Classification system (Library science)

Classification systems have a long history in library and information science, LIS (cf., Samurin, 1967). The word knowledge organization in LIS is very much connected to library classification. Around 1900, Charles A. Cutter (1837-1903), Ernest Cushing Richardson (1860-1939), William Charles Berwick Sayers (1881-1960)  and Henry Bliss (1870-1955)  strongly emphasized that the classification of books in libraries is basically informed by the organization of knowledge, such as this is represented in (new) documents. The origin of the phrase knowledge organization in LIS is clearly related to their works, according to which book classification is basically knowledge organization and the knowledge needed to classify books comes from knowledge production, of which the books are the tangible expression. Cutter, for example, wrote:  


“I believe . . . that the maker of a scheme for book arrangement is the most likely to produce a work of permanent value, if he keeps always before his mind a classification of knowledge” (Cutter, 1898, p. 87; cf. also Cutter, 1880, p. 163)


 Sayers expressed it in the following way: 


“A book classification must hold the minuteness of the knowledge classification as an ideal to which it must approximate as nearly as possible” and further (p. 34): “It must be clearly borne in mind, however, that the classification of knowledge should be the basis of the classification of books; that the latter obeys in general the same laws, follows the same sequence” (Sayers, 1915, p. 31)


 And Richardson said: 


“In general the closer a classification can get to the true order of the sciences and the closer it can keep to it, the better the system will be and the longer it will last”. (Richardson, 1964, p. 33).


During the history of library classification have different kinds of systems been developed:

Miksa (1998) points out that neither Ranganathan himself nor his followers have ever critically analyzed the basis of his approach. They have also paid insufficient attention to the strong points of other systems or to the weak point of his/their own. Also the neglecting of problems in language and semantics, and the believing in one best subject classification for all purposes belongs to the problematic baggage in classification theory. 

              Miksa shows that since 1950 the Dewey Decimal Classification has increasingly been based on this classification theory, and he recommends, that those responsible for the system should adapts a much more open and questioning stance towards the assumptions in this theory. 






Bliss, H. E. (1929). The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences. New York: Henry Holt.


Bowker, G.. & Star, S. L. (1999). Sorting Things Out: Classification its Consequences. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.


Cutter, C. A. (1880). A classification for natural science. Library Journal, 5(6), p. 163


Cutter, C. A. (1898). The expansive classification. In: Transactions and Proceedings of the Second International Library Conference held in London, July 13-16, 1897. London: Printed for Members of the Conference, pp. 84-88.

Grauballe, H.; Kaae, S.; Lykke, M. & Mai, J.-E. (1998). Klassifikationsteori. 2. udgave. København & Ålborg: Danmarks Biblioteksskole. (Skriftserie i klassifikation, 1).


Hansson, J. (1999) Klassifikation, bibliotek och samhälle : en kritisk hermeneutisk studie av ”Klassifikationssystem för svenska bibliotek”. - Borås : Valfrid. – (Skrifter från Valfrid; 19). English summary


Hjørland, B. (1999). Review of Francis L. Miksa: The DDC, The Universe of Knowledge, and the Post-Modern Library. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(5), 475-477.


Hjørland, B. (2002) The Methodology of Constructing Classification Schemes. A Discussion of the State-of-the-Art. IN: Proceedings of the Seventh International ISKO Conference 10.-13. July 2002, Granada, Spain. Ed. By María J. López-Huertas. Würzburg, Germany: Ergon Verlag, pp. 450-456. (Advances in Knowledge Organization, Vol. 8).


Hulme, E. W. (1911a). Principles of Book Classification: Introduction.  In: Hulme, E.

Wyndam. Library Association Record, 1911; 13: 354-358.


Hulme, E. W. (1911b). Principles of Book Classification: Chapter II – Principles of Division in Book Classification.  In: Hulme, E. Wyndam.  Library Association Record, 1911; 13: 389-394.


Hulme, E. W. (1911c). Principles of Book Classification: Chapter III – On the Definition of

Class Headings, and the Natural Limit to the Extension of Book Classification.  In: Hulme, E. Wyndam.  Library Association Record, 1911; 13: 444-449.


Iyer, H. (1995). Classificatory structures: concepts, relations and representation. Frankfurt/Main: Indeks Verlag.


Langridge, D. W. (1992). Classification: Its kinds, elements, systems, and applications. London: Bowker. 


Miksa, F. L. (1998). The DDC, the Universe of Knowledge, and the Post-Modern Library. Albany, NY: Forest Press.


Mills, J. (1970). Library Classification. Journal of Documentation, 26, 120-160.


Mills, J. & Broughton, V. (1987). Bliss Bibliographical Classification. 3. ed. Introduction and Auxilliary Schedules. London: Butterworths. 


Phillips, W. H.. (1961). A Primer of Book Classification. 5th ed. London: Association of Assistant Librarians.


Ranganathan, S.R. (1967). Prolegomena to library classification. Ed. 3. London: Asia Publ. House.


Richardson, E. C. (1930). Classification: Theoretical and Practical. 3.ed. New York: H. W. Wilson. (1. ed. 1901; reprint without any changes 1912).  


Samurin, E. I.(1967). Geschichte der bibliotekarisch-bibliographischen Klassifikation. Band I-II. München: Verlag Dokumentation.


Sayers, W. C. (1915). Canons for Classification. London: Grafton.


Vickery, B. (1970). Faceted classification: a guide to construction and use of special schemes. London: Aslib.


Wikipedia. The free encyclopedia. (2006). Library classification.



See also: Directory

Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 15-03-2009