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The Bliss Bibliographic Classification : history & description
Outline of the Bliss Bibliographic Classification (2nd ed.)
What is the Bibliographic Classification?
The Bibliographic Classification (BC2 or Bliss) is the leading example of a fully faceted classification scheme. It provides a detailed classification for use in libraries and information services of all kinds, having a broad and detailed structure and order.
The vocabulary in each class is comprehensive and complemented by an exceptionally brief faceted notation considering the detail available, providing indexing to any depth the classifier wishes.
The structure of the subject within each class is clearly and simply laid out with rules provided for the quick and consistent placing of any item. A thorough A-Z index is provided in each volume. Users can access a subject catalogue record via any part of the whole, depending upon the primary interest of the user.
The Classification (known as BC) was originally devised by Henry Evelyn Bliss and was first published in four volumes in the USA between 1940 and 1953. Bliss stated that one of the purposes of the Classification was to "demonstrate that a coherent and comprehensive system, based on the logical principles of classification and consistent with the systems of science and education, may be available to services in libraries, "to aid revision ... of long established ... classifications" and to provide an "adaptable, efficient and economical classification, notation and index." A fundamental principle is the idea of subordination - each specific subject is subordinated to the appropriate general one. This version of the classification is now known as BC1.
BC1 was first applied in broad outline at the College of the City of New York (where Bliss was librarian) in 1902. The full scheme followed the publication of two massive theoretical works on the organization of knowledge. Its main feature was the carefully designed main class order, reflecting the Comptean principle of gradation in speciality. Work on a radical revision of BC1, incorporating the great advances in logical facet analysis initiated by Ranganathan and developed by the Classification Research Group in Britain, began in the early 1970s.
On the formation of the Bliss Classification Association (BCA) in 1967, it was suggested that a new and completely revised edition of the full BC should be made available. However, the revision has been so radical that it is more accurately described as a completely new system, using only the broad outline developed by H. E. Bliss. Its central features are outlined below, but in addition to these the vocabulary is very much greater than that of BC1. An annual Bulletin had been providing revised schedules, mostly in science and technology. The new, revised edition was initiated by Jack Mills and was to be produced in 22 parts, comprising one or two subjects per volume. The first volumes were published in 1977 (Bliss Bibliographic Classification, edited by J. Mills & Vanda Broughton. London: Butterworth, 1977-). Publication is now undertaken by K. G. Saur. Further revisions have been made to some of the BC2 volumes in order to retain subject currency and updates continue to be published in the BCA Bulletin.
The main features of BC2 are as follows:
- The main class order is based on closely-argued theoretical principles; these are the principle of gradation, supplemented by that of integrative levels, developed by Feibleman and others.
- Each main class, and every subclass demanding it (whatever its hierarchical level) is fully faceted; i.e., the vocabulary is organized rigorously into clearly defined and easily grasped categories. For example human biology and medicine is organized into Types of persons, Parts and systems of the person, processes in the person, Actions on the person, Agents of actions.
- A comprehensive and consistent citation order is observed throughout, making the position of any compound class highly predictable. For example, the citation order in medicine in the order of the facets listed above; so a work on nursing child victims of cancer would go under (Type of person) Paediatrics - (Processes) - Pathological - Cancer - (Actions on) Nursing. This reflects the Standard Citation Order in which, for any subject, the primary (first cited) facet is that reflecting the purpose of the subject (its defining system, end-product, etc.) followed by its Types, Parts, Processes, Actions, Agents - always in that order. Medicine is definable as the study and treatment of biological processes in humans - hence the citation order in the above example.
- The filing order consistently maintains general-before-special. In the example above, HMY Nursing in general files before HQE Cancer in general, which files before HXO Paediatrics in general. The subject Children - Cancer - Nursing files after all of them at HXO QEM Y, being more specific. Note that the initial letter for this class (H) is dropped when combining subclasses.
- The notation is fully faceted and synthetic. Any class may be qualified by all the classes following it in citation order (and therefore filing before it). The notational base is very wide - 35 characters (1/9, A/Z). It is also purely ordinal, i.e. it does not attempt the impossible task of always reflecting hierarchy. These two features produce classmarks which are exceptionally brief in relation to their specificity (number of compounded concepts defining the class). For example, the class of a work on the nurse as a caregiver for terminal patients and their families is exactly represented by the classmark HPK PEY FBG K. No other general scheme can approach this degree of specificity without significantly longer classmarks. No symbols other than numbers and letters are needed in BC2.
- Fully detailed alphabetical indexes to all classes are provided, using the economies of chain procedure.
History of the Bliss Classification, with some reminiscences of Henry Evelyn Bliss
A student paper by Charles Dowdell prepared at the School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, New York, 22nd October 2000. Includes a copy of a letter signed by H. E. Bliss.