Weekly Response Post #6 – Classification, Rachel Skinner-O’Neill

Thinking about this week’s readings on classification reminds me, as did last week’s cataloging reading, of Christina Harlow’s assertion during our class in week six: that you can add all the outreach and community service programs to the public librarian skill set that you like but it is knowledge organization that is the foundation of our profession as librarians, be we technical, academic, youth service oriented librarians or busy managing an archive.

The importance of classification is made clear in all the readings – it is, as Langridge notes, “a practical necessity”, one that allegedly led Dewey at one point to suggest, “knowledge is classification” while this might be stretching things a bit, what struck me as being the major issues in the Straight Dope.com and the Hjørland readings is the sheer variety of classification systems that exist – one size (type of classification) does not fit all libraries – but certain classification systems do fit many, e.g. the Dewey Decimal System that has the majority of public libraries on board, and the Library of Congress system that has governments (in the U.S.) and academic libraries all sewn up. Added to these systems are UDC, Rangathan’s rarely used but, hugely influential Colon Classification system that draws on a faceted approach to classification, plus the myriad of new ways of classifying, particularly e-resources, in the age of digital information, and Hjørland’s point about how can LIS professional compete and / or contribute to users finding documents is given more urgency.

Mike Steckel’s pithy Introduction to Ranganathan for Information Architects, helps us to keep calm and carry on when he reminds us of Ranganathan’s fifth law of Library Science:

The library is a living organism: We need to plan and build with the expectation that our sites and our users will grow and change over time. Similarly we need to always keep our own skill levels moving forward.

How best can classification serve libraries and their users will no doubt be an going topic of debate.


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