Classification and social transcript
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This paper examines the role of library knowledge organization practices in supporting the social role of the public library through a discussion of the formation 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 such 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. Such a role was possible for these classifications because they were conceived of and first spread in a modern world, where the idea of a single and knowable truth was both acceptable and a worthy goal to pursue. The advent of postmodernism, with its emphasis on questioning monolithic myths, systems or ‘truths,’ has changed that attitude, and the advent of the Internet, search filters and personalized information has removed the library’s former monopoly as the only real purveyor of information available to the general public. In a world where uniting myths are neither needed nor wanted and information is at most of our fingertips, what role can the classification play? How can a modern classification organize a postmodern world?