Integrative Levels Classification project scheme monograph references


What is it

The Integrative Levels Classification (ILC), described in this monograph, is a knowledge organization system, developed through the research project of the same name within the Italian chapter of the International Society for Knowledge Organization (ISKO).

Knowledge organization is the practice of indexing and ordering human knowledge, especially as it is represented in the content of documents, like books, articles, films, websites, or any other information carrier. A knowledge organization system (KOS) is a conceptual tool to be used for knowledge organization. There are several kinds of KOS, which can be grouped into classification/categorization systems (including subject heading systems, taxonomies, and bibliographic classifications), relationship models (including thesauri and digital ontologies), term lists (including dictionaries and glossaries), and metadata-like models (including authority files and directories) [Zen08]. The principles and structures of KOSs are brilliantly illustrated by A.C. Foskett [Fos96].

Humans have always tried to record ideas in an organized way, as this helps to express and learn them more clearly, thus providing a basis for further elaboration. Ancient Indian and Chinese cultures made large use of enumeration, often associating a number to each concept, like in the listing of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, as well as the Ten Commandments of the "Bible". The ancient Chinese book "I Ching" presents a binary hierarchical ontology, starting with earth and sky, then dividing these two classes into four (e.g. sky into yin and yang), these into eight more specific classes (e.g. yang into moon and sun), and so on until obtaining 64 hexagrams.

In the West, the systematical arrangement of knowledge was a main concern for thinkers like Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Conrad Gesner, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, John Wilkins, and Auguste Comte; Herbert Spencer even wrote that "science is organized knowledge". However, these general systems of knowledge usually were not much detailed, as they only cited the most general classes and the relationships between them, without going down to more specific concepts, like African elephants or wooden chairs (exceptions being those of Komenský, Wilkins, Dalgarno, and other authors of 17th century philosophical languages).

Specificity became a need when the content of a large amount of different documents had to be described and organized in big libraries. Thus, since the second half of the 19th century, some detailed knowledge organization systems began to be created and used, especially by American and English librarians like Melvil Dewey, Charles Ammi Cutter, James Duff Brown, Paul Otlet, and Henry Evelyn Bliss.

Later, their techniques were also applied to bibliography and documentation, that is the gathering and provision of information about the documents produced in all the world: the first indexing and abstracting services like the "Current Contents" or the "Zentralblatt für Mathematik" needed to organize their many thousands records in some useful way.

The next big step has been the spreading of digital information, both in personal computer disks, and in networked information resources. Today, the continuously expanding mass of people who have access to knowledge resources on the Internet, and who are able to contribute them by writing themselves, makes the organization of contents an even more relevant problem, with far-reaching implications.

For these new purposes, it is well possible to use already existing KOSs. Indeed, the new carriers and formats of knowledge, though posing some new challenges, keep dealing with the same kind of contents than books or stone tables, that is, the real world. This fact was well recognized already in the early age of digital information retrieval:

Mechanized systems only alter the mechanics of retrieval, the physical operations by which a search is effected. They do not alter the basic problems of subject analysis. The structure of a subject field, as laid bare by facet analysis, remains the same, and same classification schedule can be adapted to either card cataloguing or mechanized searching. [Vic60]

Why, therefore, to conceive and spend energies for yet another new KOS? The main reason is not in the new carrier context – although ILC does have features designed to suit digital information retrieval – but rather in dissatisfaction with the conceptual structures of existing systems. These, like the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC), the Colon Classification (CC), or the second edition of the Bliss Bibliographic Classification (BC2), are obviously a precious heritage, a source of inspiration, the giants on the shoulders of which to stay in order to look forward. However, it is now realized that they also include some limitations, that would be very hard to be overcome by internal revision. Building a completely new system, instead, allows to be much more free in designing and testing authentically new solutions. In the meantime, it is perfectly possible to use older but more consolidated systems for pragmatic purposes; the main author of ILC, indeed, was recently happy to accept an invitation to be part of the advisory committee of UDC – a work in which illustrious creators of new systems, like S.R. Ranganathan or Ingetraut Dahlberg, have been also engaged in the past.

The main features of ILC, which are believed to be relevant in comparison with other KOSs, are summarized in the title and subtitle of this book, and will be described in the following chapters:

Spread and adoption of knowledge organization systems are determined more by strategic factors than by their intrinsic technical merits. This is the main reason why the DDC and the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) continue to be the most used KOSs throughout the world, although their basic structure reflects the state of knowledge more than one century ago. More sophisticated and advanced systems, on the other hand, often lack an organization powerful enough to make them known, updated, translated, available in digital format, and easily usable for a significant number of information indexers.

Thus, a new KOS cannot hope to quickly replace older ones in being widely adopted. Its ambition, at least initially, is rather to test its new solutions, and show how these can work effectively and bring some advancement in the techniques of knowledge organization. To foresee how a new system can influence the practice of knowledge organization on a longer term is not possible, although our hope is that this proposal, at least for some aspect, will result in a lasting contribution.

History and people »

References cited in this section

Fos96: The subject approach to information # ed 5 / AC Foskett – Library association : London : 1996

Vic60: Faceted classification. p 68 / BC Vickery – Aslib : London : 1960

Zen08: Knowledge organization systems (KOS) / Marcia Lei Zeng = Knowledge organization. 35: 2008. 2-3. p 160-182


Integrative Levels Classification. The ILC project. What is it / Claudio Gnoli – ISKO Italy : <> : 2008.08.07 - 2011.07.29 -

  Integrative Levels Classification project scheme monograph references