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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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Published by Gwen Williams
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.
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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Published by: Gwen Williams on Sep 11, 2009
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09/10/2009

 
Classifying toward an Ensemble of Works: an essayabout the centrality of classi
cation in organizing knowledge
by Gwen Williams, April 2004email:seealso@me.com In a 2001 interview, when asked about the tasks for future catalogersand those who educate them, Kathryn Luther Henderson replied,As I have observed the transition from card/book catalogs to theonline catalog, it seems to me that we no longer are as concernedabout “the making of a catalog” as a whole tool—a tool of integrity. Today, emphasis seems to be on grabbing a record andputting it into a database without much thought about thein
uence of that record upon the whole catalog.
1
As we have learned in our cataloging classes, Cutter’s objects of thecard/book catalog are the basis for four broad functions of the catalog:identifying or
nding known items, collocating or gathering together everymanifestation of a work, enabling catalog users in evaluating or selectingspeci
c manifestations of a work, and locating desired items through classnumber assignment. One might say that the
rst three functions of thecatalog work together in facilitating discovery of works, and that the fourthfunction facilitates desired actual possession of catalogued works, serving asit does as the conduit between the catalog and the actual works shelved.Patrons must, one imagines, approach the catalog with two things inmind—to
nd what they can get, and where they can get it—that correspondrather well to the functions of the catalog: for discovery and eventual actual
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
1
 
Mark Jacobs, “Cataloging and Classi
cation Standards and Practices, Library andInformation Science Education, and a Student Legacy: An Interview with KathrynLuther Henderson,”
Cataloging and Classi 
fi 
cation Quarterly 
, vol. 33, no. 1 (2001),p. 12.
 
possession of works. We cannot, of course, know absolutely what patronsare thinking, for as Robert Holley has succinctly observed, “more patrons usethe online catalog than ask a reference question.”
2
But we can be reasonablycertain that they want to ultimately know “where are all the books.”
3
If webelieve Holley’s assertion, than the construction of the catalog is of primaryimportance 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—assomething beyond grabbing individual bibliographic records and submittingthem to a database—relies upon an appreciation for and understanding of theclassi
cation scheme that brings (or can bring) all works in a library into anensemble of works. For class number assignment is not just labeling an itemwith a shelve-locator number, but rather class number assignment determineshow the entire ensemble of works are placed in relation to each other, and in
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
2
 
Robert P. Holley, “Cataloging: An Exciting Subject for Exciting Times,”
Cataloging and Classi 
fi 
cation 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, whileglancing around at the 1
st
 
oor t-junction in the Main Library, “
So, Where Are All 
 the
Books
?”
 
relation to the whole library.
4
As Ranganathan once observed, Dewey’s workin decimal classi
cation marked a crucial moment in the classi
cation of books because books were no longer placed in relation to location onshelves, 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 theorganizational schemes of pre-nineteenth century libraries and of currentarchives, museums, and library acquisition department records, would havesurely suf 
ced in that such organizational schemes indicate shelf-locationquite well.One may ask, so what would be the point in examining libraryclassi
cation schemes, the differences between subject-arrangement of bookson shelves and shelf locator arrangements, or how class number assignmentin
uences construction of the catalog as a whole tool of integrity? Some
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
4
 
A related line of inquiry, which I will simply mention here, would be to examineexplicitly the historical emergence of library and book classi
cation schemes in thelate-nineteenth century against the backdrop of the emergence of public librariesand open stacks in various countries. That is, Anthony Grafton suggests there exista connection between open stacks and closed stacks, noting that, “In Germany,unlike the United States and England, the books in large university libraries areusually stored in order of acquisition, not in systematic subject groupings. Thestacks, 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-speci
c shelf-location/classi
cation schemes of TheResearch Libraries, The New York Public Library, as discussed by Karen Hsu,supports the claim that ‘shelf-locator-classi
cations’ of books are often adequate forclosed stacks arrangements, but inadequate for open stacks: “The Research Libraries(RL) is privately funded and is a closed stack, non-circulating library. It generallycollects one copy only of each title. The readers are not allowed to browse thestacks, and every item requested by readers is paged by the library staff.” Hsu, “TheClassi
cation Schemes of The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library,”
Cataloging and Classi 
fi 
cation Quarterly,
vol. 19, no. 3/4 (1995), p. 134.
5
 
S.R. Ranganathan, “Library Classi
cation 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.

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