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 15 of 15)
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necessary, inescapable, and invaluable adjunct of the library operation.
On the user side of the picture, the adequacies of classification for the
non- specialist were contrasted with the adequacies (and shortcomings)
of classification for the specialist. As if this weren't enough, librarian
and user were met in contrast, when a sharp dichotomy emerged be-
tween what was termed the vertical approach of the librarian versus
the horizontal approach of the subject specialist to the whole matter of
classification. Even in the matter of word-usage that contrast between
librarian and subject specialist came to light; you will recall that when
our mathematician looked at what librarians call "series," he saw
them more properly as "sequences" ! And for librarian and user
alike, it was averred that the need and nature of classification in a
closed shelf system could differ considerably from that in an open
shelf system, especially as related to the use of a classed catalogue, a
dictionary catalogue or a reader interest arrangement.

The theory of classification, too, as presented and discussed in this
Institute, presented a series of contrasts. We heard of Gessner's
"necessary" versus "embellishing" courses; we heard of Bacon's
"divine" versus "human" knowledge. The schemes themselves were
a series (or should it be a sequence?) of contrasts; there were the
"practical" versus the "philosophical" schemes, variously expressed
as the "practical" versus the "logical," or the "practical" versus
the "systematic"; there were ( in the applied sense) the "special" or
"relative" or "special purpose" schemes versus the "universal"
schemes. This matter of breadth versus specificity, or simplicity ver-
sus complexity, of schemes attracted a good deal of attention, espec-
cially in relation to costs (the administrator speaking), up-to-dateness
versus obsolescence (the subject specialist speaking), size and type of
library wherein they were used, purposes of use, and backgrounds
(and indeed happiness!) of users.

When our speakers and our registrants looked at the purpose and
role of classification and its effects, several further contrasts were
thrown sharply into focus. Is classification in the modern library a
subject approach or is it simply a shelving device? Is it a "system-
atizing of knowledge" or is it a "promotion of reading"? Does it,
after all, succeed only in "bringing together unrelated materials" and
"tearing asunder related materials"?

And, before we leave this matter of contrasts, we should note a few
oddments wherein the element of contrast was evident. One speaker
noted the penchant of librarians and most people, for that matter to
regard the present pinnacle of now as "civilized" in contrast to all


that has gone before as "primitive." Recurrently noted was the "so-
phistication" versus the "simplicity" of machine approaches to knowl-
edge, along with the relative slowness versus speed which is inherent
in each. And lastly there was of course the matter of John versus Mel-
vil Dui !

It is perhaps an inevitable consequence that, in the course of a pro-
tracted examination of a specific topic such as the one before us for
the last three days, many topics are hinted at, or suggested, without
being fully developed. Let us attend to these for a moment. Perhaps
the most persistently recurring suggestion, in one form or another,
was that any classification scheme, whether broad or close, has what
one might call built-in weaknesses. More than once it was hinted that,
under present-day conditions, a single, universal, comprehensive, non-
overlapping classification scheme, whether broad or close, to cover a
universe of content and a universe of user, is no longer realizable.
Along with this (and as a result of it) the emergence of a multiplicity
of special classification schemes for special purposes, along with the
development of sections of existing schemes for special purposes, was
noted. More than once, too, it was hinted that detailed, elaborate, close
classification was costly and confusing, inadequate for any user, and
likely to be short-lived. Keep the classification broad, someone sug-
gested, and let the catalogue, via its multiple subject headings, do the
job of close classification. Another put it this way: The larger the
class, the longer its life; the more specific the class, the more limi-
ted its use and users and the shorter its life. Whether broad or close,
in another's words, classification schemes are currently inadequate to
reveal "pockets of knowledge" to those users who want all material
on a subject, from the major group straight down through the minor
subgroups; their net effect is to splinter, rather than to solidify, the
library's holdings on a subject; the user is equally dissatisfied, or at
least unsatisfied, whether he approaches the subject from a general
number (which rules out the splintered subjects) or from a splintered
number (which rules out other splinters and the general number as

There were other suggestions, too: that a classification scheme in
the very large library tends to be (perhaps unavoidably) uneven, with
some badly overcrowded numbers hard by others that are unfilled;
that, for the closed shelf collection whose key is the classed catalog, a
shelf notation would be quite adequate; that a library does not make
classes, it discovers and identifies them; and, finally, that classifica-
tion schemes should be much more truly the joint product of librarian
and subject specialist.

Any gathering of a hundred or more librarians is likely to produce
a fair share of assorted definitions, quotes, quotes within quotes, and
general miscellany. In this, we were no exception. In fact, at times
we all but went out of our way to prove the old Latin adage: Tot ho-
mines, quot sententiaea.s many folks as you have in a room, so many
the opinions you can expect. First off, everybody had something to say


about classification, of course. One faculty member was quoted to this
effect: "Classification exists to locate a book quickly and with as little
fuss as possible." One of our speakers observed seamily: "The read-
er doesn't mind classification if it doesn't get in his way." The same
speaker voiced the futility of the classification enterprise in these
words: "Classification, like the value of the mathematical 77 is never
perfect, no matter how far extended." Another speaker reminded us
of a foreign librarian's description of one of the leading classification
schemes of our day: "A primitive gap notation of integers." Yet an-
other pronounced a malediction on present-day classification: "Classi-
fication in the 20th century is utilitarianism at its lowest level; L.C.
and D. C. are an address book for the library staff." The subject spe-
cialist had some harsh words about the process of assigning a classi-
fication number to a series as a whole: "This is a library gimmick
. . .an evasion of proper classification and merely a classification by
color and binding of book." We heard Dewey alluded to as "not some-
thing we must endure, but something which has enduring qualities"; we
heard also the words of the weary faculty member, "Well, Dewey may
be enduring, but he certainly needs pruning and streamlining." We
even heard a touch of poetry in the words of a visiting Indian librarian,
describing the reader interest grouping of the Detroit Public Library:
"The arrangement itself communes with life." But we were jarred
back to reality with the following definition of a book: "A book is the
physical embodiment of what the author thought he said."

I referred earlier to the ghosts we raised. Let me return to them
for a moment as we recall some of the unresolved problems we carry
with us from this Institute. What is the true value of classification: is
it greater for the specialist or the non- specialist; is it, in fact, great
at all for the user; or is it a kind of outmoded toy of the librarian, to
take its place beside other "library gimmicks"? Is a broad or a close
classification to be preferred, or are there sets of circumstances in
the face of which one is at times preferable over the other? Is there
a point at which, in the length of notation symbols, the law of dimin-
ishing returns sets in? Is an "unbearably long" notation a revelation
as to the degree of obsolescence of the scheme? Does simplicity in
notation really mean ease in handling, flexibility, adaptability; is it
less expensive; is it preferable because more easily understood and
more useful and satisfying to the specialist? Is a classification
scheme in the present-day library a help or a hindrance to library
use? What will by the place of classifcation in the library of tomor-
row? When will the machines take over?

This, then, was the Institute. To me, a non-classifier, but a person
deeply interested in classification, it has been an exciting and inter-
esting experience and so, we hope, it has to everyone who came. We
have prodded, poked, pricked, and perhaps at time provoked each other
for these three days. We have heard, among other things, a mathema-
tician "grumbling out loud" about a classification scheme; we have
heard a Texan talking on Dewey's durability; we have heard a self-


styled sacrificial goat blandly reassure us in the midst of his mechan-
istic machinations that "classification is here to stay." And, by the
way, while you're worrying about Shera's machine of tomorrow, keep
your eye on today and, when the machine comes, in the now-classic
words of our Tennessean, "Don't forget to punch for turnip greens!"


Papers of the \llerton P-rk Institutes

Number One

Number Two

Number Three

Number Four

Number Five

Number Six

October 1954

The School Library Supervisor (Chicago: Ameri-
can Library Association, 1956) $1.75

September 1955

Developing the Library's Personnel Program (Not

yet published)

November 1956

The Nature and Development of the Library Col-
lection (Champaign, 111. : The Illini Union Book-
store, 1957) $1.75

September-October 1957

The Library as an Information Center (Champaign,

111.: The Illini Union Bookstore, 1958) $2.00

November 1958

Public Library Service to the Young Adult (To be

published by The Illini Union Bookstore, Summer


November 1959

The Role of Classification in the Modern American
Library (Champaign, 111. : The Illini Union Book-
store, 1960) $2.00






111 Hill 1


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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 15 of 15)