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Classifying toward an Ensemble of Works: an essay on the centrality of classification in organizing knowledge
 

Classifying toward an Ensemble of Works: an essay on the centrality of classification in organizing knowledge

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Ordering large numbers of things and classification. Spatial arrangements of objects versus knowledge organization subordinated by classification schemes. Classifying the interdisciplinary book. Henry ...

Ordering large numbers of things and classification. Spatial arrangements of objects versus knowledge organization subordinated by classification schemes. Classifying the interdisciplinary book. Henry Evelyn Bliss. Disciplines and the relative stability of knowledge. Call number versus barcode number.

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    Classifying toward an Ensemble of Works: an essay on the centrality of classification in organizing knowledge Classifying toward an Ensemble of Works: an essay on the centrality of classification in organizing knowledge Document Transcript

    • Classifying toward an Ensemble of Works: an essay about the centrality of classification in organizing knowledge by Gwen Williams, April 2004 email: seealso@me.com In a 2001 interview, when asked about the tasks for future catalogers and those who educate them, Kathryn Luther Henderson replied, As I have observed the transition from card/book catalogs to the online catalog, it seems to me that we no longer are as concerned about “the making of a catalog” as a whole tool—a tool of integrity. Today, emphasis seems to be on grabbing a record and putting it into a database without much thought about the influence of that record upon the whole catalog.1 As we have learned in our cataloging classes, Cutter’s objects of the card/book catalog are the basis for four broad functions of the catalog: identifying or finding known items, collocating or gathering together every manifestation of a work, enabling catalog users in evaluating or selecting specific manifestations of a work, and locating desired items through class number assignment. One might say that the first three functions of the catalog work together in facilitating discovery of works, and that the fourth function facilitates desired actual possession of catalogued works, serving as it does as the conduit between the catalog and the actual works shelved. Patrons must, one imagines, approach the catalog with two things in mind—to find what they can get, and where they can get it—that correspond rather well to the functions of the catalog: for discovery and eventual actual 1 Mark Jacobs, “Cataloging and Classification Standards and Practices, Library and Information Science Education, and a Student Legacy: An Interview with Kathryn Luther Henderson,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 1 (2001), p. 12. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 1
    • possession of works. We cannot, of course, know absolutely what patrons are thinking, for as Robert Holley has succinctly observed, “more patrons use the online catalog than ask a reference question.”2 But we can be reasonably certain that they want to ultimately know “where are all the books.”3 If we believe Holley’s assertion, than the construction of the catalog is of primary importance for patrons and for libraries. I would go so far as to say that it is the primary public service tool that libraries can offer their patrons. I believe that conceptualizing the catalog as a whole tool—as something beyond grabbing individual bibliographic records and submitting them to a database—relies upon an appreciation for and understanding of the classification scheme that brings (or can bring) all works in a library into an ensemble of works. For class number assignment is not just labeling an item with a shelve-locator number, but rather class number assignment determines how the entire ensemble of works are placed in relation to each other, and in 2Robert P. Holley, “Cataloging: An Exciting Subject for Exciting Times,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 1/2 (2002), p. 44. 3 A question asked of me during the Spring 2004 University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign Library Welcome Desk by a student. Well actually he said, or sort of exclaimed, or sort enunciated each and every word except for the article, while glancing around at the 1st floor t-junction in the Main Library, “So, Where Are All the Books?” Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 2
    • relation to the whole library.4 As Ranganathan once observed, Dewey’s work in decimal classification marked a crucial moment in the classification of books because books were no longer placed in relation to location on shelves, but in relation to other books vis-à-vis subject contents.5 Moreover, if shelf-location were the raison d’être of class number assignment, than the organizational schemes of pre-nineteenth century libraries and of current archives, museums, and library acquisition department records, would have surely sufficed in that such organizational schemes indicate shelf-location quite well. One may ask, so what would be the point in examining library classification schemes, the differences between subject-arrangement of books on shelves and shelf locator arrangements, or how class number assignment influences construction of the catalog as a whole tool of integrity? Some 4 A related line of inquiry, which I will simply mention here, would be to examine explicitly the historical emergence of library and book classification schemes in the late-nineteenth century against the backdrop of the emergence of public libraries and open stacks in various countries. That is, Anthony Grafton suggests there exist a connection between open stacks and closed stacks, noting that, “In Germany, unlike the United States and England, the books in large university libraries are usually stored in order of acquisition, not in systematic subject groupings. The stacks, which remain inaccessible to readers, serve only as storehouses.” Grafton, The Footnote: A Curious History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), pg. 11. The library-specific shelf-location/classification schemes of The Research Libraries, The New York Public Library, as discussed by Karen Hsu, supports the claim that ‘shelf-locator-classifications’ of books are often adequate for closed stacks arrangements, but inadequate for open stacks: “The Research Libraries (RL) is privately funded and is a closed stack, non-circulating library. It generally collects one copy only of each title. The readers are not allowed to browse the stacks, and every item requested by readers is paged by the library staff.” Hsu, “The Classification Schemes of The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 134. 5 S.R. Ranganathan, “Library Classification on the March.” Essays in Librarianship: in memory of William Charles Berwick Sayers. Ed., D.J. Foskett and B.I. Palmer. London: The Library Association, 1961: 72-95. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 3
    • might even suggest that classification has seen its better days, solved by the late-nineteenth century and early-twentieth century devisers of classification schemes, and superseded by the plethora of automated tools built for search and retrieval of character strings of information, including information from bibliographic and holdings records pointing toward bibliographic items held in any given library. As a recently graduated librarian, I would concur with what Michael Gorman and others writing about library education have also made clear in the literature: the course offerings and program requirements for many library and information science schools suggest not only the devaluation currently accorded to cataloging in general, but also the devaluation of various related concepts and techniques such as the classifying of library resources. So classification seems irrelevant, and therefore a futile subject for an essay on librarianship. Certainly Ellen Waite, Vice President for Academic Services and University Librarian at Loyola University, in her article many of us are aware of, “Reinvent Catalogers,” maintains as much: The reality of classification is that once a library reaches a critical size, the classification of books is not too meaningful. Once a library opens a branch, the classification becomes even less relevant. Furthermore, the more interdisciplinary the book, the more inadequate and immaterial the subject headings and classification. Even the uniqueness of the call number is less important now that barcodes are applied to each and every book.6 Waite also assures her readers that she knows of what she speaks by the mere fact that she once was a cataloger. Let us grant Waite two things: she was once a cataloger and she is now the top administrator of library expenditures at a university library. Insofar as her opinion on classification and its integral role in the organization and management of library holdings, we should 6 Waite, Ellen, “Reinvent Catalogers,” Library Journal (November 1, 1995), p. 37. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 4
    • consider it carefully and should be able to easily see how faulty, and thus crucial to know, her opinions on classification are.7 Regarding the relation between ordering large numbers of things and classification Waite offers this statement—seemingly based on a peculiar interpretation about the theory of the law of large numbers—as evidence that classification schemes in libraries are irrelevant: “The reality of classification is that once a library reaches a critical size, the classification of books is not too meaningful.”8 This statement reveals much, including a lack of understanding of the classification of things in general, and of the classification of books in libraries in particular. I, and perhaps many other persons interested in libraries and the production of books, would claim the opposite. That is, as the number of things collected increases, the need for a sound classificatory arrangement increases. Perhaps an analogy would reveal the questionable nature of Waite’s assertion. Let us imagine a very large library with a very large numbers of things: say, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library and its reported 10 million volumes held. Let us then imagine a task much larger than, and involving infinitely more persons than, the classification of 10 million volumes in a solitary library: let us imagine the very large numbers of 7 In the spirit of most sound rhetoricians, I think a good strategy (beyond the accompanying use the footnote apparatus) for refuting Waite’s claims would be through the deployment of the following tactical sequence: considering her statements, parsing them, mulling them around, examining the assumptions on which they are based, and then proceeding with refuting such shaky assumptions, and thus of her general overall opinion. This is what I shall aim to do, and along the way I hope to accomplish my overarching aim for this essay: to examine how class number assignment by the cataloger influences the construction of the catalog as a whole tool of integrity. 8 Waite, p. 37. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 5
    • death of persons worldwide. By Waite’s logic, the classification of deaths, for just a solitary year, would seem to be an impossible and worthless task. Of course, as we know, the WHO, medical practitioners, mortality rate calculators, insurance companies, and criminal prosecutors would differ—as would Bowker and Star, researchers that explain the functions and purposes of the International Classification of Diseases and its connections to the classifying of deaths. 9 Yes, the classification of deaths has assured that it is illegitimate for a coroner to record the cause of death of any person as “dying of a broken heart,” or “death by fright,” or “death by the tiredness associated with old age,” or “he was simply worn out.”10 Moreover, epidemiologists would maintain that the classification of deaths, on a worldwide scale (enter the WHO), is crucial for the implementation of isolation and quarantine procedures that ones imagine most everyone would believe desirable for identifying highly communicable fatal diseases. To return to Waite’s observation about a library reaching “a critical size,” it seems she could also be suggesting a tipping point, if you will, that when reached, indicates that bringing books into order via a classification scheme is useless. I might venture to guess that Waite is perhaps confusing evidence of the inadequacy of certain classification schemes for certain libraries. She is perhaps confusing the use of somewhat illogical classification schemes with the necessity for classification, by perhaps 9 Bowker, Geoffrey C. and Susan Leigh Star, Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences, Cambridge, Mass.:MIT Press, 2000. 10 Likewise death by wolf bite, death by drowning in a bath tub, death by fast living, death by spontaneous combustion, death by order of the king, and death by the street, have all fallen out of favor for classifying the manner in which persons die. Moreover, all such phrases have also fallen out of common everyday speech for discussing the manner in which persons die: it appears illegitimate for persons gathering at the funeral home to discuss the deceased as dying “from simply being worn out,” or “from spontaneous combustion.” The discussions in funeral homes concern the very specific and legitimate terms (the controlled vocabulary) as determined by the International Classification of Diseases and its typing of the causes for mortality. Ibid. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 6
    • referring to ample evidence provided by other library practitioners that various general classification schemes oftentimes do not serve to sensibly order books for an entire library.11 For example, as Winke points out, many libraries have intentionally deployed multiple classification schemes for their holdings: The institutions that have intentionally adopted multiple classification schemes can be categorized as falling into one of the three major groups. The first is composed of libraries that choose to shelve their government documents or technical reports by preassigned numbers. The second includes libraries that retain DDC for some materials, and LCC for other materials. The third category is comprised of libraries that implemented additional schemes when it became apparent that the existing classification scheme in use did not adequately cover the library’s needs.12 Waite’s observation about an abstract tipping point may also perhaps be a reference to the spectacular disorder that can result from increasing the number of books inadequately classified, a situation for which the literature on classification and critiques of existing classification schemes are replete with examples of the inadequacy of various classification schemes, such as 11See Langridge, Derek W. “Alternative Starting Points in Classification,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 7-15. 12Winke, R. Conrad, “Intentional Use of Multiple Classification Schemes in United States Libraries,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 159. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 7
    • DDC and LCC, for soundly and deeply handling some broad classes of knowledge.13 To sum, the assumption that collecting and ordering large numbers of things (e.g. books) in one place (a library) will reach eventually reach a point where classification is meaningless is faulty. Rather, classification schemes enable the meaningful collecting and ordering of large numbers of things (e.g. books, deaths, economic industrial measures, educational curricula, and biological flora, fauna, and creatures to save from extinction, and etc.). Regarding the multiple branches or dispersed rooms case and the classification of books: or, a red herring by any other name Waite makes an assertion that seems so common among many librarians and library educators as to preclude the necessity for quoting her, but in the interest of academic honesty, let me quote: “Once a library opens a branch, the classification becomes even less relevant.”14 This assertion seems to be based on conceiving of a bibliographic classification scheme as solely 13See Bliss, Henry Evelyn,The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries and the Subject-approach to Books, 2nd ed. (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1939); Bliss, .A Bibliographic Classification, Vol. I (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1940); Kelley, Grace O., The Classification of Books (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1937); Ranganathan, “Library Classification on the March”; Ranganathan, Prolegomena to Library Classification, 2nd edition (London: The Library Association, 1957); and Richardson, Ernest Cushing, Classification: Theoretical and Practical, together with an Appendix containing an Essay towards a Bibliographical History of Systems of Classification, 3rd ed. (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1930). 14 Waite, p. 37. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 8
    • and entirely a shelf-location scheme. 15 Certainly the fourth function of the catalog, as previously mentioned, enables patrons to locate desired items through class assignment, serving as it does as a conduit between the catalog and the actual works shelved. However, assignment of class number for a book differs in theory and should differ in practice from the assignment of a shelf-locator number. As the classificationists have maintained, assignment of a classification number places books in relation to each other by virtue of a subject-approach to books, rather than a shelving-location approach to books. Moreover, the CIP data on a multitude of books published in many countries around the world includes the suggested assignment of DDC and LCC class numbers: I imagine that if the class number be solely a shelf- locating number that this practice would be entirely without utility, as obviously multiple libraries might base class number assignment on this data, despite idiosyncratic arrangements of bookshelves in their own facilities. Furthermore, the use of classification schemes to enable meaningful online browsing structures for library patrons suggests that the assignment of class numbers to resources facilitates something beyond merely providing a shelf-locator number. For example, as Broadbent points out, “classification or call number browsing in the online catalog can serve as viable search options.”16 She further suggests that a possible use of classification numbers and subject headings would be the utilization of chain indexing, by “linking 15 A phenomena that is not without its challengers. For one of the latest, see Langridge, “The American method is satisfied with much broader classes, for shelf arrangement only, and it leaves precise specification of subjects to alphabetical headings in the catalogue. . . American pragmatism contrasts with a more rigorously systematic approach common in the European countries. Europe looks to a philosophic foundation for classification schemes. Such a basis is not considered important in America though study of American classification in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries will show that this was not always the case. . . [Bliss] was a prophet without honour in his own land,” p. 9. 16 Broadbent, Elaine, “Classification Access in the Online Catalog,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 2 (1995), p. 127. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 9
    • controlled subject headings—topical, name, geographic—to an appropriate classification number,” essentially creating a classified catalog for patron searching and browsing. 17 Koh suggests similar possibilities for using classification schemes in electronic environments, exploring in depth the possibilities for system designs and user searching options: Theoretically and technologically there are good options available for the use of a classification scheme online in effective information system design and in conjunction with subject heading and keyword searching. Using an online classification system as a subject searching tool can turn the catalog into both a classified catalog and a dictionary catalog, and thus the library can have the best of both worlds. This supports the recent emerging consensus that the most powerful retrieval method is a combination of controlled alphabetical vocabulary, classification, and uncontrolled keywords.18 Koh also discusses the use of classification schemes for enhancing retrieval of not only bibliographic records, but also of “virtual reality,” or digitalized, resources in various multi-media formats. 19 Witten and Bainbridge, advocates of the open source Greenstone digital library software, call attention to one of most attractive features of this particular software: the pre- programmed capability provided to collection-builders (librarians, or otherwise) for incorporating the use of classificatory structures to order the 17 Ibid, p. 124. 18Koh, Gertrude, “Options in Classification Available Through Modern Technology,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 208. 19 Ibid, p. 203-206. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 10
    • digital objects collected and to thus enable patron-browsing of such classificatory structures.20 The use of classification schemes to enable meaningful online browsing and searching structures for library patrons is evident in many interfaces designed to facilitate searching of electronic periodical literature. For example, the following interface is provided for all who would venture to search the JSTOR database of full-text articles. This interface includes a listing of disciplinary branches of knowledge—a listing that appears remarkable similar to a general knowledge classification scheme, at the level of the main classes. Whatever main classes are omitted, Physics, for example, attest to the fact that the discipline of physics does not have literature represented in the collection JSTOR has amassed. 20 Witten, Ian H. and David Bainbridge, How to Build a Digital Library (Amsterdam: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2003), p. 116-118, 336-341. I have used Greenstone in a digital libraries course, Spring 2003, GSLIS, UIUC, to build a digital collection of English Emblem Books, and can therefore attest to the flexibility of its browsing structure capabilities (classified and alphabetical). See Sandhu, Tahir and Gwen Williams, The English Emblem Books Digital Library: A Final Report (2003), http://www.scribd.com/doc/19461499/The-English-Emblem-Books-Digital- Library-a-Final-Report Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 11
    • In short, the claim that physical dispersal of a library’s holdings into separate spaces (a branch, or different room) somehow alters the class number assigned to the subjects of the books seems to be confusing (a) the spatial arrangement of classified objects with (b) the succinct and codified assignment given by an abstract assessment of the branch of knowledge to which books (or digital objects, or periodical literature) are subordinated by classification schemes. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 12
    • Regarding the ‘problem’ of classifying the ‘interdisciplinary’ book: or, are we talking about a unicorn? One of the truly most pleasurable times during my library and information science studies was the time I spent studying the work of Henry Evelyn Bliss. Not only was the Bliss Bibliographic Classification fascinating to read—yes, one could read the schedules, as well as use the schedules—it was a joy to read. Beyond the development of his systematic classification scheme, Bliss also researched, thought, and wrote about the history of the classification of knowledge, assessments of other classification schemes, matters such as “the subject index illusion,” and the firm belief that librarians would have to know that the cataloging and classifying of books was apt to change and that such change should be anticipated and planned and carried out. He also wrote about the necessity for librarians to work collaboratively, advocating cooperative descriptive cataloging classifying and subject cataloging. One of the fundamental principles that Bliss maintained, which his contemporary classificationists disagreed with, was the following with respect to devising a bibliographic classification scheme: But even natural and scientific classifications have conceptual elements in them. They [(bibliographic classification schemes)] should conform as closely as possible to the classifications of natural objects and relations that are established in the consensus of scientists and educators in the organization of knowledge and thought. Such comprehensive classifications are available and adaptable to many interests and purposes. They are not only more available to the several divergent interests and purposes, and more efficient in serving them; but in their general classes they are more stable and permanent, because they are more comprehensive, adaptive, and developmental. Moreover in their special details they tend to become more stable as the relevant theories become better verified and as the knowledge comprised in them becomes more definitely organized.21 21 Bliss, A Bibliographic Classification, Volume I, p. 12. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 13
    • That is to say, Bliss maintained the relative stability and permanence of the organization of knowledge, as determined by the disciplines themselves, over time. In other words, Bliss was the classificationist with the most penetrating look into the past, in order to determine the present state of knowledge for which he labored to devise a systematic bibliographic classification scheme. I suspect it not chance that where so many of his contemporary classificationists saw a chaotic vastness of knowledge seemingly ever shifting, ever changing, Bliss saw relative stability and permanence in the order of things. Enter the observation by Waite, and admittedly, others: “the more interdisciplinary the book, the more inadequate and immaterial the subject headings and classification.”22 I should note that with respect to subject headings—and the necessity for revisions in this particular type of controlled vocabulary—is a point well taken. Since subject headings are not the subject of this essay, let me conclude my remarks on this by conceding agreement that subject headings can become irrelevant over time and can thus require revision as knowledge alters and produces different expressions of subjects proper. But subject headings are vastly different than a classification scheme. And Bliss would reply to the supposed problem of classifying the interdisciplinary book thusly: But new subjects do not spring whole from the waves like the goddess Venus. They usually grow out of prior studies, problems, and organizations of knowledge and thought; they are developments; and accordingly they are developmentally, if not logically, subordinate. They may usually be adjusted to preexisting classes and sections. Later the new names many supplant the prior names. Classifications develop by adjustment, or adaptation, and by branching, rather than by addition of new insular, self- 22 Waite, p. 37. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 14
    • contained specialties; they grow by division and subordination rather than by difference and coordination.23 At the risk of seeming to pull out the big guns against our Loyola University Library administrator, in the event that the work of Bliss does not persuade the reader, let us defer to the work of Gaston Bachelard, from whence proceed philosophical groundings, in large part, for the later works by individuals knowledgeable about the classification of things, such as François Jacob, Michel Foucault, and Ian Hacking.24 Bachelard argues that the organization of knowledge is not very accurately characterized as a chaotic vastness seemingly ever shifting and ever changing, launching into the atmosphere new goddesses from its waves. Rather, the nature of knowledge is characterized by its relative stability and permanence, if not outright normalization: The scientific border is not so much a limit than a zone of particularly active thoughts, a domain of assimilation. . . It is moreover very easy to prove that the scientific thought is by essence a thought on the way to assimilation, a thought that attempts transcendences, that supposes the reality before the known and that knows not that it is a realization of its supposition.25 23 Bliss, A Bibliographic Classification, Volume I, p. 32. 24 Jacob, François, The Possible and the Actual (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994); Foucault, Michel, The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language, translated by A.M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972); and Hacking, Ian, “College de France—Enseignment—Sciences philosophiques et sociologiques—Philosophie et historie des concepts scientifiques —Ian Hacking,” online 21 April 2004, http://www.college-de-france.fr/site/phi_his/ p998922592913.htm 25 Bachelard, Gaston, “Critique préliminaire du concept de frontière épistémologique.” In Études (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1970), p. 80; translation is mine. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 15
    • A quick visit to the website of the National Academy of Sciences, or a discussion with nearly any professor or student of the humanities—for which the canonical is a fundamental concept for ordering knowledge, scholarship, and teaching—should only confirm that the troublesome problem of classifying the interdisciplinary book appears to be an object visible mostly to librarians, rather than to practitioners of the disciplines themselves.26 In other words, should we heed the advice of Bliss and look toward the “consensus of scientists and educators in the organization of knowledge”27 —in the organization of books in libraries? Should we take patron-centered mission statements as serious as that? Regarding the sad state of affairs when a former cataloger ponders dumping the call number for the barcode number This hardly seems a secret, but Waite’s opinion about the classification of books seems to rest on a basic assumption that equates a call number with a shelf-locator number. Let us, for the sake of examining the perhaps most absurd statement of the regrettable and unforgettable four, agree with this assumption. For a moment, let us imagine that yes, a call number is exclusively a shelf-locator number. We can even imagine workers in a library somewhere, affixing shelf- locator numbers to books flying before their very eyes. This shelf-locator system corresponds, strangely enough, with the large shelf-unit-identifiers stenciled on the shelving unit ends—sensible shelf-unit-identifiers such as 26One imagines that the perceptions of patrons on the overall organization of knowledge in libraries should be of interest, if not of central, concern for patron- centered librarians. For a unique perspective, that of a doctor of education, on the possibilities of designing classification schemes for libraries, see Short, Edmund C., “Knowledge and the Educational Purposes of Higher Education: Implications for the Design of a Classification Scheme,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 19, no.3/4 (1995), p. 59-66. 27 Bliss, A Bibliographic Classification, Volume I, p. 12. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 16
    • N1, N2, N3, N4 (the N being mnemonic for perpendicular to the north28)—as well as with the large shelf-identifiers stenciled on each individual shelf. An example of an individual shelf-locator number affixed to an individual book is: N34:27. Short, sweet, much shorter than DDC and LCC call numbers, many anonymous library administrators murmur.29 The shelf-locator-number- system log clerk does not share the administrators’ sentiments as he struggles to keep the sequential, unique number assignment log, not very short at all, in proper order and up to date; and dreams of ways to try to persuade Human Resources to change his job title from The Keeper of the Log. Then one day an enthusiastic librarian and even more enthusiastic salesperson enter the Log Room, rolls of barcodes hanging from their wrists like sassy bangle bracelets, barcode-scanners perched on their shoulders. In no time at all, the cheerful two explain and demo the method of barcoding books, the automated linking function from scanner to bibliographic record, the ease with which the stickers can be applied. Better still, the Log Room workers are told, the barcoding of books will replace the tedious shelf-locator number system, because just like the shelf-locator number, the barcode is a unique identifier. Over the din a voice from an unknown cubicle hollers out, the ISBN is a unique identifier, too, why not shelve books by that? Undeterred, the cheerful two descend upon The Keeper of the Log, to deliver 28 Alas, the deviser of this perpendicular to north schema neglected to realize the shelves are actually perpendicular to the south, while still another enterprising library employee—a patron-centered library employee—astutely observed one day that patrons are actually facing due east or due west when browsing the shelves for shelf-locator numbers affixed to books and proposed the shelves should really have been identified by Es and Ws. 29Not any shorter than a Bliss, a disgruntled library worker scrawls in lipstick across the library bathroom mirrors. This is, coincidently, the same library worker who likes to rip sheets of scrap paper up loudly and a bit dramatically, just to see if her co-workers will come running, alarmed at the sound of paper being ripped inside a library. They never do. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 17
    • the good news: his position will be upgraded, his title will be changed, and he will get a new locker because he is being transferred to the reference desk. The soon-to-be reference desk worker looks at the rolls of barcodes and asks the salesperson a question: what’s the significance of the 14 digit string of characters making up a barcode? Nothing much: the last nine digits in the string are randomly assigned—never repeated of course. The Keeper of the Log frowns and then asks: how are we to order the books, uniquely identified by the barcodes, on the shelves? By barcode number order, of course. So the barcodes are produced in sequential, running number order, even though the last nine digits are randomly assigned? Oh my, no—we were wondering if you could devise, before you transfer to reference next Tuesday, a sorting operation of the barcodes of some sort, or some sort of shelving/sorting operation where books newly barcoded could be matched with its place in the sequence of books already shelved, you know, just some simple procedures of a sort. Finally, the Keeper of the Log asks, probably thinking ahead with newly discovered optimism to his new assignment: So the barcode will display in the OPAC? Urr, humph, well, we will add that to next month’s meeting agenda on next fiscal year’s budget—jot that down, could you, thanks. In the end, there is finally this most amazing Grace In a moment of temporary stupidity, fueled I am certain by a mild outrage, I had forgotten entirely about Waite’s article, “Reinvent Catalogers.” I had, so it seems, relegated her article to the landfill section of my memory overflowing with forgettable readings forced upon me by various circumstances. She was probably sandwiched somewhere between readings defining in excruciating detail the ready reference question and Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. But when I initially proposed this essay—or something like this essay—my teacher, Linda LaPuma Bial, reminded me to look into Waite again. The barcode reference clinched it and I decided that Waite’s simple sentences would make the grounds for my essay, for she had composed in prose, short, sweet, the fundamental reasons for why I seemed Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 18
    • compelled to write about classification in the first place. Waite had encapsulated much of what I discovered existed throughout the literature on libraries—mainly, unfounded and unknowing declarations about the classification of knowledge in general and the classification of books in libraries in particular. And I also came to believe that her opinions on classification were evidence of that which Mrs. Henderson had observed, that concern for the making of the catalog as a whole tool of integrity appeared if not diminished, then at least diminishing, among librarians and library educators. Best of all, the focus on Waite’s opinions allowed me to return once again to not only Bliss, but also to one of his favorite interlocutors, Grace Kelley. After slogging through the four statements by Waite, it seems appropriate to end on a pleasurable three: 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.30 30Kelley, “The Classification of Books in Retrospect and in Prospect: A Tool and a Discipline,” in, William M. Randall, ed., The Acquisition and Cataloging of Books (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), p. 164. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 19
    • References Gaston Bachelard, “Critique préliminaire du concept de frontière épistémologique.” In Études (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1970), p. 77-85. Henry Evelyn Bliss, A Bibliographic Classification, Vol. I, New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1940. ____, A Bibliographic Classification, Vol. II, New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1947. ____, A Bibliographic Classification, Vol. III, New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1953. ____, The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences, with introduction by John Dewey, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1929. ____, The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries and the Subject-approach to Books, 2nd ed., New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1939. Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star, Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences, Cambridge, Mass.:MIT Press, 2000. Elaine Broadbent, “Classification Access in the Online Catalog,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 2 (1995), p. 119- Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language, translated by A.M. Sheridan Smith, New York: Pantheon Books, 1972. Anthony Grafton, The Footnote: A Curious History, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997. Robert P. Holley, “Cataloging: An Exciting Subject for Exciting Times,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 1/2 (2002), p. 44. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 20
    • Karen M. Hsu, “The Classification Schemes of The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 133-142. Francois Jacob, The Possible and the Actual, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994. Mark Jacobs, “Cataloging and Classification Standards and Practices, Library and Information Science Education, and a Student Legacy: An Interview with Kathryn Luther Henderson,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 1 (2001), p. 12. Grace O. Kelley, The Classification of Books, New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1937. ____, “The Classification of Books in Retrospect and in Prospect: A Tool and a Discipline.” In, William M. Randall, ed., The Acquisition and Cataloging of Books (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), p. 163-186. Gertrude S. Koh, “Options in Classification Available Through Modern Technology,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 195-211. Derek W. Langridge, “Alternative Starting Points in Classification,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 7-15. Robert M. Losee, “How to Study Classification Systems and Their Appropriateness for Individual Institutions,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 45-58. Arthur Maltby and Lindy Gill, The Case for Bliss: Modern classification practice and principles in the context of the Bibliographic Classification, London: Clive Bingley, 1979. Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan, Elements of Library Classification. 2nd ed., revised. Ed., B.I. Palmer. London: The Association of Assistant Librarians, 1959. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 21
    • ____, “Library Classification on the March.” In, D.J. Foskett and B.I. Palmer, eds., Essays in Librarianship: In Memory of William Charles Berwick Sayers (London: The Library Association, 1961), p.72-95. ____, Prolegomena to Library Classification. 2nd edition. London: The Library Association, 1957. Karla M. Rapp and Millini K. Skuba, “An Interactive Library Classification Systems Module: A Viable Solution for Training Student Workers,” Technical Services Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 3 (2001), p. 11-19. Ernest Cushing Richardson, Classification: Theoretical and Practical, together with an Appendix containing an Essay towards a Bibliographical History of Systems of Classification, 3rd ed., New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1930. Tahir Sandhu and Gwen Williams, The English Emblem Books Digital Library: a Final Report, 2003. http://www.scribd.com/doc/19461499/The-English-Emblem- Books-Digital-Library-a-Final-Report Edmund C. Short, “Knowledge and the Educational Purposes of Higher Education: Implications for the Design of a Classification Scheme,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 19, no.3/4 (1995), p. 59-66. Elaine Svenonius, Joan S. Mitchell, Diane Vizine-Goetz, and et. al., “Millennium Project Research Agenda: Cataloging and Classification,” Library Quarterly, vol. 70, no. 2 (2000), p. ix-xx. Janet Swan Hill, “Classification—An Administrator’s Perspective,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 2 (1995), p. 69-73. Alan R. Thomas, “Blissful Beliefs: Henry Evelyn Bliss Counsels on Classification,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 17-22. _____, “Introduction: Exploring the Armamentarium,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 1-5. Ellen Waite, “Reinvent Catalogers,” Library Journal (November 1, 1995), p. 36-37. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 22
    • R. Conrad Winke, “Intentional Use of Multiple Classification Schemes in United States Libraries,” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 157-167. Ian H. Witten and David Bainbridge, How to Build a Digital Library (Amsterdam: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2003), p. 116-118, 336-341. Copyright 2004 Williams. This work is covered by a creative commons license. Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ 23