A whole new world… of classification vocabulary

I’m now well into the cataloguing and classification module, which I have been looking forward to ever since I enrolled on the MSc. So far, I have not been disappointed.

We’re in week 3, and already have learnt a lot about the basics of bibliographic classification, with examples from a range of classification schemes. From next week onwards, we’ll have a closer look at two particular classification schemes – Dewey Decimal and UDC.

It is fair to say that there have been many new terms since the module started:

word cloud of classification vocabulary

Here are some of terms explained, mainly for my own benefit:

citation order: this refers to the subject heading or classmark, more specifically to the order in which the different concepts that make up a subject are combined in the classmark. We’re mainly talking about faceted classification schemes here.

compound subject: a subject which consists of more than one concept. The concepts cannot be separated without changing the meaning of the subject. Examples: financial management; electrical engineering.

semantic relationships: they are “hierarchical relationships proper” (Broughton, 2004, p. 25) – relationships between concepts based on hierarchy and independent of context. For example, a bonobo will always be a great ape or Hominidae (well, unless biologists decide to change the scientific classification, but you know what I mean), and a finger will always be part of a hand. Want to know more? The “bonobo – great ape” relationship is an example of a thing-kind relationship (“a bonobo is a kind of great ape”) and the “finger – hand relationship” is an example of a whole-part relationship (“a finger is part of the hand”). Thirdly, we can also have instance relationships, e.g. the Thames is an instance of a river.

The following terms all tell you something about a given classification scheme:

literary warrant: how well does the classification scheme take into account and match the published literature in a field? For example, if the bulk of textbooks published on, say, learning Hebrew as a foreign language falls into the four areas grammar, vocabulary, listening, and reading, can we find these four concepts in the classification scheme?

user warrant: how well does the classification scheme take into account the expectations of users?

exhaustivity: in terms of indexing, how well does the classification scheme allow the indexer to represent all the different elements of a subject in the subject heading or classmark? Coming from a slightly different angle, Rowley and Hartley (2008, p. 131f.) describe this concept very well in relation to different information retrieval systems: at the basic level we have summarisation (e.g. a subject heading), then the most significant subjects (e.g. chapter headings), then detailed subject specification (e.g. a back-of-book index), and finally the full text – “the ultimate level of exhaustivity”.

specificity: how well does the classification scheme allow you to classify a document at the right level? For example, if you want to classify a monograph on the Reformation in Germany, and your schedule for German History goes like the (very quick and dirty) one below, you will end up having to classify the monograph under Modern History, which is not very specific!

AA History of Germany
      AAA Prehistoric
      AAB Germanic
      AAC Medieval
      AAD Modern

You would be better of if the schedule was more like this (also very quick and dirty):

AA History of Germany
      AAA Prehistoric
      AAB Roman
      AAC Medieval
      AAD Early Modern
            AADA Renaissance
            AADB Reformation
      AAE Modern

flexibility: how much choice does the classification scheme offer to the classifier, e.g. can you change the citation order, or are there alternative locations for a subject? If so, once you have made up your mind as to what to do, stick with that decision.

hospitality: how well is the classification scheme able to accommodate new subjects (e.g. Web 2.0). For example, are there gaps in the notation where you could slot in new subjects?


BROUGHTON, V., 2004. Essential Classification. London: Facet Publishing.

ROWLEY, J. and HARTLEY, R., 2008. Organizing Knowledge. An Introduction to Managing Acess to Information. 4th ed. Farnham: Ashgate.


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