Intellectual or scholarly approaches to knowledge organization (KO)

"It is quite hard to discern any strong theoretical principles underlying LCC [Library of Congress Classification]" (Broughton, 2004, p. 143).


As the quote above indicates there are classification systems for which it is difficult to describe the methods and principles on which they are based as contrasted to other approaches to knowledge organization. We may say, perhaps, that they are "just" made by subject specialists, without regarding principles and methods related to Library and Information Science (LIS). (See also: Intuitive approaches to KO).


Kolding Nielsen (1977) writes detailed about the classification system produced for the Danish historical bibliography (DHB). He writes (p. 566-567) that it first and foremost must reflect professional historians' needs. It must be constructed according to their views and ways of thinking. It would be possible to imagine a design, which to a larger part was made for other needs, for example, the needs of librarians. However, because the needs of historians and librarians possibly are different, the librarians needs have to be suppressed. The librarian must, as every user, think historically on the premises of DHB, how difficult this may be.


Kolding Nielsen's article shows that there is much knowledge put into the design of the classification used by DHB. It is not that it is not based on important knowledge and principles. The problem with this approach to KO is that the principles cannot be generalized from one domain to another. The only principle may turn out to be: Employ the best subject specialists available and provide them with optimal conditions. It may be an approach which is in conflict with the very idea of have a field devoted to "knowledge organization" as a part of LIS.


In the approach we are describing here it may be assumed that the characteristics of the material being dealt with determine how subject analysis should be performed and how classification systems and other forms of knowledge organization systems should be designed. This corresponds to what Hagler (1999, p. 1999) said: "In the field of descriptive bibliography, as opposed to library cataloguing, where it is an axiom that there are hardly any fixed rules, the characteristics of the material being dealt with determine the descriptive practices adopted, and consistency implies only the ad hoc application of an experienced judgment. One who works in that field would not applaud the imposition of AACR2, or any particular set of rules, as a single standard required in the name of consistency".


A core issue in scholarly approaches to KO is related to the concept of literary warrant.






Broughton, V. (2004). Essential classification. London: Facet publishing.


Hagler, R. (1999). The consequences of integration. IN: Svenonius, E. (Ed.). The conceptual foundations of descriptive cataloging. San Diego: Academic Press, Inc. (Pp. 197-218).


Kolding Nielsen, E. (1977). Dansk historisk bibliografi. IN: Danske opslagsværker. Ed. By Axel Andersen. Copenhagen: G. E. C. Gad. (Pp. 533-610).


(This entry should not be mixed-up with Intellectual organization of knowledge)




Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 06-03-2006



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Approaches to knowledge organization

Traditional approaches to knowledge organization