The Dewey decimal classification and the transition from physical to electronic knowledge organisation

Amanda J. Tinker, A. Steven Pollitt, Ann O'Brien, Patrick A. Braekevelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


The physical organisation of items on library shelves using any classification scheme is inevitably a compromise. The best efforts to achieve an arrangement char is helpful to users will be thwarted by the multifaceted nature of these items and the specific needs of the user and the library. Items on a particular subject will be scattered throughout the library building(s) across disciplines, by physical form, by frequency of use and whether and for how long they may be borrowed. Even though the rich information content of multifaceted items may be represented in the notation, the items required by a user will be scattered across library shelves when the item is placed in a single relative location. This paper explores these issues using examples from a University Library classified using the Dewey Decimal Classification Scheme (DDC). The electronic context of the library OPAC can transcend the constraints imposed by the predominantly physical nature of library collections, yet the current use of classification schemes in on-line systems retains many of these limitations. Examples of such systems applying DDC on the World Wide Web are discussed and compared with a system that seeks to use DDC in what is called view-based searching. The interface and the resulting browsing and searching capability of a View-Based Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) are described. Ways in which subject. access to library collections can be improved and disciplinary scatter resolved by assigning multiple class numbers to items and exploiting the rich Dewey structure in a faceted form are discussed. It is suggested that the informative power of visual classificatory structures at the search interface will be beneficial to the broader learning experience of the user. The paper concludes that the application of classification schemes in electronic interfaces should not be bound by the physical constraints that no longer apply in an electronic context but be exploited to provide a complete, flexible and individual interface as determined by the needs of each user.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-96
Number of pages17
JournalKnowledge Organization
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1999


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