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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the fields of knowledge but a shelving arrangement based on broad
f areas of interest which relate themselves to the needs of people.
These broad areas have been designated as interest categories.
They are subdivided by a varying number of sub- headings, depending
on the type of category and the size of the collection. Some categories
are browsing sections for the general reader; others are subject
groupings aimed at a particular use by the reader.


In setting up what we have designated as browsing categories we
have had in mind: (1) the readers who have no fixed needs in mind
but who are stimulated to recognize their interests by the category in-
dicating a broad general field; and (2) those who are conscious of their
interest in certain fields and can associate it with definite subjects but
not with related interests.

In setting up the so-called subject categories we have in mind the
reader who comes to the library for help with a particular need but
not necessarily a specific request. In large part the practical books
concerning family life, vocational and avocational subjects fall here.


We begin with a consideration of people, their interests and needs
not with the contents of books alone. What are ihe primary interests
and needs of people? We said that your interests and mine had roots
in these large areas: (1) the improvement of ourselves as individuals,
culturally, socially, and vocationally; (2) our involvement and partici-
pation in the affairs of our primary social unit, the home; (3) our con-
cerns stemming from our relationships and responsibilities to our
community whether local, national, or international.

We were interested in a statement which we found in a speech by
Mr. C. Scott Fletcher, President of the Fund for Adult Education, pub-
lished in a pamphlet titled The Great Awakening, which appears to
corroborate the above statement. He says:

The individual must be prepared, not just to work, but primar-
ily to live at the same time both a unique person and a fellow
member of the human race. His various lives intermingle.
The major roles of the individual are three: in the home, on
the job, and in the community.' 1

We have written brief statements on the purpose and content of the
fourteen categories now accepted as standard. Time will not permit a
full reading of these but you have in your hand a statement titled "The
Reader Interest Book Arrangement in the Detroit Library" which, be-
ginning on page two, lists all fourteen categories with suggested sub-
headings. I will refer here only to the few categories and sub- head-
ings for which sample shelf lists have been distributed. The first
sheets indicate authors and titles of selected sections of the shelf list
for the three sub- headings normally found under the general category
CURRENT AFFAIRS. Our statement for this category reads:

Purpose: This is a browsing section to serve the adult reader inter-
ested in the present-day world politics, economic trends,
and social problems.

Content: This section must be kept small and up to date. The divis-
ion between national and international affairs will be


arbitrary. The sub- heading Trends in Science should con-
tain only those books which are directed toward the reader
as a citizen, and not as a student.

The next shelf list sample shows the sub- heading Child Care under
the major category YOUR FAMILY. For the category YOUR FAMILY
we said:

Purpose: This is basically a subject section aimed at parents inter-
ested in books that pertain to the family and its members.

This sheet for the sub- heading Child Care shows readily how per-
tinent books in the general field are scattered under Dewey.

For the category PERSONAL LIVING we stated:

Purpose: This is a section concerned with the reader's interest in
himself as an individual. It serves the browser primar-
ily, with books of inspirational value and practical help.

Content: Includes popular psychology, some biography, books of per-
sonal religion and biographies of religious people, which
will help the individual in his personal, spiritual, and emo-
tional development, self improvement with some emphasis
on the social graces, grooming, manners, and conversation.

For this sample selection from the shelf list we chose a listing for
the sub-heading How to Retire. The sample selections from the shelf
list show how the material on this new and ever-growing subject can
be made useful for the many people now concerned with retirement.
Like Child Care this is a subject that gets rough treatment under

Large holdings are found in the category PEOPLE AND PLACES.
About it we said:

Purpose: A browsing collection of readable books for those who pre-
fer real life stories and experiences to fiction.

Content: This includes much popular biography, descriptive travel,
and personal experiences. Since this is a browsing section,
purely informational matter though it may fit geographically
or historically should be in the INFORMATION category to
which we refer later.

The samples chosen to illustrate this category picture the kind of
books to be found under the sub- heading Adventure and another labeled
Law and Justice.

The next sheet is for the sub- heading House Plans from the cate-

Purpose: This is a subject section bringing together all books rela-
ting to the house and how to live in it.


We had more arguments about the wording for the category THE
BRIGHT SIDE than for any other category. We are not too pleased
with it now. But several years use of it has achieved an identity for
and it is now generally accepted. It is supposed to be for the person
who is in the mood for something amusing. It is the gay, chatty, hu-
morous satiric. It may be fiction, plays, essays, biographies. Cheap-
er by the Dozen, a Thurber anthology, and Emily Kimbrough rub elbows
here. There are no sub-headings for this category. The sheet indi-
cates that biography, fiction, even travel, besides humor are good addi-
tions to this category.

The response of the public to the category BACKGROUND READING
is always most heartening. Our statement for it is:

Purpose: A browsing section of books which will contribute to broad-
ening the reader's cultural background and knowledge, ar-
ranged alphabetically by author.

Content: Important books of the past which have stood the test of

time, the classics, including novels, plus the serious, mod-
ern books which are important now. These books must mee'
a high standard of literary quality and appeal to the person
capable of concentrated reading.

The last sheet tells a story of what may be found in it.

I will take no more time to describe other categories, but I must
refer to the three which hold the bulk of the informational materials.
ily TECHNOLOGY and BUSINESS will have five to ten sub- headings.
The number of INFORMATION will range from thirty-five to fifty or
more depending on the collection. We describe these as subject cate-
gories containing factual material and textbooks for answering specif-
ic questions. Some of this factual material may cover the same sub-
jects as are represented in the browsing sections. Books which are
no longer popular or timely but have an informational value may be
transferred from the browsing sections to the INFORMATION category.


Let me assure you every book has a fixed place on the shelf and
only one place. The catalogue locates every book under author, title,
and subject like any other catalogue.

Each category is assigned a letter, such as G for YOUR HOME.
Each sub- heading has a number, such as 2 for entertaining, 4 for cook-
ing, etc. In assigning these numbers space is left for additional sub-
headings by skipping numbers. Within the sub-heading the arrange-
ment is an alphabetical author arrangement.

This designation of letter and number is written in the inside back
cover of the book and is stamped on top of the book. A six-band crown


dater, which carries all the letters of the alphabet and four bands of
numerals, makes possible use of far more combinations of letters and
numbers than we will ever need.

Large category signs designate the location of each category on the
shelves. Sub-headings are shown on small sign holders (we use Prince-
ton files) by title of the sub- heading and its numeral.

Each branch is provided with rubber stamps for the category desig-
nations. The catalogue card is stamped with the name of the category
and the numeral of the sub- heading which applies to the book.

A borrower using the card catalogue can readily spot the category
sign and, reaching the shelves, will quickly locate the sub- heading
marker numbered for the title he is seeking. The many people who do
not use the catalogue are quickly alerted to material of interest and
significance for them.

At present the branch librarian and her staff determine both the
category and sub- headings. An important aspect of this is that the
local staff members have given consideration to the potential use of
the book and the needs and interests of the individuals they serve. A
significant by-product is increased book knowledge for the staff work-
ing with the people.

Can the central catalogue department take over this work? I see
possibilities for some well trained person with experience in the home
reading services taking over assignment of books to the categories.
But the size of the collection and knowledge of the community in which
the branch operates I believe will necessarily keep the selection and
designation for sub- headings in the branch.


I want to make these points:

1. The Reader Interest Arrangement separates those books pur-
chased to meet the general reading needs from the mass of books ac-
cumulated to serve the informational services of the library. Mixed
shelving of these tends to bury and conceal the interesting titles from
the potential reader for whom they were bought.

2. Book selection will be affected, because each title gets consider-
ation in terms of its contribution to specific areas of interest and USE.

3. Both holdings and use of each category and sub- heading are
readily obtainable, for example on October 24, 1959 we easily assem-
bled the following figures from branch libraries, concerning holdings
and circulation:

Chase Branch

BACKGROUND READING 404 books, 42% out

YOUR FAMILY - 561 books, 35% out


Hubbard Branch

BACKGROUND READING 359 books, 47% out

Jefferson Branch

YOUR HOME 1,118 books, 31% out

Edison Branch

CURRENT AFFAIRS 218 books, 55% out

Chaney Branch

BUSINESS - Sub- Heading

Management & Supervision - 60 books, 35% out

These figures show that Jefferson Branch does not need to build its
collection on YOUR HOME except for new and exceptional titles. Per-
haps it should do some weeding. Edison Branch definitely needs to
build its collection on CURRENT AFFAIRS.

4. Both additions and withdrawals of books can be more safely

5. The best collections are developed as new collections when the
original purchases are determined with this arrangement in mind.

6. It is possible to reorganize Dewey classified collections. Inter-
esting problems stem from the fact that some books will not fit any-
where. If they no longer have a good general appeal and do not repre-
sent sound information, they should be withdrawn.


Detroit started this experiment in the early 1940' s with an alcove
in the Circulation Department of the Main Library. Since 1948 six
new branch collections have been organized with this pattern and thir-
teen older collections have been reorganized, one is now in the process
of complete reorganization, several have set up a partial plan. Work
has not started in the three largest branches having 40,000 or more

We have no hesitancy in transferring assistants from a Dewey-
organized branch to a Reader Interest branch, and vice versa. How-
ever, once a branch librarian or an assistant has worked with the
Reader Interest system he is always impatient with the Dewey system.
It is the staff that has given the system its impetus in Detroit.

In closing let me refer to a statement by Dr. Das Gupta of the
Delhi University Library, India, in his report on his visit to American
libraries, published in Annals of Library Science, September 1956:

In the branches and in one department of the Detroit Public Li-
brary the organization of books on shelves is based on an en-
gaging pattern of classification, derived from the basic interests
of human life. Logically it involves cross- classification and,

. 60

therefore it is not Artistotelian. The ordinary schemes of bib-
liographical classification have one feature in common. They
are analytical and they attempt to divide knowledge into mutu-
ally exclusive fragments. But a man's life is not fragmentary.
For example, when people marry or set up a home or have chil-
dren, the complex of their interests is as whole as life itself.
To them the effect of any analytical schemes of classification,
however broadbased, looks 'disorganized'. It is not less of clas-
sification that suits them better. They need a different kind of
classification and more of it, with well-articulated, well-formed
and well- organized details. The Detroit scheme of classification
is a fine example of what the right kind of technique in its right
place can achieve to liven up a mass of books in such a way that
the arrangement itself communes with life. Such a classification
helps the ordinary reader. It trains the librarian to see all-to-
gether the many lines of interest that pass through the nodal
points of life, to assess from the use of books whether the li-
brary really has its roots in the community, and to develop con-
crete and humane notions of book selection and book service.
Being, however, limited by its own relevant purpose, the read-
ers' interest classification is not intended to be used to organ-
ize large collections of books for multipurpose use, for which
analytical schemes of classification are better suited. 8

We think Dr. Das Gupta has done a better job than we did in express-
ing the purpose and results of the Reader Interest Book Arrangement.


1. Public Library Service (Chicago: American Library Associa-
tion, 1956) p. 31.

2. Grace O. Kelley, The Classification of Books, An Inquiry into
its Usefulness to the Reader (New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1938).

3. Ernest A. Savage, Manual of Book Classification and Display for
Public Libraries (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1949).

4. Douglas Waples, People and Print, Social Aspects of Reading in
the Depression (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1937) p. 37.

5. Lowell Martin, "The Purpose and Administrative Organization
of Branch Systems in Large Urban Libraries" (M.A. thesis Graduate
Library School, University of Chicago, mimeographed), pp. 8-9.

6. Ibid, p 64.

7. C. Scott Fletcher, "The Great Awakening" Southern Univer-
sity Conference 1958 (Chattanooga?: (1958) p. 32. Note: the text is
slightly different from the text in the pamphlet.

8. S. Das Gupta, "American Libraries, Some Impressions," An-
nals of Library Science III (September, 1956) 97.

I 61

The Enduring Qualities of Dewey

Heartsill H. Young
Assistant Librarian, University of Texas

It has been many years since Melvil Dewey's Decimal Classifica-
tion has been discussed before a group such as this. In the nineteenth
century, book classification was a controversial subject, and all
librarians were eager to learn about and to compare new systems for
arranging knowledge. At the first conference of librarians held in
this country in 1853, classification was one of the topics discussed.
Charles B. Norton read to the group a letter from Remain Merlin in
which he gave the principal points of his book classification. At the
organizational meeting of the American Library Association in 1876,
classification again was one of the topics discussed. Melvil Dewey's
new Decimal Classification had just been published, and Mr. Dewey
appeared before the group to describe and to promote his scheme.
By the early twentieth century, however, the Decimal Classification
had gained such wide acceptance that book classification was no longer
controversial, and librarians at large turned their interests and their
energies to what they considered to be unsolved, challenging prob-
lems. Classification was left to the classifiers. The appearance of
the fifteenth, or standard, edition of the Decimal Classification was
the occasion of some general revival of interest in classification, but
for some four decades we have more or less accepted the Decimal
Classification, without giving much thought to its qualities, good or

It is easy simply to dismiss the Decimal Classification with the
observation that it has endured, not because of any qualities it may
possess, but because it is the scheme that is familiar to librarians
and library users and because most libraries could not afford to re-
classify, even though they might like to do so.

Its familiarity is unquestionable. Dewey taught his scheme at the
New York State Library School, and the graduates of that school went
forth to teach it in other library schools or to adopt it for their librar-
ies. Today the Decimal Classification is the basic scheme taught in
the beginning cataloguing course of every library school in the country,
and 85% of college and university libraries and 98% of public libraries
in the United States use the scheme in whole or in part.

To dismiss the Decimal Classification as something we must accept
simply because it has monopolized the field of book classification does
not do justice to the scheme. It is not merely something we must en-
dure; it has enduring qualities. Miss Eaton's survey of classification


in college, university and public libraries made in 1954 bears out this
statement. One of -the questions she asked college and university
libraries was: Would you prefer some scheme other than the one you
now use if it were possible to make a change? Eighty per cent of the
libraries using Decimal Classification would not change even if they
could. And 13% of those using other classification schemes would
prefer to return to the Decimal Classification. The public libraries
were not asked whether they would change their classification schemes
if they could, but they were asked whether or not they had reclassified.
Only 28 libraries reported a change from one scheme to another, al-
though undoubtedly more than that have reclassified at some time.
What reclassification has taken place in public libraries has been
almost exclusively to the Decimal Classification. In the light of this
evidence, it is obvious that many libraries are content with the Deci-
mal Classification and that the scheme is likely to endure for some
time to come. It is my purpose to analyze the scheme for those
qualities which have made it endure. My approach will be positive.
By this I mean that I will be looking for qualities that the Decimal
Classification has endured because of not in spite of. In so doing I
make only a small claim for originality. I will quote several writers
on classification, but sometimes when I am not quoting my remarks
will undoubtedly have a familiar ring. When this happens, you may be
hearing the rephrased remarks of Berwick Sayers, Ernest Gushing
Richardson, Henry Evelyn Bliss, your library school cataloguing
teacher or Melvil Dewey himself.

The Decimal Classification has endured, first of all, because it
presents a usable outline of knowledge, arranged according to recog-
nizable principles.

Every book classification begins or at least it should begin with
an outline of knowledge. When the Decimal Classification first ap-
peared, it was not on his outline of knowledge that Dewey placed his
emphasis; he appeared to be more interested in his notation and in
his index than in the order of his classes. This is only reasonable.
There had been many outlines of knowledge before his; neither was
his the first book classification. The distinction of his scheme lay in
the notation and in the relative index, and these were the features he
publicized. Moreover, Dewey was first and foremost a practical man.
He wanted a scheme that would work, one that would remedy the lack
of efficiency and the waste of time and money in the constant recata-
loguing and reclassifying made necessary by the fixed system of
arranging books. Any one of many systematic orders of knowledge
might have served him, but it was his ingenious notation which served
as the means of arranging books on library shelves.

But while notation and index are important to book classification,
a usable outline of knowledge is essential. The best ordered book
classification will not survive if it is burdened with a cumbersome
notation and if its schedules are inadequately indexed. It is equally
true that the best notation and index in the world cannot save a poorly
ordered book classification.


The Decimal Classification has been severely criticized because
of the order of its classes. There is no likelihood whatsoever that a
modern classifier would arrange knowledge in the same order as
Dewey. On the other hand, Dewey's outline of knowledge must be
reasonably sound, or else it would not have endured.

Part of the criticism of the order of the Decimal Classification
stems, I believe, from failure to understand the basis of the scheme.
The order of the classes cannot be explained entirely on the basis of
what Bliss calls contemporary scientific and educational concensus,
as we are likely to try to do. Many of the expansions of the scheme
which have come with the advancement of human knowledge are so
ordered, but the skeletal framework of the scheme has a philosophical

Dewey always disclaimed his debt to any particular classification
scheme for the order of his classes, although he did at one time admit
that the outline of Natale Battezzati, which was an adaptation of the
Brunet or French booksellers' system, stimulated him more than any
other. Be that as it may, his scheme is not as similar to Battezzati
and Brunet as it is to Francis Bacon's chart of human learning.

That the Decimal Classification is related to Bacon's philosophical
system is, of course, common knowledge. Henry Evelyn Bliss in The
Organization of Knowledge in Libraries, for example, calls attention
to the similarity but considers it needless to discuss the resemblance
or trace it in detail. His purpose, however, was different from mine.
He set out to disqualify both the Decimal Classification, and Bacon's
philosophical system along with it, as organizations of knowledge.
My purpose is to explain the order of the Decimal Classification, and
since the order can sometimes be understood only by looking to the
ancestry of the scheme, I will pursue the relationship of the Dewey
and Bacon systems in some detail, although by no means exhaustively.

Bacon's chart of human learning formed the framework of his
treatise on The Advancement of Learning, which was published in
1605. His purpose in writing this treatise was "to circumnavigate
the small globe of the intellectual world to find what parts thereof lay
fresh and waste, and not improved by the industry of man" in other
words, to survey what had been accomplished in the field of learning
up to the turn of the seventeenth century and thereby to determine
what remained to be accomplished. In breaking up the intellectual
world into its various segments, Bacon follows a definite principle
of division. He says:

The best division of human learning is that derived from the
three faculties of the rational soul, which is the seat of learn-
ing. History has reference to the Memory, poesy to the Imagi-
nation, and philosophy to Reason.

The sense, which is the door of the intellect, is affected by
individuals only. The images of those individuals that is, the


impressions which they make on the senses fix themselves
in the memory, and pass into it in the first instance entire as
it were, just as they come. These the human mind proceeds to
review and ruminate; and thereupon either simply rehearses
them, or makes fanciful imitations of them, or analyses and
classifies them. Wherefore from these three fountains, Mem-
ory, Imagination, and Reason, flow these three emanations,
History, Poesy, and Philosophy; and there can be no others.
For I consider history and experience to be the same thing, as

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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 7 of 15)