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My experience with BC2, by Andy Pletta

Recognition of the problem, 1995-98

As an individual user of BC2, my experience is probably unusual, although I believe that as more people discover BC2 – and use it to solve their problems – my experience will prove to be quite typical. The growth of my interest in BC2 actually began several years ago: it had its origin in the increasing frustration I felt as I tried to cope with my developing problem of information storage and retrieval.

In the early 1990's, I was working as a precision machinist and toolmaker for a manufacturing firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At that time, my personal library consisted of all the books and magazines I had purchased since I was in school, as well as pamphlets and single articles of special interest to me, clipped from, or photocopied from, newspapers and magazines. I had many of the usual sort of math and science books, but also some very unusual ones, such as Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. My work as a machinist meant having many reference books dealing with metallurgy and metalworking, engineering drawings, Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing, metrology, and quality control. And having for many years been quite interested in music, I also had many books and articles dealing with music history, music theory, acoustics, and musical instruments, particularly the piano.

In 1993, I became an Associate member of the Piano Technicians Guild, and began tuning pianos for private clients. Since 1993, this has expanded to include repairs, action regulating, rebuilding, as well as tool and fixture design for other piano technicians. An intensive study of the design, acoustics, manufacture, and service of the piano brought more books, trade journals, and technical articles into my already messy library.

In 1995, at the suggestion of a friend, I looked into some aspects of digital audio, including specific applications to the piano, and began reading about digital audio, including the mathematical and electronic systems involved. This area of research added yet more materials to my library, and it was at about this time that I admitted to myself that things had somehow gotten out of control.

Like many people, I used no classification scheme at all for my library, but simply grouped things roughly by subject, in my bookcases. But as time went on, I saw that today's "grouping" was not quite the same as yesterday's, and in some cases, was totally different from last year's "grouping". By 1998, I noticed that I was no longer as good at finding documents or particular references. Worse yet, I began to feel increasingly nervous about where I put things: what if I didn't put something in a "good" place? And perhaps worst of all, I began to feel increasingly inadequate to the task of managing the information I needed to do my work.

First attempts to classify, 1999-2000.

I first attempted to classify my library in early 1999, when, at the suggestion of a friend who is a research librarian at the University of Minnesota, I purchased three schedules from the Library of Congress Cataloging and Distribution Service: Class M, Music; Class Q, Science; and Class T, Technology.

During the course of that year, I classified every book in my library according to the LC Classification, either by direct reference to the book's CIP data, by reference to the schedules, or by query on the LC online catalog. It was a time-consuming process, made worse by the totally unsatisfactory result: my library did now have an order, but it was an order that I simply could not accept, intellectually or aesthetically. I disliked what looked to me like arbitrariness, personal prejudice, or illogical placement: was Music "M" merely because the English word for music begins with "M"? why are the works of Richard Wagner enumerated, but not those of Mozart? why is Mathematical Statistics, which makes such extensive use of Analysis, filed before Analysis? And on and on and on.

In November of 1999, I abandoned the use of the LC Classification, and began searching for a better system, fearing that I might have to create my own. In a book on library classification, I came across a reference to the Bliss system, and an Internet keyword search finally led me to the BCA home page.

In January, 2000, I purchased a copy of the BC2 Mathematics schedule (AM/AX). Having "grown up" with the number-based Dewey and LC systems, I found the letter-based notation confusing, unhelpful, even Byzantine. But I decided to examine the structure of the schedule, to see how consistently it avoided those negative qualities mentioned above. I thought, "If they can get Mathematics right, they can do anything right." During the next several months, I quite literally read through the schedule (and its Introduction), over and over, to try to understand: what are facets? why are they arranged in this order? why are some classes enumerated, and others not? and whence this strange notation? But by May, 2000, I was fundamentally sold on the structural integrity of the scheme. All I needed to know now was: how do I use this scheme to order my materials?

Why I joined the BCA, 2000-01

BC2 is not widely known in the U.S.: the librarian friend mentioned above had never heard of Bliss. And since my library and Internet searches yielded no means of assistance, no books for sale, no courses for training, indeed, no criticism of BC2, I decided in June, 2000 to join the Bliss Classification Association. In November, I traveled to London for the AGM, and to Cambridge to visit the libraries where various editions of BC are now in use. I wanted to see for myself if this scheme actually worked for people, and I wanted to meet the people who were making it work. I left England with confidence in the scheme, as well as a profound respect for the people who built it.

But I still had many questions that I didn't know how to ask, so I read the BC2 Introduction, borrowed schedules to look at, and read books on classification and BC2: The Case for Bliss, by Maltby/Gill; and The Fabric of Knowledge, by J. L. Jolley. In June, 2001, I returned to London for Vanda Broughton's 2-day course in Faceted Classification. So joining the BCA has provided me with opportunities to learn about BC2 and how to use it in managing the various types of documents I wish to keep in order.

Why BC2 is useful

As important as BC2 has been in re-classifying my personal library, I now see that the conceptual framework of BC2 has radically transformed my own thinking about everything I work with. I now find myself thinking about phenomena in terms of facets: their types, parts, properties, processes, and so on. This profound change in the way I view the world has alleviated the frustration mentioned above, and I now know that I can learn to manage information in an increasingly efficient and reliable way.

How I use BC2

Thus far, as I have only the Mathematics schedule, I have been re-classifying all of my mathematics books from LC to BC2. I began by grouping each book according to its 3-letter or 4-letter classmark only, knowing that each work can always be classified with greater specificity later, and by author, if needed. So for example, all my books about the History of Mathematics are filed at "AM27"; all books dealing with Ordinary Differential Equations are filed at "AWF", including those which deal strictly with linear equations, which can always be filed later at "AWF NA". For each classmark, I use Microsoft Word to print out a page of small labels to affix to the spine of each book, and I print (2) large labels to affix to either side of a letter-size file folder, which serves as the shelfmark.

Next up for re-classifying will be Physics, then, as the schedules become available, Chemistry, Music, and, most significantly for me, Technology. Those schedules will be required to file articles such as "Dynamics of the Pianoforte String and The Hammer", by M. Ghosh, Indian Journal of Physics.

Finally, entry of document records into a relational database, using classmarks themselves as file and directory designations, and class names as searchable keywords, will provide quick and easy storage and retrieval. BC2 gives me the tools I need to fulfill these requirements, and I look forward to a full implementation of the scheme.