Business- and management like approaches to knowledge organization (KO)

The DDC-system is very popular and has, for example, in 2001 been introduced by the Danish State Library in Århus, Denmark. This decision was probably taken because most books purchased to this library are already DDC classified by the Library of Congress. (In the next few years from 2001 staff at the State Library classified all new books not already DDC-classified with DDC. After a few years it was decided, however, no longer to classify books, but just to rely on the classification already done. The attitude was even expressed that each book bought to the library without already been pre-classified with a DDC-code was a mistaken acquisition). From a library administrative point of view this is a dream: No need to classify books.


It is thought provoking that the field we now term LIS was termed library economy in the first edition of the DDC and that this was not related to classification in philosophy. This supports the view that the ideas behind, for example, the DDC, were mainly "management like".


DDC's main advantage may be that it is a standard, not a system optimized to any particular collection, domain or user group. Because of this fact it is probably not as much the users' dream as are other systems. This does not imply, of course, that this system does not consider the users' needs. If it did not, it would not be usable. In many cases, however, it does not model relations between subjects such as these are perceived by contemporary experts, but prefer to stay to the established standard relation of subjects. While the library administrator may prefer KOS that are identical from one library to another, the user may prefer systems that correspond with how a given subject is presented to him in educational programs, in textbooks, and in other domain-specific KOS. 


The difference between "a management-like attitude" and "an intellectual or scholarly attitude" towards KO is reflected in the difference between two famous persons in the history of KO: Melvin Dewey and Henry Bliss:


“His [Henry E. Bliss'] goals and aspirations were different from those of Melvil Dewey, whom he certainty surpassed in intellectual ability, but by whom he was dwarfed in organizational ability and drive. Dewey was a businessman, but he was in no sense as profound in his accomplishments.”  (Garfield, 1975).


Miksa (1998, pp. 42-45) discuss Dewey’s business perspective and its influence on the Dewey Decimal Classification. So does Bernd Frohmann who contrasts Dewey's view of the nature of subjects with that of Fletcher and Charles A. Cutter:


"Fletcher's "subjects", like Cutter's, referred to the categories of a fantasized, stable social order, whereas Dewey's subjects were elements of a semiological system of standardized, techno-bureaucratic administrative software for the library in its corporate, rather than high culture, incarnation". (Frohmann, 1994, 112-113)


Concerning managerial language in LIS: 

"The way librarians think, talk, write, read and understand their field is, of course, dependent on the hegemonic discourse in which they have been emersed during their education. That is, the prevailing discourse and schools of thought in library school forms librarians' ideology. To a large extent, the curricula and professional literature of LIS are today filled with technical and managerial language, and technical and managerial perspectives and writings. Thus, Pawley (2003, p. 426) states that "...the prevailing style of LIS discourse uses techno-administrative language to address technical and managerial problems." This discourse style is widespread in scholarly LIS literature and it inhibits the field's ability to engage in exchanges with other academic disciplines. Cornelius (2003, p. 612; emphasis added), among others, has commented on this when stating that,

If LIS is to be recognized as a constituent member of, say, the social sciences, then at some level we must use the same language and engage in the same theoretical debates. It is not as if there has been no discussion of theory, method, and philosophy in the social sciences, or that such discussions are irrelevant to LIS.

It is vital to LIS that it discursively connects with other academic fields as this paves the way for LIS to discuss its relation to, and role in, society and culture. Otherwise LIS becomes a free-floating field with no significance. " (Andersen, 2005)


Emerek & Ørum (1981) discuss the centralization of selection of materials for public libraries. The centralization made possible by the services of Danish Library Centre A/S (DBC/IBC's) has contributed with big efficiency savings in the public libraries. On the other hand pay the authors attention to the problem that such a centralization and commercialization also may imply a serious risk of undermining the libraries influence on their most important field of responsibility. 






Andersen, J. (2005). Information criticsm: Where is it? Progressive Librarian, no. 25, 12-22.


Broughton, V.; Hansson, J.; Hjørland, B. & López-Huertas, M. J. (2005). [Chapter] 7: Knowledge Organization. IN: European Curriculum Reflections on Library and Information Science Education. Ed. by L. Kajberg & L. Lørring. Copenhagen: Royal School of Library and Information Science. (Pp. 133-148).


Emerek, L. & Ørum, A. (1981). BC og IBC: Historie, funktioner og forhold til folkebibliotekerne. Biblioteksarbejde, 2, #5, 33-84.


Frohmann, B. (1994). The Social Construction of Knowledge Organization: The Case of Melvin Dewey. Advances in Knowledge Organization, 4, 109-117.


Garfield, E. (1975). The “Other” Immortal: A Memorable Day With Henry E. Bliss. Current Contents, #15, 7-8.

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




See also:  Approaches to knowledge organization; Commercialization (Core Concepts in LIS); Outsourcing (Core Concepts in LIS);  Standardization in KO





Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 06-10-2006