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Douglas John Foskett

Douglas John (D.J.) Foskett (June 27, 1918May 7, 2004) was a British librarian and library and information scientists, and author of several special ‘faceted’ classification systems.


  • The work of the information officer [should be] regarded as the natural dynamic extension of that of the librarian.
    • Palmer and Foskett (1958, p. 1495) as cited in: Alistair Black et al. (2012) The Early Information Society: Information Management in Britain Before the Computer. p. 41
  • The Classification Research Group (C.R.G.) in London has been discussing for some years the theory of documentary classification, and several papers have been published which reflect the course of the discussions (1–8). Beginning with an explicit disavowal of allegiance to any one published system, the Group has considered the well-known schemes, both general and special, and the work being published by those in other countries who have also been studying the subject theoretically. It has not, unfortunately, had the opportunity so far of seeing the system developed in the U.S.S.R. on the basis of the philosophy of dialectical materialism.
    While the Group has not been particularly satisfied with the development of the Colon Classification itself, we have nevertheless come to the conclusion that the method of facet analysis, first used systematically by S.R. Ranganathan, though sometimes occurring previously as it were by intuition, should form the basis of all forms of information retrieval.
    • Foskett (1959) "The Construction of a Faceted Classification for a Special Subject" in: Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information. p. 867
  • After a great deal of (quite valuable) discussion, the British Classification Research Group accepted that ‘facet analysis’ must be the basis of a classification scheme able to meet the modern requirements.
    • Attributed to Foskett in: T. Tyaganatarajan (1961) "A study in the developments of colon classification." American Documentation. Vol 12 (4), p. 270
  • The term ‘informatics’ was first advanced formally by the Director of VINITI, A. I. Mikhailov, and his colleagues A. I. Chernyi and R. S. Gilyarevskii, in their paper Informatics—new name for the theory of Scientific Information published at the end of 1966. An English translation was circularized in the beginning of 1967. As the authors state in this paper, they are not the first to use this term, and they quote a review by Professor J. G. Dorfmann of their own book Fundamentals of Scientific Information in which Dorfmann criticizes the use of other terminology, such as ‘documentation’, ‘documentalistics’, ‘information science’, and so on. Although the authors do not object to the use of the word ‘Documentation’ in the name of the International Federation for Documentation, nevertheless they claim that this term has not found application in the USSR and indeed they apologize for spending some time in discussing its suitability as a name for ‘the new scientific discipline which studies the structure and properties of scientific information as well as the regularities of scientific information activity, its theory, history, methods, and organization’.
    • Foskett (1970) "‘Informatics’", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 26 Iss: 4, p. 340
  • After six years of war service, I rejoined Ilford Public Library service in 1946, and set about completing my F.L.A., begun in 1940. This service had a good tradition of assistance to readers, and when I joined the Metal Box C. in 1948, I soon realised how the skills required for a scientific and industrial research “information officer” depended on the basic techniques of librarianship, notably classification and cataloguing. The enhancement of these led to the development of higher levels, in literature searching, and, more particularly, in current awareness service and selective dissemination of information....
    Meeting with S. R. Ranganathan in 1948 gave me a new view of classification as facet analysis plus traditional generic analysis and I applied this in schemes for Packaging, Occupational Safety and Health, and Education. This experience has suggested to me that facet analysis applied to any subject can reveal hitherto uncoordinated concepts - materials, processes, etc – and thus offer an indication of possible areas of future research. This could be a unique Information Science to the World Wide Web.

Information service in libraries (1958)Edit

D. J. Foskett (1958) Information service in libraries. 2e ed. 1967 (online)

  • Scientists are more profitably occupied at the bench that in the library
    • p. 9
  • Since books are not their primary source materials, as they are for research in the humanities, most scientists prefer to spend their time on experiments and not on reading.
    • p. 9
  • All information services are ultimately based on library methods and materials.
    • p. 13

The Classification Research Group 1952—1962 (1962)Edit

Foskett (1962) "The Classification Research Group 1952—1962." Libri. Vol 12 (2), pp. 127–138

  • In 1948, it was agreed that a study of classification should be made, and a committee of scientists was appointed under the leadership of Professor. J. D. Bernal.
    • p. 127
  • During... ten years the C.R.G. has met nearly every month, and although it has never had more than about a dozen active members, its influence has grown to the point at which is causes Mortimer Taube in America to rage over its medieval scholasticism, John Metcalfe in Australia to denounce it as a plot by Ranganathan to ruin librarianship, and a British University librarian to describe it as one of the two most significant developments in British librarianship since the end of the war.
    • p. 127
  • The CRG turned its thoughts towards a much more complex matter that had received little attention from any of the other schools of thought which had been represented at the two Conferences [Dorking and ICSI]. This is the relation between general and special classifications: is there anything to be gained by pursuing the ideal of a new universal classification scheme, and if so, how will the specialist's need be served by it? How can the CRG schemes, for example, that prove so satisfactory for their users, be integrated into such a general scheme?
    • p. 133 as cited in:
  • In all this, I have made no mention of punched cards and all the other hardware. The CRG would have been hard put to it to ignore this, even if it had wanted to, which it does not. We believe, however, that there will, in the foreseeable future, remain a need for classification to provide research workers with the opportunity for browsing and for imposing some discipline on a literature that tends always towards greater disorder. We believe that, since hundreds of millions of dollars and rubles are being spent on hardware, and fat volumes roll off the presses almost day and night, that ten shillings a year that the CRG collects from its members will not be missed.
    • p. 137
  • Classification is thought of by many librarians as either a fearful complication of a very simply act, or an outmoded, almost prehistoric, method of doing a very complex mathematical task.
    • p. 138

Classification and indexing in the social sciences (1963)Edit

D.J. Foskett (1974) Classification and indexing in the social sciences. 1974

  • The aim of an information service is to organise the literature on a systematic basis in order to save the time of research workers.
    • p. 4; as cited in: Melanie Feinberg (2007) "Beyond information retrieval"
  • The same thing can be identified by many different terms, and the same term may mean many different things.
    • As cited in: Derek Austin (1977) "Perspective paper: Library Science" in: Donald E. Walker et al. eds. Natural language in information science. p. 48
  • The retrieval process begins when a lack of information shows itself in a human mind and the decision is taken to find out if this information has been discovered and published
    • p. 86; As cited in: Mei Hong (2006, p. 44)
  • The purpose of a classification scheme is to arrange information, in documents on shelves or on cards in indexes, in a sequence that will be helpful to the user.
    • p. 93; As cited in: Mei Hong (2006, p. 44)

Librarians and Information Systems (1995)Edit

Foskett, D. J. (1995). Librarians and Information Systems: A Fruitful Partnership

  • It was a dramatic moment in the history of our civilisation when, in about the year 240 B.C., Archimedes leapt out of his bath and ran naked into the street of Syracuse shouting "Eureka" - "I have found it!" He had found the theoretical answer to a practical problem, that of finding the specific gravity of solids, known ever since as "Archimedes' Principle". We know this because Archimedes had written and published many books, on mathematics and mechanics, and some of these have survived and are preserved in libraries for us to use today. He made a major contribution to the progress of humanity, and over the centuries, that progress has been continually stimulated and accelerated by the invention of new theories, new tools and machines, which explain our world, and lighten the burden of securing the basic necessities of life.
  • Few inventions have had so rapid and wide-ranging effects as the various machines which now process data and information by electronic energy. But I hope and believe that even these remarkable engines will not supersede the book as an instrument for the transfer of information. I remain sceptical, particularly when I see the advocates of the paperless society and the electronic library writing large books to support their case. I earnestly hope and believe also that libraries, as the records and memory of humanity, can form a fruitful partnership with the latest tools invented to ease the burden of our labour. Provided that these tools are efficiently operated by well-thought-out systems for organising and retrieving information, they offer the possibilities and opportunities for librarians and information specialists in all types of institution to meet the challenges of the new millennium.
  • We define a fruitful partnership between our twin professions of librarian and information systems scientist in support of this adventure in creativity, and the pursuit of wisdom? If it is the nature of the creative mind that it sets out to grapple with the tensions and contradictions in the "paradigm", as Kuhn calls it, it follows that first of all one must know what the paradigm is.
  • The discovery of new knowledge for ourselves, then, means the assimilation of public information into our unique context of thought. ie can establish relations between ideas and concepts which are not available to anyone else, because no-one else has precisely the same system of information available.

About FoskettEdit

  • D. J. Foskett is the author of several special ‘faceted’ classification systems of which three, at least, have been published. He was, with A. J. Wells, one of the first to introduce Ranganathan’s ideas into England.
    The Metal Box Company’s classification system comprises six ‘facets’ (categories), of which four relate to the manufacture of boxes (products, parts, materials, operations) and two for packing and crating (packed and crated products-and material condition of the latter; processes). ‘Various common subdivisions’ are also added : research, development, instruments, control, special operations (welding, stamping, etc.).
    The classification established for the food industries being an extension of the CC, utilizes the latter’s categories, but refines their meaning: ‘personality’ becomes products; ‘material’ becomes parts, on the one hand, and materials, on the other; ‘energy’ becomes operations.
    The most important of the classifications compiled by Foskett is the one on health and occupational safety, of which the schedules were first published as an appendix to the proceedings of the Dorking Conference, then continued, modified and completed to serve as a classification for the International Information Centre for Occupational Safety and Health in Geneva...
  • No one has ever devised a completely satisfactory classification scheme, and it seems unlikely that anyone ever will. This failing has always been apparent, but in recent years it has taken on increasingly urgent importance as scholarly literature has grown more complex and information retrieval more sophisticated. The library profession has long been aware of the difficulties created by the schemes available, but Foskett, librarian at the University of London's Institute of Education, has now examined the matter thoroughly in specific relation to the social sciences. He has written an immensely stimulating book, providing a perceptive critique of each of the existing classifications as well as new insight into possible solutions to the problems of classifying social science materials.
    He is very much in the Ranganathan camp and believes that the "facet analysis" which Ranganathan devised can conceivably supply the key to a much improved classification. He is especially taken with the more refined versions of this approach found in the work of the British Classification Research Group, ,and particularly in the work of Barbara Kyle. A schedule fashioned along these lines, he believes, would reveal subject. subdivisions and the relationships between subjects much more satisfactorily than any schedule used today. He would have a classification of such flexibility that any two concepts in the area of the social sciences could be related and this relation indicated in the notation of the material.
    • James F. Govan (1965) "Classification and Indexing in the Social Sciences (Book Review)" Coll. res. libr. May 1965 26:253-254
  • One of the most prominent figures in contemporary British library and information science, Douglas John Foskett made many, varied, and important contributions to library and information science. Classification was always one of Foskett's major interests, and in 1952 he was one of the founders of the Classification Research Group in Britain. But he proved equally influential in the fields of comparative librarianship and library education and in the development of the Library Association (LA).
    • Robert Wedeworth (1993) "Foskett,. D. J. (1918- )". In: World Encyclopedia of library and information services. p. 299
  • The 1950s to early 1960s saw the publication of three major works on indexing, which between them span the retrieval problems of the whole spectrum of knowledge... The first was Vickery’s Classification and indexing in science (1958), followed by Foskett’s Classification and indexing in the social sciences (1963) and finally Langridge’s Classification and indexing in the humanities (1976). These three works, though designed principally as textbooks, expound many universal principles as well as highlighting the specific problems that the various groups of disciplines present and the solutions that have been adopted.
  • Most librarians of his age were bookmen, who loved the touch, the appearance and the smell of books, and who often formed their own collections. Douglas fitted that description; we were all proud to be called ‘Librarians’. Perhaps modern information professionals are similarly inspired by the computer and the world-wide web. But the 1970s was a decade when computer technologies were assuming ever-growing importance for the future of libraries, and Douglas Foskett, as much as anyone, anticipated their value and fostered their introduction. He had already written extensively on classification, and had been a founder member of a special Classification Group. Such publications as ‘Classification and indexing in the social sciences’ and ‘Science, humanism and libraries’, which appeared in the 1960s are still important texts today, despite the vast deluge of literature on information management which has been published since. Of course, times and practices have changed radically in university libraries in the past twenty-five years, with the explosion of technology, and the continuous growth in all digital products and services. There have also been changes in social attitudes and in the approach to work. For example, when Douglas, in his final post, introduced the first computer system (GEAC) in the University of London Library, the junior staff went on strike! Such a response would be unthinkable today.
  • Douglas Foskett was an outstanding librarian, well known in Britain and overseas. He was one of the thinkers of the library profession, and although devoted to books as such he was also among the first to recognise the potential of automated systems.

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