Cataloging & Classification Quarterly

Volume 19 Numbers 3/4 1994



Alan R. Thomas gained the professional qualifications of Associate and then Fellow of the Library Association. He received a research MA in Library and Information Studies from the Queens University of Belfast and an MA in counseling and Guidance from the University of Reading. For many years he served as Head of the Division of Information Retrieval Studies at Ealing College (now Thames Valley University). He has taught at several American library schools, most recently as Associate Professor at St. John's University and currently as Visiting Associate Professor at Pratt Institute, New York. He has published many articles and book reviews and is a member of the editorial board of Cataloging & Classification Quarterly.

Introduction: Exploring the Armamentarium. By Alan R. Thomas
In the course of their professional education, training, reading, and practical experience, many librarians and information specialists may receive little exposure to the range and diversity of library and bibliographic classification. The richness that is available includes different ways of viewing and organizing knowledge, multiple functions of classification, a variety of systems, options within those systems, different procedures for constructing and applying schemes, new means of searching schedules and classified files. Because courses in cataloging and classification necessarily include descriptive cataloging, subject cataloging, and other concerns, their treatment of classification is consequently confined. Usually detailed theoretical and practical attention is given to just one or two classification schemes, with some other systems receiving shorter mention and without supporting practice work. The most-used textbooks tend to accord with the curricular emphases.

Many information professionals work exclusively in specialized areas such as technical services, reader services, or library management. Others may gain more variety according to some "dual-assignment" plan, thus becoming more aware of the difficulties of both the users and the catalogers/classifiers at firsthand. Not only catalogers/classifiers but all library staff members may be required or wish to contribute to decision-making on policies and practices concerning classification. If these professionals lack acquaintance with a span of solutions and are overly conditioned by those used on-site, they may be tempted to conclude too quickly that those adopted systems and procedures are inevitable and as good as can be had. They may not question enough that current local practice, use of established pseudo-standards, and so-called economized technical processing (the latter increasingly utilized partly due to competitive tendering) may repeatedly waste valuable time and energy of service staff and readers.

The intention in presenting this set of papers is to encourage fresh and wider interest in library and bibliographic classification decisions, the extent of choice, and the "best fit" of a system to local factors. It is perhaps timely to reaffirm that the arrangement and optimum navigation of the document collection and its records constitute key resources and responsibilities of the entire library staff. Their active and informed involvement in identifying user approaches, problems, and preferences is essential to any careful decision and implementation. Therefore it is hoped that the gathering of papers may help promote a more participatory propinquity or collocation of subjects, and that not only classifiers and catalogers as such but also reader and bibliographical services staff, library administrators, and others might take part. The "Great American Library Dream" has been described as "that dream of librarians which strives to reveal to readers the subject-contents in books."(1) But how to make that dream come true? Requirements include surveying readers' interests and behavior, considering how successful are the local policies and procedures in force, and then confirming, adapting, adopting or fashioning apt organizations of knowledge (explicit in the form of classifications, covert in the guise of syndetic references to and from related subject access points).

Information required for making choices in classification may be said to fall into two broad kinds: external information and internal information. External information includes appreciation of the available and the emerging technical repertory-that armamentarium used to withstand and more nearly accommodate turbulent changes in knowledge and user needs. Many theories and systems, whether old or new, have some relevance for today and therefore, first or closer acquaintance with them constitute useful "new" experiences. Internal environmental information relates to the current and future functions of the particular library or information center, characteristics of the collections, the performance and acceptability of the system in present use, and specific requirements or preferences of staff and users of various categories and levels. The individual reader must indeed "remain a 'gray' and 'ghostlike' individual until defined as to intelligence, interests, and motivation."(2) Comparative assessment of possible solutions, including those already employed, may be made and sample trials carried out on the most promising systems. Feedback on experience with Dewey Decimal Classification and Library of Congress Classification is widely available though there is need for more hard information as to why and how libraries use the internal options of those schemes. For lesser known classifications, some degree of reality-testing may be gleaned from visits, interviews, correspondence, and reading the reports of adoptions and modifications by other libraries and centers.

This collection of papers is necessarily limited and identifies, describes, and discusses only some of the variety of options and investigative approaches. Many more are being discovered, rediscovered, written about, devised, refined, researched, and evaluated. Some schemes are highly specialized and purposefully drawn up for individual collections yet embody partially transferable thought-provoking notions, structures, and devices. Advances in technology render further enhancements and innovations certain.

The enthusiasm and cooperation of the contributors in sharing their "gifts differing" is acknowledged with thanks, as is the sustained patience and guidance provided by Dr. Ruth C. Carter, editor of Cataloging & Classification Quarterly. Numerous arguments with former colleagues Pat Booth, James Shearer, Mary South, John Shinebourne, and Pnina Wentz always generated light rather than heat; the jury is still out on most of the issues.

The Contents List is just like any other classified arrangement in that certain contributions could have been placed equally well in other sections, clear cases for alternative location. The series or array of the sections themselves might have been ordered differently, while within each paper alternative sequencing of text would doubtless have suited certain readers better. The opening section, BASIC DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS, presents ideas and principles concerning the function, assessment, design, and construction of classifications. It is hoped that the papers therein may raise some of the initial questions for those with established library collections who are wondering whether to retain their present scheme or switch to a different system (in both cases with or without modifications). It is also hoped that those privileged and challenged to select or create a system for a quite new information center or library will find some clarification and benefit. Some relative weighing of particular schemes is included in the section Combination Platters and Reclassification.

The next section, OPTIONS WITHIN STANDARD CLASSIFICATION SYSTEMS, covers the Library of Congress Classification and the Dewey Decimal Classifications. Because these two are used so much and emphasized in basic textbooks and consequently their general features well known, the focus of the contributed papers is on choices available in these systems. A paper considering the Library of Congress versus Dewey decision appears in the Combination Platters and Reclassification section, while a description of electronic Dewey has been placed in the last section Classification and the New Technology.

ALTERNATE CLASSIFICATION SYSTEMS are generally less well known and therefore their chief contexts, characteristics, and developments are described. This section includes classifications intended for wide adoption as well as some prepared for particular local settings. The review of reader interest classifications, which frequently co-exist with the Dewey Decimal Classification, is placed last so as to immediately precede the next section. That section COMBINATION PLATTERS AND RECLASSIFICATION covers use of multiple classifications within the same institution or even the same collection and includes also the related decision and planning of reclassification. The last section, CLASSIFICATION AND THE NEW TECHNOLOGY, features firstly a review which includes the present and potential support from our trusty "Three Musketeers"-the computer, telecommunications, and information storage technologies. A second paper provides a guide to features of electronic Dewey.

Kelley, well experienced in both classifying and readers' advisory work, investigated the contribution of classification in her day. Her holistic approach and creative skepticism may perhaps find some echo and extension in recent books by librarian Thomas Mann.(3)(4) Though Kelley identified many limitations she later concluded: "As I pondered thus upon the unified nature of library service, I discovered that classification could be thought of only in relation to the part it contributed to a final goal. Again it resumed a kind of central position; but this time, instead of resuming also its separate entity, it seemed to radiate throughout the structure shafts of illumination, lighting up and strengthening all library service. It seemed to me that classification could be made to reinforce the framework of our service and prevent the whole from collapsing into a formless and undirected tangle." (5)

Today there beckons a replete repertoire available of principles, perspectives, models, applications, practices, feedback, and research results. Searchable specifications from several schemes and thesauri may be added to a record, diverse strategic paths for a literature search devised, displayed and recorded to suit group and individual preferences. The contribution of classification now and increasingly offers added value, variety, and versatility.


1. Grace O. Kelley, The Classification of Books: An Inquiry into its Usefulness to the Reader. (New York: Wilson, 1937), 5.
2. Grace O. Kelley, 'The Classification of Books in Retrospect and in Prospect A Tool and a Discipline". In, William M. Randall, ad. The Acquisition and Cataloging of Books. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), 163-186, p. 169.
3. Thomas Mann, A Guide to Library Research Methods. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).
4. Thomas Mann, Library Research Models: A Guide to Classification, Cataloging, and Computers. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
5. Grace O. Kelley, "The Classification of Books in Retrospect and in Prospect: A Tool and a Discipline," p. 164.

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