguous logical representation of relations between
and among experiences. This framework is not static but must be
adapted to provide for new experience. The limits of expandability of
any such frame, then, are always finite and eventually they prove
too confining to comprehend new experience and abandonment becomes


unavoidable. Such revolutions in thinking may be born of the most
intensive specialization, yet they dictate a reorientation of the unity of
all knowledge. 1 Thus the physicists at the close of the nineteenth
century assumed that their task was essentially finished and resigned
themselves to refining measurement and to computing the constants
in nature with greater accuracy. But the discoveries of recent de-
cades shattered forever their comfortable little world - a world
which will not be tolerated again. 2 Because the evolution of man's
knowledge is not a predictable and finite process, because a field of
endeavor may never properly be regarded as closed, and hence be-
cause classification can never be seriously advanced with a pretense
of ultimacy, we have come at times to question whether anything use-
ful can be gained by attempts at classification, especially since the
Unified-Science movement tends to obliterate distinction among the
disciplines. But the permanence of any one system of classification
is not a valid measure of the utility of classification per se, and it
has nothing whatever to do with classification as a mode of human

Far more relevant to the present discussion is John Dewey's con-
tention that knowledge is classification, for knowledge is not just an
awareness of events but of events-with-meanings. The assertion that
to know is to define implies the recognition that wherever there is
knowledge there is explicitly present a universal. As Dewey says,

To hold that cognition is recognition is to concede that likeness,
a relation, rather than existence, is central. And to be acquant-
ed with anything is to be aware what it is like, in what sort of
ways it is likely to behave. These features, character, kind,
sort, universal, likeness, fall within the universe of meaning.
Hence the theories which make them constitutive of knowledge
acknowledge that having meanings is a prerequisite of knowing. 3

So, also, Gordon Childe holds that knowledge is a pattern of communi-
cable ideas symbolized in language, a structured pattern of categories
which connotes classification. Such categories as space, time, causal-
ity, substance, etc. denote ways in which empirical data, since know-
ledge is assumed to derive from experience with the external world,
are supposed to hang together to form a pattern, a pattern which
represents for each individual some segment of the universe as he
comprehends it. 4

This insistence of both the philosopher and the anthropologist on
the dependence of knowledge upon classification is not coincidental.
As the present writer, following closely the work of Jerome Bruner .
and others, pointed out in a paper presented in 1957 at the Dorking
conference on classification, the total process of cognition, of the
utilization of information in thinking and problem solving, is one in
which class identity is inferred from observed criterial properties or
attributes exhibited by an object or event. 5 ''Thinking," then, as it is


commonly understood, is a process of pattern creation or pattern
recognition, i.e., classification, and conjunctive, relational, and dis-
junctive concepts are the warp and woof of the pattern, the lines of
reference of the classification. These concepts may be either "cer-
tainties" or "probabilities" depending upon whether or not they
coincide with past experience to the extent that they can be assigned
to class membership. Cognition, then, results in pattern, and the
brain is the loom by which it is woven. 6 One is reminded of Mephisto-
pheles' explanation to the young student in Goethe's Faust:

In fact, when men are fabricating thought,

It goes as when a weaver's masterpiece is wrought.

One treadle sets a thousand threads a-going,

And to and fro the shuttle flies;

Quite unperceived the threads are flowing,

One stroke effects a thousand ties. 7

The categories which man formulates, the terms of which he sorts
out in responding to the world about him, are strongly conditioned by
the culture into which he is born. Each culture formulates its own
master plan, its structure of values, its own classification of know-
ledge, in a manner that reflects the common language, the way of life,
the religious beliefs, and the accumulated experiences of the group.
Thus each man's personal history images the traditions and thought
patterns of his culture. The events of which his life is composed and
the relations those events, experiences, and perceptions bear to each
other must be filtered through the categorical system he has learned,
or he departs from it at his peril. All thinking, all knowledge, begins,
as Susanne Langer has stated, in the basic formulation of sense per-
ception, for all thinking is conceptual and conception begins in the
recognition of pattern, relationship, the comprehension of Gestalt.*
Thus man is literally ensnared in a web of classification. Within
limits he can, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, alter the reticulations and
decussations and vary the interstices between the intersections, but
he can no more escape from his network of concepts than could Lemuel
Gulliver break the strands by which the Lilliputians held him captive.
Only the innovators, the discoverers, have the ability and the courage
to sever even a limited number of these bonds, and over them hangs
the constant threat of ridicule, social ostracism, and even the hem-
lock itself. Yet it is such as they who reshape the pattern, relocate
the ties of relationship, and thus contribute to a redefinition of the
cultural pattern which future generations solidify into accepted stereo-
types as their predecessors had formalized the patterns of an earlier
day. In such manner does the social conscience make cowards of us
all and sickly o'er our native hue of resolution. Thus, to quote Susanne

The modern mind is an incredible complex of impressions and
transformations; and its product is a fabric of meanings that


would make the most elaborate dream of the most ambitious
tapestry-weaver look like a mat. The warp of that fabric con-
sists of what we call 'data,' the signs to which experience has
conditioned us to attend, and upon which we act often without
any conscious ideation. The woof is symbolism. Out of signs
and symbols we weave our tissue of 'reality.' 9

Hellenic thought was unified by the study of first principles, for
which Plato's dialectic provided the method and which Aristotle
formulated as a science of metaphysics. Medieval scholarship,
which was theocentric in the extreme, was logically ordered by a
theology in which were set forth, with due proportion and emphasis,
the truths, relating to God and man, man and man, and man and
nature. The Age of Enlightenment was dominated by a search for
a rational explanation of the universe and human behavior was
measured against the cold clear light of reason, and from its roots,
thrust deep into the earlier insistence of Bacon on the importance
of the human faculties, modern principles of classification emerged.


Library classification, even before that memorable Sunday morn-
ing when, in the Amherst chapel, the decimal system burst upon
Melvil Dewey like the revelation of the Apocalypse, was a transfer
from, or more precisely a reflection of, man's unceasing quest for
an ordered universe of structured relationships. Callimachus
organized the collections of the great Alexandriana in accordance
with the major categories, or disciplines, into which Greek thought
was divided. The monastic libraries of the medieval world reflected,
as one might assume, the theological doctrines of the Church, and
relegated, according to Prideaux, the books of the heretics to "mourn-
ing and dirt." 1 J Naude, in the mid-seventeenth century, was a true
descendant of the Renaissance in his return to the classical example
of the Alexandriana. The great system of Brunet, which according to
Gustav Mouravit is both synthetic and analytic, presents in its prin-
cipal divisions "the great sphere into which the activities of human
thought are deployed," while at the same time offering "in their min-
ute details, the products of those activities" and following "all the
ramifications on which those activities are exercised." 1 Brunet
traces the course of human thought from God, through justice, law,
and man's relation to man, through his knowledge of his environment,
the external world, and the manifestations of the human imagination,
to the eventual contemplation of the record of the human adventure.
Thus it represents something of a compromise between the theologians
and the precursors of modern science, and invites comparison with
and, indeed, is reminiscent of Bacon's tripartite classification of the
human faculties of memory, reason, and imagination.

Brunet died too early to be influenced by Darwin, but both Dewey


and Cutter, and especially the latter's principle of expansion, were
deeply influenced by the doctrine of evolution. But it was the classifi-
cation of James Duff Brown that most strongly reflected the evolution-
ary thesis. Brown postulated that every science or art springs from
some definite source and that in its categorization some serial develop-
ment may be assumed. Thus he predicated his scheme upon the as-
sumption that in the order of things there first was matter and force,
which gave rise to life, which, in time, produced mind, which eventuat-
ed in record. Martel and Hanson at the Library of Congress built their
structure on the foundations Cutter had laid, and the same may be
said with respect to Bruxelles' debt to Dewey. Though in the latter,
the forefathers of the Universal Decimal Classification at least recog-
nized that the content of books cannot be adequately described in
terms of a single linguistic isolate. Hence they made an heroic effort
to introduce into the U.D.C. an elaborate system of associative signs
to represent some of the most important relationships by which human
thought is patterned.

Henry E. Bliss who certainly had one of the finest minds yet to
address itself to the problems of library classification, and who de-
vised one of the two most modern schemes now available, attempted
to reconcile in one hierarchical sequence a series of sub- orders, the
developmental, the pedagogic, etc. The system that emerged he be-
lieved to be in harmony with "the order of nature" and the contem-
porary "scientific consensus," and hence, in his opinion, relatively
permanent. In this Bliss was not unlike the nineteenth- century physi-
cists who saw nothing in their futures but improvement in the refining
of measurement and the computing of constants.

Ranganathan is probably the only man who can challenge Bliss on
his own termsand he has done so. Whatever one may think of the
Colon Classification certainly its distinguished creator has surpassed
all others in his grasp of the fundamental problems of organizing the
intellectual content of graphic records. In his facet analysis and its
American counterpart, semantic factoring, the role of classification
in bibliographic organization achieves a new and greater significance
than it ever had as applied to book arrangement or even as exemplified
in the classified catalogue. But despite the work of Ranganathan and
Bliss, and their intellectual kin, library classification as it is thought
of today was born of the eighteenth-century enlightenment and matured
in nineteenth-century Darwinism, with but superficial embellish-
ments that, in the main, are but the tinsel of twentieth- century episte-
mology. To say of library classification that it is utilitarian is not,
in itself, derogatory, it should be useful, but today library classifica-
tion is utilitarian at the lowest level of its capabilities. It does not
structure recorded knowledge in patterns harmonious with the patterns
of thought of the library user, it serves mainly as a device by which
one may find a particular book. The Dewey Decimal Classification, in

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 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 13 of 15)