Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Open Shelves Classification: Update and Summary

Note: This post was created by David and Laena, but reposted by me for a stupid technical reason. (Tim)

Hello Librarythingers, librarians and classification fans, we are happy to join you as facilitators of this exciting project! To learn more about us, see Tim’s introduction. Hadrian’s library (above) seemed an appropriate illustration, as we strive to create a new system upon the building blocks of the old.

To reiterate the initial goals of the project, Open Shelves Classification (OSC) is a free, “humble,” modern, open-source, crowd-sourced replacement for the Dewey Decimal System.

It will also be:

  • Collaboratively written. The OSC itself should be written socially–slowly, with great care and testing–but socially. (This is already underway via the group Build the Open Shelves Classification and the LibraryThing Wiki.)
  • Collaboriately assigned. As each level of OSC is proposed and ratified, members will be invited to catalog LibraryThing’s books according to it. (Using LibraryThing’s fielded bibliographic wiki, Common Knowledge.)

And include:

  • Progressive development. Written “level-by-level” (DDC’s classes, divisions, etc.), in a process of discussion, schedule proposals, adoption of a tentative schedule, collaborative assignment of a large number of books, statistical testing, more discussion, revision and “solidification.” This has already begun.
  • Public-library focus. LibraryThing members are not predominantly academics, and academic collections, being larger, are less likely to change to a new system. Also, academic collections mostly use the Library of Congress System, which is already in the public domain. This is also the place and audience that has demonstrated the most need for change (see BISAC and other non-Dewey conversions already underway).
  • Statistical testing. As far as we are aware, no classification system has ever been tested statistically as it was built. Yet there are various interesting ways of doing just that. For example, it would be good to see how a proposed shelf-order matches up against other systems, like DDC, LCC, LCSH and tagging. If a statistical cluster in one of these systems ends up dispersed in OSC, why?

Where are we now? Since its inception, there has been consistent and productive discussion on the LibraryThing group Build the Open Shelves Classification, and circeus began an excellent wiki Open Shelves Classification that summarizes the current OSC consensus. The wiki is where the work will be staged as it is developed by all of us. So far, the wiki includes consensus on materials that must be included, call number requirements and proposed scheme, and the choice of top-level classes.

Where do we go from here? We feel that the most important issues to determine are:

  • Top-level classes. Findability is key. Terms need to be familiar and clear (not abstract), roughly 12-15 categories, and relavent to the public library audience and their needs. Library data would be very helpful here! (OSC is focusing more on task (what people find: history, gardening, sci-fi) versus audience (who is finding: children, women, dogs) when determining top-level terms.)
  • Alpha-numeric decisions and punctuation. TBD. A numbered system that doesn’t require equal digits is so far the most popular format ( As for punctuation, the debate continues–dots or dashes?
  • Factors be determined locally or at a later stage of development. We need to be as focused and specific in our tasks as possible, and there are many decisions we will not be undertaking. (For example, Cutter numbers and possibly non-book materials.)

David and I are simply facilitators, and we need LibraryThing Members to help monitor threads and contribute valuable content. Please comment below if you want to volunteer to monitor a particular thread to make sure we do not miss anything. Also, people should continue to add content to the wiki as consensus emerges from the threads. Although theoretical discussion is fascinating, examples from your library or your personal experience are what will make the OSC usable.

We look forward to working with our fellow LibraryThing members!

Labels: Open Shelves Classification, OSC


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