Where Should Taxonomy be in the Taxonomy?

Word Herder” takes issue with the Library of Congress’ allocation of the DDC classification 658.4038 to my book Organising Knowledge (ie Information Management, deeply buried behind Technology (Applied Sciences). It doesn’t seem like a very happy place to be, but then again, I’m not sure where in Dewey – or any single-tree hierarchical scheme – my book, or any general book on taxonomy work, would fit. We need facets.

8 Comments so far


I came upon the issue when I was uploading some of my books to my LibraryThing account.  My library is a mess (we moved not too long ago), and I was trying to put books on the shelf in a semi-efficient manner.  I had already placed my bibliography and indexing books on the shelf, and I nabbed your book next, thinking that it also belonged with the “information organization as a search tool” books. 

But the DDC disagrees with me.  I do not have access to the most recent version of the DDC (I have the 20th edition); hence my research is somewhat limited.  (I am tempted to wander into my local library on Saturday and ask to peruse their copies, if only to see their reaction...) My answer, then, is that I would prefer to see your work placed near indexing and bibliography, or somewhere between 010 and 020.  007-009 remain unassigned, though, so perhaps we can lobby the committee for a whole “Knowledge Organization” section?  Lord knows we’re going to need it if we keep up this pace of use and innovation.

Posted on November 12, 2008 at 11:40 AM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

That was fast! I’d certainly support a “knowledge organisation” section, and I agree, near the start of DDC… but I still think it’s the type of cross-cutting topic that really is not served well in the old single hierarchy scheme… and there are more and more of these complex topics.

Posted on November 12, 2008 at 11:54 AM | Comment permalink


Well, no, single hierarchy schemes seem antiquated for information that can exist in more than one dimension, but libraries are limited to that old problem of a single shelf in a single space with physical books--they have to put it somewhere, and that somewhere needs an address.  But an e-book would be a different story--that would be easier to fit into a faceted scheme because you can tag it with all the appropriate topics and not just the most relevant one.

Perhaps we should abandon a classification system like the DDC, organize everything by the author’s last name (that’s the address), and then use a faceted search of some sort online.  Tag the work with whatever topics are applicable, and then the user can find them from any angle...and the address is still the same--author’s last name (or first important word of the title).  We can still do subject cataloguing--there’s just no fuss about building the number (although that is half the fun), which often takes a lot of time in cataloguing anyway.

Posted on November 12, 2008 at 12:08 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Fair point about books on shelves… but I’m just not sure anymore whether general classification schemes have any validity any more, except in public libraries.

The world of knowledge and behind it science has become much more fluid and networked. We mix and match technologies willy nilly. Formerly distinct disciplines converge temporarily in subjects of study. More and more people (and their books) wander out of their purist silos.

And book ownership has increased, with collections increasingly taking on the shape of their owners/stakeholders interests. In your collection it could be knowledge organisation, in someone else’s knowledge management, in someone else’s information management, in someone else’s management science.

There’s no reason why we should be constrained by DDC or be forced to go with alphabetical by author.

Subject indexing or facet analysis could help us figure out where the book can be found in bookstores (digital or real) and give suggestions about places in our collections to put it - ie options, not a definitive, and usually wrong answer smile

Posted on November 12, 2008 at 05:54 PM | Comment permalink

"I’m just not sure anymore whether general classification schemes have any validity any more, except in public libraries.”

What about academic libraries? Or do you not consider LC a “general classification scheme,” since it’s not terribly hierarchical?

Posted on November 12, 2008 at 08:40 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

I can see I’m digging myself a trench here smile

Having run an academic library, the general schemes are at best an idea generator for how to organise. But in practice, each academic library needs to be shaped around its user communities and disciplines (each library has a different mix of disciplines and communities to manage). The general schemas are best used as suggestive schemas for how the books might be arranged. The problem is that generations of librarians have been trained to FOLLOW standard schemes and not to do user-based contextual arrangements that suit their local contexts. ie taxonomy use has predominantly been passive rather than active.

The best academic librarians acknowledge this in practice but are rarely game enough to speak of it in public - the profession has been so inculturated into “the one correct place, and the scheme tells us so”.

The clientele has moved on to expect more, and they are getting more. I know people who use Amazon to get their bibliographic references (for heaven’s sake) then they use the online catalogue to try and locate the book.

Library of Congress is not terribly anything, it’s a very confused scheme.

Posted on November 13, 2008 at 09:47 AM | Comment permalink


"people who use Amazon to get their bibliographic references”

That’s because Amazon’s search algorithm is better.  You can do a lot with money.

Posted on November 13, 2008 at 10:04 AM | Comment permalink

Ah, that makes sense because, speaking from experience, we still care *very* much about where a book physically goes on the shelf at my academic library. (But, no, the “prescribed” place is not always the best one for the patron.)

Posted on November 13, 2008 at 10:26 AM | Comment permalink

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