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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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also philosophy and the sciences. 1

Invert Bacon's three main classes, and you have the order of
Dewey's main classes: philosophy, religion, social science, philology,
pure science, applied science, and the fine arts, the products of rea-
son; literature, the product of the imagination; and history, the prod-
uct of memory.

Memory produces history, and history Bacon divides into natural,
civil, ecclesiastical, and literary. Civil history is of three kinds:
memorials, antiquities, and perfect histories. Memorials are history
unfinished, or the rough drafts of history; they merely record the ob-
servation of bare events, without cogni'zance of why these events took
place or what their consequences might be. Antiquities are remnants
of history which have escaped the shipwrecks of time. Perfect his-
tories take the form of chronicles, lives, and narrations, which is
another way of saying that they are either histories of the times, of
persons, or of actions greater in scope, depth and significance than

Dewy's history class is quite similar to Bacon's civil history.
Bacon considered natural history to be the basis of the sciences, in
that it recorded the variety of things and led to new discoveries, and
Dewey moves natural history to the sciences. Ecclesiastical history
Dewey classes with religion and literary history with literature. But
civil history remains much as Bacon arranged it. Dewey's descrip-
tion and travel, antiquities, biography, and history of specific places
closely parallel the memorials, antiquities and perfect histories of

Next in Bacon's system comes imagination, which produces what
he calls poesy and what we today call belles lettres in all forms.
Poesy, as Bacon put it, "exceeds the measure of nature, joining at
pleasure things which in nature would never have come together, and
introducing things which in nature would never have come to pass."
In Bacon's scheme, philology, rhetoric, and elocution have no place
in poesy, because they emanate from reason, not from imagination.
In inverted fashion, Dewey's literature class precedes, rather than
follows, his history class. Like Bacon, he separates philology and
literature, but he does make the concession of linking rhetoric and
locution to literature.

Finally in Bacon's system comes reason, which produces what he


calls philosophy, but which encompasses the subjects which we today
would designate as philosophy, religion, philology, fine arts, and the
sciences: physical, natural, and social.

Bacon divides philosophy into three parts: divine, natural, and
human. Divine philosophy, which leads off the class, is concerned
with the discovery of God through the mind, as distinct from revela-
tion. Natural philosophy is concerned with physics, the investigation
of variable causes; applied science; and metaphysics, the investiga-
tion of final causes. Human philosophy is concerned with the philos-
ophy of humanity, or man segregate, and civil philosophy, or man

The influence of Bacon's philosophy division is felt throughout
several classes of Dewey. For instance, Bacon divides his philosophy
of humanity into body and mind, and three of his "body sciences"
decorative, athletic, and voluptuary arts constitute Dewey's fine arts
division. Bacon divides the science of the mind into substance and
faculty, and this order pervades Dewey's philosophy class, which
moves from substance or nature of the mind to the faculties of the
mind to the exercise of these faculties. Bacon's philosophy of man
congregate moves from conversation, which includes etiquette and
manners, to business, to state government, economics and law. In
inverted fashion, Dewey's social sciences move from political science
to economics to law and end with customs and folklore, which includes
etiquette and manners.

The Decimal Classification, then, has a philosophical base which
affects its fundamental structure. But Bacon only breaks up knowl-
edge into rather large chunks. He does not provide us with the many
little slivers which are necessary to a book classification. Dewey,
therefore, had to ramify Bacon's classes. The order he follows in
these ramifications may be logical, as in geology; geometrical, as in
history and in the numerous subjects which may be subdivided geo-
graphically; chronological, as in the time divisions of history and
literature; genetic, as in the natural sciences; or alphabetic when he
lacked any other special order. His primary goal one he does not
always achieve seems to have been a natural progression. Berwick
Sayers states this purpose of classification very clearly in his
Manual of Classification. He writes:

He [the student] may find that most of the book classifiers have
been working .... towards the position as stated by Bliss when
he says of science order: 'One study may be applied to, or in-
troductory to, another, as mathematics to physics, physics to
chemistry, chemistry to biology, biology to society, sociology
to economics, linguistics to literature, and logic to philosophy';
and so a logical order of main classes emerges on a character-
istic of progression from one science to another. 2


This characteristic of progression may apply not only to main
classes, of course, but to sub- classes as well. The greatest exponent
of this natural progression characteristic was Charles Ammi Cutter,
but Dewey also made use of it. Take for example Dewey's treatment
of political science.

Political science, as Dewey uses the term, may be defined as "the
science which is concerned with the State, which endeavors to under-
stand and comprehend the state in its conditions, in its essential
nature, in its various forms or manifestations, its development."
This is a nineteenth century definition, coming from J. K. Bluntschli's
The Theory of the State. This is not to say that the same definition
may not be found in a modern treatise on political science. It just so
happens that the nineteenth century definition fits.

One more definition is necessary before Dewey's political science
scheme is analyzed, and that is a definition of state. Almost all defi-
nitions of state include four elements: people, territory, organization,
and sovereignty. The following definition is representative and widely

The state, as a concept of political science and public law, is a
community of persons more or less numerous, permanently
occupying a definite portion of territory, independent or nearly
so, of external control, and possessing an organized govern-
ment to which the great body of inhabitants renders habitual
obedience. 3

Dewey's political science is made of these four elements essential
to a state: people, territory, organization, and sovereignty. These
elements are treated historically and descriptively, subjectively and

Dewey's divisions of political science (320) are these:

321 - Forms of state

322 - State and church

323 - Relations of state to individuals or groups

324 - Suffrage and elections

325 - Migration and colonization

326 - Slavery

327 - Foreign relations

328 - Legislation

329 - United States political parties

From this bare outline, Dewey's order is not apparent. The
classes do, however, have a systematic arrangement. We begin with
political theory. All early social organizations arose spontaneously
and for a long time grew without conscious direction. Later a point
was reached when man, realizing what was taking place, began to
modify his institutions. As a result he was led to examine their nature
and to attempt an explanation of their phenomena.


There are two phases, therefore, in the evolution of the state. One
is the objective, concrete development of states as manifested in their
governments and external dealings; the other is the subjective develop-
ment of ideas as to the state in general. Dewey begins with the theory
of the state (320.1) and then proceeds to the form of the state (321),
which is the outward manifestation of the state's existence. The form
of the state he approaches in two ways: (1) a classification based on
the location of sovereignty in government and (2) a classification
based on the evolution of the state, from its origin in the patriarchal
family to the development of the republic.

Standing before the relationships of the state to individuals and
groups is the relationship of the state to a rival institution: the church

The analysis of the state leads naturally to a consideration of sov-
ereignty. Viewed from its internal aspect, it opens up the relations
of the state to its population; viewed from its external aspect, it leads
to the relations of state to state.

Population is made up of man congregate and man segregate; that
is, of groups and individuals. The obligations between the state and
its population are reciprocal; that is, the people confer authority and
power upon the state and hence they owe the state obedience. On the
other hand, there are restrictions on how far the state may go in
regulating the actions of those who owe it obedience; individuals and
groups enjoy rights and privileges which the state may not invade.
Dewey considers first the relations of the state to groups whose so-
cial, economic, or other cultural ties create political problems
(323. 1-. 3). Then he considers individual rights and protections

But the state does not guarantee rights and protection to anyone
who happens to reside within its territory. It is citizenship which
makes the individual a member of a political society, subject to its
government, and bound to its fortunes. It is the citizens, too, who, by
direct act or tacit consent, confer power and authority upon the state.
However, the entire citizenship does not have the right to share in
expressing the state's will. Only the electorate shares this right.
Dewey proceeds naturally, then, from group and individual rights
(323.4), to citizenship (323.6), and to suffrage and elections (324).

The population of a state does not remain static. Movements of
people, or migrations, exert a powerful influence on the internal
political life of a state. And if migration is in the form of a conquest,
the opening up of new lands creates colonies and colonial government.
Colonization may, of course, be considered a form of organization, but
Dewey links it with population instead. His progression is from move-
ments of population (325. 1-. 2) to the result of these movements: col-
onization (325.3).

Next slavery (326) occupies a singular position in the Dewey
scheme. Slaves are ordinarily displaced people and therefore slavery
is connected with movements of population. Slaves constitute a social


group; yet they differ, from the groups previously considered by
Dewey in that they have no rights or liberties which they can assert
against the state. Slavery, then, culminates the analysis of the state's

Having considered the internal aspects of sovereignty, Dewey turns
next to the external aspects, to the relations of state to state (327).
Foreign relations, as Dewey uses the term, means the negotiations
between states for the purpose of protecting or furthering their vital
interests. The law governing these relations is excluded.

Dewey turns from sovereignty to the organization of political
machinery. The relations of the state to groups, individuals, and
other states lead to the process which regulates these relations:
legislation (328). But while the legislative process has its basis in
law, there is an extra-legal piece of political machinery which exerts
a powerful influence on the state's relations, both foreign and domes-
tic. This is the political party the vital force which keeps the ma-
chinery of the state in operation (329).

Dewey, then, is not merely a tabulation of classes. He proceeds
upon definite principles of division that we can recognize even if we
do not, in the light of modern knowledge, always appreciate them.
Henry Evelyn Bliss has been very blunt in his criticism of Dewey.
In The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries he attacks the scheme
on every possible score and concludes:

The Decimal Classification is disqualified as an organization of
knowledge both structurally and functionally. It does not em-
body the natural, scientific, logical, and educational orders. It
fails to apply consistently the fundamental principles of classi-
fication .... It is an antiquated and inadaptable product based
on the plan of an undergraduate of six decades ago and never
coherent or scientific or practical. 4

Much of Mr. Bliss' criticism was directed at the first and second
summaries of Dewey. The lack of proper order of these first hun-
dred divisions are objectionable on theoretical grounds, but in prac-
tice the order of these divisions seems to be of little consequence to
libraries. The order of the main classes means little as far as the
arrangement of the book collection is concerned, because libraries
arrange the main classes to suit themselves. The arrangement of
the second summary is of little consequence because the library user
probably is working within a narrower field than the second summary
provides and therefore does not proceed, let us say, from economics
to transportation, or from North American to South American history.

Even Mr. Bliss concedes that the expansions of Dewey, which come
after the third summary, are an improvement upon the fundamental
structure. He writes:


His [Dewey's] classification has embodied a large amount of
scientific detail, much of which, obtained from specialists or
'experts,' is scientifically correct. Otherwise it would have
attained to less acceptance by scientists .... Subordination
and collocation are manifest in most of these 'expansions,'
but those principles were disregarded in the original, funda-
mental structure. 5

" So much for Dewey's outline of knowledge and principles of division.

The Decimal Classification has also endured because its editors
have been liberal in their policy of expanding old topics and inserting
new ones, but at the same time conservative in their rearrangement of

No matter how comprehensive a classification scheme is in the be-
ginning, it eventually needs revision. The author of a classification
scheme cannot see far beyond the present boundaries of knowledge,
and so his scheme should be expansive and flexible in plan.

The Decimal Classification has had some measure of success in
keeping pace with knowledge by means of revised editions and by
means of quarterly supplements to the latest (16th) edition. It meets
the criterion of expansiveness, in the sense that it readily admits new
subjects or ramifications of old ones. But it is flexible that is, cap-
able of admitting new topics and concepts without dislocation only to
the extent that any enumerative scheme is flexible. The problem of
relocation was concisely stated by the Dewey Classification Editorial
Policy Committee in 1956, as follows:

In the making and editing of any classification, two basic prin-
ciples are constantly in conflict. One is the DC traditional
policy of integrity of numbers, which enables its users to de-
pend on each new edition to include few or no relocations of
topics but to include expansions which are based on the sched-
ules in earlier editions, thereby achieving continuity and avoid-
ing the cost of reclassification. The other principle is the
philosophy of keeping pace with knowledge, which holds that any
classification scheme, to retain its usefulness must, from time
to time, restate or redefine and regroup or rearrange subjects
according to the changed concepts of a new generation. 8

With the exception of the 15th edition, the Decimal Classification
has been revised in keeping with the Committee's first principle, that
of integrity of numbers. Revisions have been in the form of additions
and expansions rather than in alteration of the scheme. Therefore,
although in one sense the Decimal Classification is expansive, in an-
other sense it is rigid. The balance which the editorial policy has
maintained between expansiveness and rigidity is one of the reasons
why the Decimal Classification has endured.

The most significant contribution which Dewey made to


classification was his -decimal concept. Not only has this quality con-
tributed to the endurance of the Decimal Classification; it has also
contributed to the endurance of every classification scheme which has
embodied it. Of this method of subordination, Dewey's biographer,
Fremont Rider, has this to say:

Just what is the essential quality of the Decimal Classification
that has made it so great a contribution to librarianship? To
answer this question it is necessary to distinguish carefully be-
tween the underlying and the superficial; to realize that the
Dewey Decimal Classification, despite its present very wide-
spread use, is, in the long view, a thing of evanescent value; to
see that it was Dewey's basic classificational concept, and not
the details of the schedules in which he embodied that concept,
persuasively ingenious and convincingly logical though these
schedules were, that was his great contribution.

What is this basic and revolutionary concept? He implied it
clearly in his 'memo' to the Amherst faculty a progressively,
and indefinitely more minute, classificational subordination ex-
pressed by means of decimally placed nomenclative characters.
How revolutionary this concept was is the more apparent if we
attach to 'decimally,' as we have used the word, an acquired
meaning broader than its dictionary one, making it inclusive of
all numerical bases instead of merely the ten-digit one. 7

So far I have refrained from mentioning the Library of Congress
classification scheme, but now I must use it as an example. In con-
trast with the Decimal Classification, the Library of Congress scheme
uses what Fremont Rider calls a serial nomenclature; general num-
bers are not provided, only specific ones. The Library of Congress
scheme, then, admirably serves those libraries whose collections
approach the scope and depth of the Library of Congress, but it is not
adaptable to the needs of libraries of a different nature. The follow-
ing comparison of Dewey and Library of Congress classification illus-
trates this point. Suppose a library acquires these five books on
physical geography:

The Principles of Physical Geography

Physical Geography

Practical and Experimental Geography

Introduction to Physical Geography

About this Earth; and Introduction to the Science of Geography

These examples were all taken from the Library of Congress
Catalog: Books - Subjects, and, as their titles indicate, they all deal
with physical geography in general terms. According to the Decimal
Classification, they could be classed 500, or 550, but most likely they
would all be classified 551. Classified according to the Library of
Congress scheme, each of the five books would necessarily have a


different classification number. All are general works on physical
geography published in the twentieth century. The Principles of
Physical Geography is a comprehensive work and classifies in GB53.
Physical Geography is a compend, and therefore goes in GB54.
Practical and Experimental Geography is a textbook and goes in BG55.
Introduction to Physical Geography is also a textbook, but it is a
quarto volume and therefore goes in GB56. And About this Earth is a
popular work and goes in GB59. There is no general number in the
Library of Congress schedule to hold them all together; because they
differ in scope, form, size, and treatment, each must have a different
classification number.

It is the decimal concept, lacking in the Library of Congress
scheme, which makes the Decimal Classification adaptable to the
needs of all sizes and types of libraries, because this concept enables
a library to use broad or close classification, according to its needs.
A library may use only the ten main classes, all 17,928 classes which
the 16th edition provides, or any number of classes between these two

Another quality which has contributed to the widespread acceptance
of the Decimal Classification is its pure notation of arabic numerals.
The use of arabic numerals has not, of course, contributed to its ac-
ceptance in the United States as much as it has in foreign countries.

It is only fair to point out that Dewey's base of ten arabic numerals
is too narrow to permit economical notation. Had he applied the deci-
mal concept in a broader sense and made the letters of the alphabet
his base, a shorter notation would have been possible. Cutter, for
example, used a mixed notation for his Expansive Classification and
used as his base the letters of the alphabet. A comparison of the
divisions provided by notational symbols in the two classification
schemes shows:

Expansive Decimal

One symbol 26

Two symbols 676 O 8

Three symbols 17,576 1,000

Four symbols 456,976 10,000

Five symbols 11,881,176 100,000

Dewey wanted a pure notation, however, even at the sacrifice of a
short one, and it is undoubtedly due to this quality that the Decimal
Classification's notation has become a sort of international language.

Three more qualities which have caused Dewey's scheme to endure
will not be pursued at length. These are its terminology, its index,
and its mnemonic features.

A classification scheme is nothing more than a statement of knowl-
edge in words. Classification therefore is inextricably linked with
semantics. Dewey had a life-long interest in words, both in their


meaning and in their spelling. The precise terminology used to ex-
press his scheme with the exception of the 15th edition undoubtedly
contributed to the scheme's acceptance.

Dewey placed great importance on his index; so emphatic was he on
this point that he leads one to believe that he considered the index
more important than the order of his classes. One of the canons of
classification is that an index to the schedules be provided, and all
usable schemes have them. Dewey's index is essential, but it is not a
substitute for a systematic order of classes.

The mnemonic features which pervade the scheme have proved to
be useful.

Now I am going to digress briefly from my topic. I have been dis-
cussing the qualities of the Decimal Classification which have been
responsible for its endurance. There are two reasons for the endur-
ance of the Decimal Classification which have nothing to do with the
qualities inherent in the scheme. They are Melvil Dewey the man and
the measures he took to assure the continuation of the scheme.

Dewey conceived his classification scheme in 1873, when he was 21
and a junior at Amherst College. His public school education had been
haphazard. The school terms at Adams Center, New York, were short
and change in the teaching staff was frequent. He read everything he
could lay his hands on, but then what could one lay his hands on in a
rural New York community in the mid-nineteenth century? How could
a man with this educational background devise a classification scheme
which has received such universal acceptance? To answer this ques-
tion, one must reckon with Dewey's personal qualities. He had an
encyclopedic mind and an abundance of intellectual curiosity. He was
an organizational genius. And, with the help of a forceful personality,
he was his scheme's best promoter.

A classification scheme needs constant study and revision if it is
to keep abreast of knowledge and survive. Mr. Dewey, through the
Lake Placid Club Education Foundation, provided the funds for the
work of revision, and placed the Decimal Classification on sound
financial footing. The Foundation, in turn, placed the scheme on sound
professional footing in 1937, when it decided to share the control of the
Decimal Classification with the library profession and appointed a
permanent Decimal Classification Editorial Policy Committee, made
up of members of the Foundation and members appointed by the
American Library Association.

In summary and conclusion, I quote Berwick Sayers from his
Manual on Classification:

No one now rushes to defend the D.C. on the grounds of the mod-
ernity of its order or the brevity of its notation. The curious
fact remains that more and more libraries throughout the world
continue to use it, many of them modifying it; somehow it works.
We should fail in our appreciation of services rendered if we did
not say that a scheme which has survived for eighty years in


ever-growing currency in spite of merited criticism must have

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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 8 of 15)