Writing Classification Made Simple – a long and winding road – a guest post from Eric Hunter

Posted by Corey Boudreau, Sales and Marketing Coordinator

To mark his book’s selection as an Editor’s Choice, in this guest post Eric Hunter discusses his experiences publishing Classification Made Simple and the resonance his work has had in the field.


Writing Classification Made Simple – a long and winding road

In the mid-twentieth century, the main thrust of library classification was towards the traditional schemes of Dewey and Library of Congress. A catalyst for change arrived in 1951, when Palmer and Wells published The Fundamentals of Library Classification, based on the researches of Dr S.R. Ranganathan. I can recall vividly a lecturer at Manchester Library School gamely trying to teach this ‘new’ approach but without any great success, as he was only in the throes of coming to grips with it himself!

After Manchester, I was called up for two years national service. Upon my demobilisation, I gradually eased my way back into librarianship and one of the subsequent positions that I held was head of a cataloguing department. Wells had incorporated some aspects of Ranganathan’s concepts into the British National Bibliography. I became enamoured of chain indexing and began to introduce it into the procedures of my department. I suppose that this was when I really began to appreciate fully the enormous practical advantages of Ranganathan’s theories.

In the late nineteen sixties I transferred to teaching. This gave me more of an opportunity to write and to publish. At first, I tended to concentrate on cataloguing and, more specifically, on Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (as some readers will be aware). The sixties and seventies were a time when computerisation was gradually taking hold and I became a convert. I tried to introduce computer studies into the teaching curriculum but some colleagues were less than enthusiastic. I recall one fellow lecturer referring derogatively to ‘Eric and his toys’. However, I believed that computerisation had to be the way forward. I was granted a year’s sabbatical to work and train in the University’s Computer Services Department. In 1982, my ABC of BASIC : An Introduction to Programming for Librarians  was published and, in 1985, Computerised Cataloguing.

At this time some excellent books on classification were available. Sayers’ Manual of Classification for Librarians, revised by Arthur Maltby, being one and Tony Foskett’s The Subject Approach to Information another. All the same, the fact that facet analysis lends itself admirably to computerisation and my experiences with students convinced me that there was an additional need for a book that explained the basic principles of classification more concisely, in a way that was easy to understand, profusely illustrated by practical examples. Thus the idea for Classification Made Simple was born; Ashgate saw the possibilities and agreed to publish; a contract being signed in May 1987.

Classification made simpleWhat impact has the book made? When it appeared in 1988, it was gratifying to note that, in general, the work was well received. Reviewers (who came from a variety of countries and organisations) applauded its simplicity and practicality; they recommended it to anyone needing guidance in the application of classification to the organisation and retrieval of documents in any type of information unit. More than one reviewer regretted the fact that it had not been available when they were students. Others said that it would be invaluable for any IT department concerned with search and retrieval. All of these positive comments were music to my ears.

I like to think that it has helped many of the people working in library and information management, and in data processing, to understand the basic principles and practical applications of classification. There have been enormous changes in librarianship and information management since the work was first written but, hopefully, it is still of some relevance. It is now in a third edition and a translation into Korean is currently in progress.

My advice to anyone wanting to publish would be to choose a subject that you are passionate about and have sufficient knowledge of. Carry out a literature search in order to ascertain what is already available on the topic; look for a gap in the market. Produce one or two extracts and a synopsis to submit to appropriate prospective publishers, to see if there is interest. There is nothing worse than having a completed manuscript sitting on one’s shelf ignored and unwanted.

Remember that writing is a labour of love and self-satisfaction. Textbook authorship will not make you a fortune. There will be no flashy car on the driveway. Perhaps you will just be able to afford the petrol to go in it! Writing is also time consuming. If you are in a relationship, you need the support of your spouse or partner. I am fortunate in that my wife is always encouraging, patient and tolerant during the long hours when I am happily tapping away on a typewriter or computer keyboard.

When the finished product finally arrives on your doorstep, there is a wonderful sense of achievement. All of the effort expended seems worthwhile; writing is rewarding! Carpe diem!

Eric Hunter


Full information about Classification Made Simple: An Introduction to Knowledge Organisation and Information Retrieval can be found on the Ashgate website.

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