Enlightenment era librarian in a library, 19th-century painting by Georg Reimer
Librarian from Wikimedia Commons
By Gabrielle Passick
“Reading is a mighty engine, beside which steam and electricity sink into insignificance.”
~ Melvil Dewey
Gabriel Naudé, Charles Ammi Cutter, Melvil Dewey…you may be wondering what the pertinence of these names is. The answer? Three of the greatest librarians of our history.
From the ancient world to the 21st century, librarians have played a crucial role in the development of libraries and library resources. Librarians provide access to information, preserve materials, and gather data. Organizing both physical and digital materials is another important duty of librarians. The classification of library materials can be quite complex without a designated system of organization.
One may ask, “How does this relate to real life?” Picture a collection of your favorite CDs. These CDs have fallen from a desk and are now scattered on the floor. How would you categorize them? By genre? By the artist’s last name? This process is called classification. Classification is embedded in the root of libraries. This is where three of the greatest librarians in history link to this hierarchy of organization.
Gabriel Naudé was a brilliant 17th-century librarian, physician, scholar, and writer of French descent. In 1627, he wrote Advis pour dresser une bibliothéque, translated in English as Advice on Establishing a Library. This book was dedicated to Henri de Mesme, President of the Parliament of Paris, for whom Naudé worked as a librarian. The book’s content consisted of lessons on structuring a library. In his writings, Naudé mentioned the use of collections in libraries. Naudé focused heavily on preservation of original works and the beginnings of cataloging. After Naudé’s work with the private collection of Mesme, he began working for Cardinal Jules Mazarin at the Bibliothéque Mazarine, also known as the Mazarine Library.
Charles Ammi Cutter, a Bostonian librarian of the 19th century, was an accomplished professional and advocate for the arts. Cutter was part of a family that embraced academia. During his research at Harvard, he single-handedly created the Cutter Expansive Classification (CEC), later adapted by the Library of Congress. The CEC includes many layers of classification designed to place similar resources on the same shelf. A letter is designated to a given subject area (e.g., B=Philosophy and Religion). His impressive discoveries granted him much recognition. Other remarkable achievements included setting up a branch system of libraries as well as promoting bookmobiles. Cutter’s contributions have aided libraries on a global scale.
Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey, a New Yorker, also known as Melvil Dui, was the creator of the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC). The DDC brought immense changes to libraries, preceding Cutter’s CEC. Dewey and Cutter were rivals who both competed against each other’s classification methods. The DDC is found in public and school library settings. The CEC is found at larger institutions, university libraries, and government libraries. Additionally, Dewey aided in establishing the American Library Association (ALA).
Dewey made several indecorous and deleterious remarks, as well as actions. Dewey’s conduct does not reflect the values of the American Library Association. Despite these unfortunate events, the Dewey Decimal Classification System has made a positive impact on libraries, but there certainly are opportunities for improvement within the DDC. As Winston Churchill once stated, "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."
Gabriel Naudé and the Ideal Library
Charles Ammi Cutter
Melvil Dewey: The Professional Educator and His Heirs