Weekly Response 6: Emily Moyer

I enjoyed all the readings this week. It was extremely helpful to learn the historical and contextual backgrounds that led to each classification scheme. The articles successfully built upon one another to provide a fuller understanding of the concepts in contrast to solely reading about disparate classification systems in a textbook.

When I was reading Chowdhury ( I read the chapter first), I kept thinking, “What’s the big deal? Why can’t libraries just pick a system and stick to it?” After reading the articles, though, I realized just how big a deal it was. Many times we take classification for granted as a natural occurrence. However, Langridge reminds us that not only are classifications constructed, but that objects are rarely mutually exclusive and can therefore theoretically be classed in countless categories in infinite ways. This “relativity of classification” is epitomized in the article’s inclusion of the excerpt from Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland when the pigeon places Alice (a little girl) and a serpent in the same category: egg eaters.

Ranganathan’s Colon Classification counters the rigidity of DDC and LC systems as he seems to approach knowledge organization from a more global, big picture standpoint. Facets have merit in the fact that cataloging shouldn’t be a subjective practice relying on an individual’s “worldview” nor should items be pigeonholed into inappropriate divisions and subdivisions.

A central theme in the articles and a question that kept coming up was “What is the purpose of classification?” According to Langridge, the purpose is “to organize the knowledge produced by specialists so that it may be available for whosoever requires it.” Simple enough. However, the many ways knowledge is organized can be just as important. Hjorland writes, “classifications reflect the purposes for which they are designed and that different sciences, theories, and human activities classify the world (more or less) differently.” The way materials are categorized in a collection can even change use patterns. Certain classifications can also subconsciously or consciously influence how people view cultures and learn about them. For example, in classifying art and literature in Western cultures, the individual maker/artist/creator is emphasized and valued more highly than works created collaboratively or by multiple sources.

So if library users and the way they create and retrieve information has changed, should the classification of collections change? I don’t know if there is an answer to this question, but it is interesting to critique the systems and approach them from another lens.


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