7.3. Bibliographic Classification

Much of our thinking about classification comes from the bibliographic domain. Libraries and the classification systems for the resources they contain have been evolving for millennia, shaped by the intellectual, social, and technological conditions of the societies that created them. As early as the third millennium BCE, there were enough written documents—papyrus scrolls or clay tablets—that the need arose to organize them. Some of the first attempts, by Mesopotamian scribes, were simple lists of documents in no particular order. The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Chinese created more principled systems, both sorting works by features such as language and alphabetical order, and placing them into semantically significant categories such as topic or genre. Medieval European libraries were tightly focused on Christian theology, but as secular books and readers proliferated thanks to new technologies and increased literacy, bibliographic classifications grew broader and more complex to accommodate them. Modern classification systems are highly nuanced systems designed to encompass all knowledge; however, they retain some of the same features and biases of their forebears.409[LIS]

[409][LIS] One of the earliest known libraries—at Nippur in Mesopotamia—was small enough that its catalog needed no particular organization: the list of titles in the collection fit onto two easily scanned clay tablets. As collections grew, scribes made it easier to browse the ...

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