The Social Role of Public Library Classifications


  • Chloë Edwards Mississippi Department of Archives and History



This paper seeks to understand the interaction between library knowledge organization practices and the social role of public libraries through an examination of the development of the Dewey Decimal and Soviet Library-Bibliographic classifications. I show that in spite of significant differences in the ideologies motivating the ontological design of the classifications themselves, the methods and motivations behind creating these classifications were very similar, whether the location was late nineteenth century America or early twentieth century Soviet Russia. Both classifications are highly instructive as snapshots of thinking contemporary to their creation, and in the Soviet Union, library classification was construed as one more layer in the process of information control and indoctrination in Marxism-Leninism. As products of a modern (as opposed to postmodern) intellectual climate, the overall tendency of these classifications to serve as a public common ground, a set of generally accepted knowledge principles, makes sense, however misguided any particular set of principles might have been. Today’s society, however, no longer wants or needs the kinds of unifying narrative that public library classifications speak to, raising questions as to how appropriate these modern classifications are for a postmodern world whose priorities have shifted radically in the last thirty years.

Author Biography

Chloë Edwards, Mississippi Department of Archives and History