Classification for Retrieval

J. Mills

    We cannot remember the two most important events in our life - our birth and death. But I remember clearly the day that started me, a librarian, on the specialist's path of information classification for retrieval.
    I had just been appointed as librarian of the City of London College, The college had been completely destroyed in the bombing raids of 1941 and had been reconstituted in a makeshift way in the vacated building of a large insurance company nearby. The library was particularly makeshift, a sad shadow of the fine one destroyed (which I had used as a student). My task was to build a new one, almost from scratch. My favourite professional aphorism has long been Jesse Sherals observation that two things distinguish the librarian's job - bibliography & retrieval. Bibliography stands for all the problems relating to the information bearing materials themselves. Retrieval summarizes the central problem in the use of the materials (the information store) - to find relevant items, in real time. Beginning from scratch the job of getting the library going brought these priorities home to me as nothing else could.
    To classify the stock, I quickly realized, was the first priority if the stock was to be openly accessible to the students & staff. I began the job using the system with which I was most familiar - the Dewey Decimal classification. This system, a brilliant pioneer in its day, was quite inappropriate for what was needed now. The College was founded in 1848 (I began in its centenary year) expressly to meet the demand for professional studies in economics, finance and banking, insurance, accountancy, mercantile law, management and other areas reflecting basic interests of the City. These closely related subjects are badly scattered in DC and after a week or so of increasing exasperation I decided to shut up shop and see if there was a better system available. So I went to the library of the Library Association, with its comprehensive collection of general & special classifications.
    The scope of the College courses really called for a general system and I soon decided that the new Bibliographic Classification of H.E. Bliss best fitted the bill. Although its final volume was still to be published, the H.W. Wilson Company proved very helpful and put me in touch with Bliss himself. Bliss then helped me resolve a number of problems posed by the crucial Ecomomics class - and I was on my way. I wrote about the problems of applying BC, was invited to lecture on classification & cataloguing, and in 1952 became a fulltime lecturer in these subjects. At about the same time the Classification Research Group was formed & I became a member at its inception, to my great benefit in teaching & research.
    The emphasis in retrieval now is on the problems of micro-information. It is often assumed that the organization of knowledge in libraries is insufficiently important to warrant continued research. I think this is a very short-sighted view. A truly comprehensive, flexible & logically structured map of modern knowledge, designed expressly to serve its central functions, is surely the least the library & information profession deserves now. Evidence that some librarians think so may be found in Cambridge. Here, a number of the colleges have been reclassified by BC2. This is a new edition of Bliss's original system, with all its classes completely restructured, using the modern techniques of faceted classification, and vastly enlarged. I am sure Dewey would approve!

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