The Role of Indexing in Subject Retrieval


On first reading the list of speakers proposed for this institute, I became aware of being rather the "odd man out" for two reasons. Firstly, I was asked to present a paper on PRECIS which is very much a verbal indexing system-at a conference dominated by contributions on classification schemes with a natural bias, as the centenary year approaches, toward the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC). Secondly, I feared (quite wrongly, as it happens) that I might be at variance with one or two of my fellow speakers, who would possibly like to assure us, in an age when we can no longer ignore the computer, that traditional library schemes such as DDC and Library of Congress Classification (LCC) are capable of maintaining their original function of organizing collections of documents, and at the same time are also well suited to the retrieval of relevant citations from machine-held files. In this context, I am reminded of a review of a general collection of essays on classification schemes which appeared in the Journal of Documentation in 1972. Norman Roberts, reviewing the papers which dealt specifically with the well established schemes, deduced that "all the writers project their particular schemes into the future with an optimism that springs, perhaps, as much from a sense of emotional involvement as from concrete evidence." Since I do not believe that these general schemes can play any significant part in the retrieval of items from mechanized files, it appeared that I had been cast in the role of devil's advocate.published or submitted for publicatio

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