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Bagpipes and books on bagpipes

Relations between object classifications and bibliographic classifications

A player of piva, a bagpipe from Emilian Apennine (Italy) : Rocchetta Ligure : 2004.12.24 / CG  
Although classification theory has been developed largely within library and information sciences, classification schemes are not exclusive of the world of books. For example, doctors classify diseases, biologists classify plants and animals, linguists classify languages...

So which are the similiarities and which are the differences between object and bibliographic classifications? Are they instrinsically different, or can they be traced to a common framework, to some general classification theory? Which are the historical relations between the two? Can they influence each other in fruitful ways?

This research project aims at finding some answers to these questions, by taking classifications of music instruments as a case study. In the last 150 years, classifications of instruments have developed along a way quite parallel to that of classifications of books.

Classifications of instruments

Instruments have been classified by special schemes since longtime. The first major classification has been realized by Victor Mahillon for the ethnographic Museum of Bruxelles, where classical and exotic musical objects from all the world needed to be arranged. Later, Erich von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs developed a well structured scheme, which interestingly borrows its notation system from Dewey and Universal Decimal Classification. Among other schemes, the ones by Dräger and by Mantle Hood introduced a principle very similar to faceted classification...

A commented bibliography on classifications of instruments is being developed.

Classifications of instruments unfortunately share with classifications of books another fact: they are poorly applied in most museums and libraries around the world. Though clever and useful systems are available, instruments are often arranged in idiosyncratic and non-rigorous ways.

Is the "Chinese plate syndrome" a syndrome?

In one of its meetings in the 1960s, the legendary Classification Research Group formulated a relevant recommendation: librarians should not confuse bibliographic classifications with object classifications, as the criteria used in classifying e.g. Chinese plates are not as effective when applied to the classification of books on Chinese plates. They informally called this the "Chinese plate syndrome". Indeed, the organization of knowledge on Chinese plates into a book adds more dimensions to the simple objects which are treated in them, and these dimensions affect the whole classification system. [CRG 1978]

Still, important cases exist where the same schemes are used both for books and for objects. The Getty Art and architecture thesaurus, often mentioned as a typical faceted tool from library and information science, is also used to index collections of objects, like those of the UK National museum of science and industry; "UDC is currently used for subject indexing in a major private art collection, because paintings, sculptures and ornaments can yield historical information about persons, costume, animal breeds, vanished buildings or landscapes, and many other subjects" [UDC 2003].

Also, it is quite obvious for bibliographic schemes to borrow from existing scientific schemes [Hjørland & Nicolaisen 2004]: in the schedules for chemistry, chemical elements are listed according to their scientific classification by Mendeleev; in the schedules for botany, plant species are listed according to the international systematic of plants; etc.

So when is this loan permitted and when is it not? Maybe, after all, the two kinds of classification are not completely independent things, and we can foster useful exchanges if we better understand their ontological relations.

The ontology of bibliographic classification

As mentioned above, documents add one more dimension to the objects (or more generally to the phenomena) they deal with. This documental dimension includes:

Towards taxology

Although differences between object and bibliographic classifications (and between different kinds of object classifications) do exist and are relevant in the design of schemes [Mai 2004], common principles can be found as well. These could be identified and systematized, to constitute the first elements of a general theory of classification irrespective of its objects. Such a discipline could be called taxology, i.e. the science of arranging things.

At least two principles can be identified, which concur to make the structure of classification schemes:

These two principles have been used at various degrees in classification schemes. Their importance has been especially discussed in systematic biology, where numerical taxonomists support the former while cladistic taxonomists support the latter. Actually, as pointed out by Ernst Mayr, a good scheme should be based on both.


CRG 1978 = CRG bulletin. 11 = Journal of documentation. 34 : 1978. 1. p 23

Kyle 1962 = Classification: an interdisciplinary problem : proceedings of an Aslib conference : London : 6th April 1962 / Barbara RF Kyle : chairman = Aslib proceedings. 14 : 1962. n 8. p 222-262

Hjørland & Nicolaisen 2004 = Scientific and scholarly classifications are not "naive" : a comment to Beghtol (2003) / Birger Hjørland, Jeppe Nicolaisen = Knowledge organization. 31: 2004. 1. p 55-61

Mai 2004 = Classification in context: relativity, reality, and representation / Jens-Erik Mai = Knowledge organization. 31: 2004. 1. p 39-48

UDC 2003 = Universal decimal classification. Pocket edition # edition 2 -- BSI : Milton Keynes : 2003

People involved in this research


Zampogne e libri sulle zampogne: classificazioni diverse? / Cristina Ghirardini, Claudio Gnoli = (Bibliotime. NS. 8: 2005. 3) -- <>

BC2 class for phenomena : an application of the theory integrative of levels / Claudio Gnoli = Bliss classification bulletin. 47: 2005. p 17-21 || = (DLIST) -- <>

Phylogenetic classification / Claudio Gnoli = Knowledge organization. 33: 2006. 3. p 138-152 ]] abstract

Ten long-term research questions in knowledge organization. 1: Can the scope of KO be broadened? / Claudio Gnoli = Knowledge organization. 35: 2008. 2-3: special issue on Knowledge organization. P 137-149 / Ia McIlwaine, Joan Mitchell: ed's

Classification transcends library business / Claudio Gnoli = (Proceedings UDC seminar Classification at a crossroads : The Hague : 2009.10.29-30 = Extensions and correction to the UDC. 2009. Supplement)


Bagpipes and books on bagpipes : relations between object classifications and bibliographic classifications = (ISKO Italia) -- <> : 2005.03.14 - 2014.11.18 -