Facet analytical theory as a basis for a subject organization tool in a humanities portal

  1. 1. Vanda Broughton

    University College London

  2. 2. Michael Fraser

    Humbul Humanities Hub - Oxford University

  3. 3. Sheila Anderson

    Arts and Humanities Data Service

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Facet analytical theory as a basis for a subject
organization tool in a humanities portal


University College London


Humbul Humanities Hub


Arts and Humanities Data Service


University of Tübingen







The paper describes a collaborative project, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities
Research Board, between the School of Library, Archive & Information
Studies, University College London and two major digital resource gateways, Arts
& Humanities Data Service, and the Humbul Humanities Hub.
AHDS () and Humbul () are on-going government funded projects
for the identification, evaluation and organization of quality digital resources
in the humanities, primarily for the use of the higher education community.
AHDS' remit includes visual and performing arts and archaeology in addition to
traditional humanities disciplines; Humbul covers a slightly narrower humanities
field including history, archaeology, literature, theology and philosophy.
The two are developing a single humanities portal () which will become operational in 2002.
The new portal will draw in resources from the wider Web in addition to the
managed material already available.
An important consideration is the choice of a tool to manage the subject content
of the new site. A digital library on the AHDS model has much in common with the
conventional library in terms of structuring the semantic content of the
resource; it may benefit from the knowledge organization theory that has been
developed over the last fifty years within the library sector for the creation
of tools for vocabulary management and semantic organization of document
content. Systems such as faceted classifications, structured subject headings,
thesauri, and other controlled vocabularies provide a scientifically based
approach to the analysis of 'document' content, and to the creation of indexes,
descriptors, visible taxonomies and hierarchies, as well as linear ordering
schemes (i.e. rules for filing order and sequencing) for the physical management
of materials with respect to intellectual content. These have been tested over
managed bibliographic databases as well as print-based materials, and the theory
is at a high level of sophistication.
Existing means of subject organization at AHDS and Humbul are the Library of
Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC),
both designed for organization of print-based material in a traditional library.
While these offer management advantages (e.g. an established system with
institutional support, regular maintenance and revision, and centralised
bibliographic services) they are not particularly useful within a digital
environment. They display little sophistication in the structure, cannot handle
complex objects well, and can do little to expose the complex interrelationships
and multidimensional links within the structure of the digital collection.
The new humanities portal requires a system that performs several functions;
accurate description, for retrieval purposes, of complex digital
documents/objects with a range of attributes, both of intellectual
content and format
provision of a systematic structure for the organization of the
front-end in a directory format, using hypertext techniques to expose
deeper layers of the network
generation of structured subject headings for specific objects
manipulation of these to create browsable alphabetical subject indexes
capability of conversion to a thesaural structure to provide a
controlled vocabulary of keywords and concepts.

Ideally, the system should also display;
potential for multiple access points to the structure to enable
resource discovery by various routes or search strategies;
potential for incorporation into search software as a device in
negotiating the wider Web.

The School of Library, Archive & Information Studies (SLAIS) at
University College London has a particularly strong history in education and
research in classification and indexing. It is one of only a few British schools
offering teaching in this area, and its staff are actively involved in the
management of several systems of bibliographic classification, and research into
the development and use of faceted schemes. We are investigating a structure of
this kind for the organization of the new humanities portal.
Classifications built on the facet analytical model provide effective tools for
analysing and organizing documents on the basis of their subject content, and
consequently for retrieving those documents from a managed store. They work on
different principles from older enumerative schemes such as Dewey and the
Library of Congress classifications which simply provide long lists, or
enumerations, of classes for the accommodation of documents.
Facet analysis was conceived by S. R. Ranganathan, a mathematician by training,
and a student at SLAIS in the 1920s. He proposed a system for the description
and organization of documents with complex subject content, based on
identification and analysis of constituent parts of the subject, rather than by
creation of lists or enumerations of compound classes into which specific
documents must be fitted. Documents were analysed, the content encoded, and the
codes synthesised into an appropriate classmark which was used for filing and
which was expressive of the subject content.
Ranganathan's system was ground-breaking, but relatively unsophisticated. It
continues to be developed in India, but is virtually unused outside that
country. In the UK the Classification Research Group, formed in the 1950s,
further developed facet analytical theory.
The internal logic of a faceted system of the CRG type is based on rigorous
analysis of the terminology of a subject, whereby terms are sorted into standard
sets of functional categories. Within these categories a range of semantic
relations are acknowledged, and problems of vocabulary control (such as
synonymy, partial synonymy and variations in word forms) are addressed. A
sophisticated system syntax provides for arrangement and combination of terms
both intra- and inter-category, and for the management of syntactic relations.
This improves performance in the accommodation of complex subjects, the
predictability of location, and in the effectiveness of retrieval.
A faceted classification is, in its simplest form, a structured set of simple
terms or concepts with rules for the combination of these into compound concepts
such as occur in the content of documents. These compounds are placed precisely
in the base structure by the application of the system syntax. When these
classes are populated by the 'real' subjects of documents (or other objects with
semantic content) a more complex structure grows in accordance with the internal
logic of the system.
A faceted classification, when applied to a large collection of documents, can
generate a very complex knowledge structure of n-dimensionality and great
logical regularity, with deep levels of hierarchy. The resultant structure can
be utilised in a number of ways; as an ordering device, as a source of index
terms and subject headings, and can also be converted to a thesaurus. Hypertext
can be utilised to expand the levels of hierarchy, or to make links between
distributed elements.
An example of a small classification for religion demonstrates how the structure
can be applied:
(Form subdivisions)
Bibliography of Judaism
Encyclopaedia of Judaism
(Place subdivisions)
Judaism in Europe
(Period subdivisions)
Judaism in the Middle Ages
Judaism in the Nineteenth Century
Judaism in Nineteenth century Europe
(Philosophy and theory of religion)
Religious philosophy of Judaism
(Sacred texts)
Hebrew Bible
Mediaeval Hebrew Bible
Jewish festivals
(Organization of the religion)
Jewish religious law
(Sacred texts)
The Hebrew Bible in Jewish religious law

This can be represented in the form of subject headings as:
Judaism - Bibliography
Judaism - Encyclopaedias
Judaism - Europe
Judaism - Middle ages
Judaism - Nineteenth century
Judaism - Nineteenth century - Europe
Judaism - Religious philosophy
Judaism - Bible
Judaism - Bible - Middle Ages
Judaism - Festivals
Judaism - Religious law
Judaism - Religious law - Bible

These can be left in this order, to represent the systematic structure, or they
can be alphabetized:
Judaism - Bible
Judaism - Bible - Middle Ages
Judaism - Bibliography
Judaism - Encyclopaedias
Judaism - Europe
Judaism - Festivals
Judaism - Middle ages
Judaism - Nineteenth century
Judaism - Nineteenth century - Europe
Judaism - Religious law
Judaism - Religious law - Bible
Judaism - Religious philosophy

From a small base vocabulary of 30-40 terms like this one, hundreds of multi-term
subject headings can be generated.
The subject headings can be inverted to form a browsable index in which
distributed relatives are collocated.

Bible - Judaism
Bible - Religious law - Judaism
Bibliographies - Judaism
Encyclopaedias - Judaism
Europe - Judaism
Europe - Nineteenth century - Judaism
Festivals - Judaism
Middle Ages - Bible - Judaism
Middle Ages - Judaism
Nineteenth century - Judaism
Religious law - Judaism
Religious philosophy - Judaism

The regularity of the system and its rules of syntax suggests that much of the
routine work of managing documents could be carried out automatically, once the
initial intellectual analysis has been made.
In a testbed implementation for the research, AHDS and Humbul are applying the
knowledge structure to the Portal's planned metadata repository for all the
digital objects in their collection; it is likely that XML will prove to be the
best tool for the implementation of the structure. They will also experiment
with its use in cross-disciplinary browsing and retrieval of digital resources
which are held elsewhere.



Faceted classification as a basis for knowledge
organization in a digital environment

New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia




Classification schemes revisited; applications to web
indexing and searching



Internet searching and indexing; the subject approach

New York


Prolegomena to library classification

Madras Library Association



Bliss Bibliographic Classfication

Butterworth, Bowker-Saur

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Conference Info

In review

"New Directions in Humanities Computing"

Hosted at Universität Tübingen (University of Tubingen / Tuebingen)

Tübingen, Germany

July 23, 2002 - July 28, 2008

72 works by 136 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website: http://web.archive.org/web/20041117094331/http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/allcach2002/

Series: ALLC/EADH (29), ACH/ICCH (22), ACH/ALLC (14)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None