Cataloging & Classification Quarterly

Volume 42, no. 3/4, 2006

 


 

Preface by Joan S. Mitchell



Moving beyond the Presentation Layer: Preface

In this special double issue of Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, a group of authors drawn broadly from the knowledge organization community explores the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system from a number of perspectives. In doing so, each peels away a bit of the "presentation layer"—the familiar linear notational sequence—to expose the content and context offered by the DDC.

In the physical environment, the Dewey notation provides part of the shelf address in open stack, classified arrangements. On the shelves, the access mechanism and the documents are part of the same system—the Dewey context is integrated with the physical content. In the electronic environment, there is frequently a disconnect between the access mechanism and the documents themselves in terms of integration of content and granularity of representation. Often, a description of the document and not the document itself is linked to the Dewey notation. The broad summary of the DDC is frequently used as an online browsing/informational tool, but the explicit mention/absence of topics at the three-digit level obscures the richness of DDC categories and relationships at deeper levels.

As the DDC is considered for new uses, the question arises—can Dewey evolve to meet the needs of the complex emerging information environment? Is the DDC a rigid, hierarchical structure best suited to a physical information environment, or a polymorphic one that can meet a variety of physical and virtual needs? How can the content and context offered by Dewey be used effectively in the electronic information environment? What improvements need to be made to the DDC?

These questions and others are explored as the authors look beyond Dewey's presentation layer in this special issue of Cataloging & Classification Quarterly. The issue is divided into three parts: an introduction, an international perspective, and a web perspective. These are categories of convenience and are not mutually exclusive-every author has an international perspective, and nearly every author mentions the impact of the web on current and future developments and uses of the classification. In the introductory section, three distinguished professors with a long history of teaching and research in classification take an in-depth look at the DDC in terms of its role in online uses of classification, the nature of the Relative Index, and the challenges of teaching the system to new librarians, respectively. In Markey's review of forty years of classification online, she laments the field's failure to embrace classification in online systems for end users and concludes with recommendations to ensure the viability of the DDC and other classification systems in a time of mass digitization. Miksa explores the development of the Relative Index over the twenty-two editions of the DDC, and notes its considerable power in representing concepts in the system and providing context to those concepts. Taylor reviews the various methods employed by her and others to teach the DDC. She concludes that it is worth teaching about classification in general and the DDC in particular because there is a need to categorize recorded knowledge and the DDC is a satisfying tool for that purpose.

In the next section ("An International Perspective"), the authors look at special issues related to the use of the DDC in several countries (Trinidad and Tobago, Switzerland, and Germany, respectively). This is a small slice of Dewey's worldwide usage (the DDC is currently used in 138 countries), but the papers highlight a number of issues related to localization and interoperability of the system that can be generalized to other areas. Nero outlines the challenges faced by classifying the music of Trinidad and Tobago, where local literary warrants outstrips the general literary warrant used as the basis for development of the standard English-language edition of the DDC. Landry discusses the return (after nearly ninety years) of use of the DDC in the National Library of Switzerland and as the organizing tool for the Swiss national bibliography. Heiner-Freiling discusses use of the DDC in an environment in which Dewey has not been (and will not likely be) used for physical location and explores the implications for assignment of multiple numbers and parts of notation.

In the final section ("A Web Perspective"), authors associated with projects in virtual locations in Europe and North America discuss the content and context offered by Dewey on the web. In each of the projects, the DDC is used as the underlying browsing mechanism for resource discovery. Koch, Golub, and Ardö describe user browsing behavior in Renardus, a service originally funded by the European Union for searching across subject gateways. Nicholson, Dawson, and Shiri discuss using Dewey as the spine for an end-user terminology service in a JISC-funded project in the UK. Zeeman and Turner describe using Dewey to manage web resources related to Canada and Canadian culture, and note some challenges related to localization. Co-editor Vizine-Goetz reports on a prototype multilingual browser based on the DDC and linked to a variety of demonstration databases (including the DDC itself). When reading the four papers in this final section, one cannot help but wonder if current social classifications are just another set of vocabularies for which a language—independent international standard such as the DDC might provide a useful underlying switching language.

We wish to thank the authors who helped us "move beyond the presentation layer" in exploring the past, present, and future of the Dewey Decimal Classification. We are grateful to Julianne Beall, Michael Cantlon, and Winton E. Matthews, Jr., for comments on selected papers. We also thank Robert Bolander, Robin Cornette, and Carol Hickey for their invaluable assistance in producing this special issue.


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