Facet analysis in a rudimentary form was conceived by S.R. Ranganthan in the 1930s, although it had been preceded by similar analytico-synthetic approaches to subject classification and indexing, notably by Henry Bliss and Paul Otlet in the classification field, and Kaiser in indexing. It was developed post 1950, principally by members of the UK Classification Research Group, as a tool for the organization of document collections in technical, scientific and social scientific fields, where it was highly effective in the storage and retrieval of compound and complex subjects.

Modern facet analytical theory contrasts with earlier views of knowledge as an integral whole (which is broken down into smaller and smaller units) in that it deals with individual terms or concepts which are clustered into categories to create a 'bottom-up' map of knowledge. A number of categories have been identified which are widely applicable to the terminologies of a range of subject fields; these categories are generally functional and/or linguistic in nature (e.g. entities, processes, properties, operations, agents). Compound and complex subjects are accommodated by combining individual concepts. Various forms of system syntax (links and rules for ordering and combination between categories) have been proposed to compound the individual concepts, most of which are based on natural language models; the method used in 'classical' UK facet theory depends on a formulaic inter-category order (citation order).

Currently, facet analysis is used primarily to create classifications for the physical arrangement of documents (or document surrogates). The completed classification or knowledge structure is built up from individual terms which are analysed into categories and ordered by the application of the system syntax. The resultant structure is logical and predictable, and therefore highly effective in storage and retrieval. The only widely used classification embodying these principles is the second edition of the Bliss Bibliographic Classification, which employs standard categories and citation order. It seems probable that this methodology of facet analysis can be used in a broader and more innovative way to create much deeper and more complex knowledge structures and semantic networks, by extending the range of categories and by exploring variants on combinatorial methods. Although the faceted classification is regarded by many as a structure with specific characteristics, essentially facet analysis is a technique, and different models of the same universe of discourse can be derived to meet different local or subject-specific needs using different categories and variations on the syntax.

Some research is now required into the fuller range of categories and relations that may be encountered across the complete range of disciplines. Work is also required on the problems of interdisciplinarity, and alternative approaches to the structuring of knowledge that do not depend on traditional disciplines as the first point of entry; in this area, classifications of phenomena (as opposed to the more conventional aspect classifications), and the further application of integrative level theory, require some investigation. Additional properties of digital objects, especially non-text, multi-media and images, can also provide data for categorical analysis, and may affect the potential syntax of the system. The formulae developed for the combination of terms and concepts will generate n-dimensional structures that seem appropriate to a hypertext environment. Structures generated from the expanded category base may be particularly useful in handling digital objects.

(Written by Vanda Broughton)


Further reading

Broughton. V. "Faceted classification as a basis for knowledge organization in a digital environment; the Bliss Bibliographic Classification as a model for vocabulary management and the creation of multidimensional knowledge structures". To be published in "Challenges in Knowledge Representation and Organization for the 21st Century: Integration of Knowledge across Boundaries" (proceedings of the The Seventh International ISKO Conference, Granada, Spain, on July 10-13, 2002)

Broughton, V., Lane, H. "Classification schemes revisited: applications to web indexing and searching" in Thomas, A. and Shearer, J., Internet searching and indexing; the subject approach. New York; Haworth Press 2000,143-155. Also published in Journal of Internet cataloguing 2(3/4) 2000, 143-155.

Broughton, V., "Structural, linguistic and mathematical elements in indexing languages and search engines: implications for the use of index language in electronic and non-LIS environments", Dynamism and stability of knowledge organization: proceedings of the Sixth International ISKO Conference,10-13 July 2000, Toronto, Canada, edited by Clare Beghtol, Lynne C.Howarth, Nancy J. Williamson (Advances in Knowledge Organization, 7), Würzburg: ERGON Verlag, 2000, 206-212.

Chan, V. Ranganathan Ahead of His Century http://www.slais.ubc.ca/courses/libr517/winter2000/Group7/
(coursework at School of Library and Archival Studies University of British Columbia )

Ellis, D., Ford, N. "In search of the unknown user: indexing, hypertext and the World Wide Web", Journal of Documentation, 54(1), 1998, 28-47.

Foskett, A. C. The future of faceted classification, The future of classification, edited by Rita Marcella and Arthur Maltby, Aldershot: Gower, 2000, 69-80.

Goedert, W. "Facet classification in online retrieval", International Classification, 18(2) 1991, 98-105.

Kent, R. E. "Organizing conceptual knowledge online: metadata interoperability and faceted classification", Structures and relations in knowledge organization: proceedings of the Fifth International ISKO Conference, Lille, 25-29 August 1998, Würzburg: ERGON Verlag, 1998. (Advances in knowledge organization 6), 388-395.

Maple, A. Faceted access: a review of the literature

Pollitt, S. "Interactive information retrieval based on faceted classification using views", Knowledge organization for information retrieval: proceedings of the Sixth International Study Conference on Classification Research, London, 16-18 June 1997, The Hague: International Federation for Information and Documentation (FID), 1997, (FID 716), 51-56. http://www.hud.ac.uk/schools/cedar/dorking.htm

Priss, U. "A graphical interface for conceptually navigating faceted thesaurus", Structures and relations in knowledge organization: proceedings of the Fifth International ISKO Conference, Lille, 25-29 August 1998, Würzburg: ERGON Verlag, 1998. (Advances in knowledge organization 6), 184-190.

Ranganathan, S. R. Prolegomena to library classification; assisted by M. A. Gopinath, 3rd ed., London: Asia Publishing House, 1967.

Star, S. L. "Grounded classification: grounded theory and faceted classification", Library Trends: How classifications work: problems and challenges in an electronic age, 47 (2) 1998, 218-232.

Vickery, B. Faceted classification: a guide to the construction and use of special schemes, London: ASLIB, 1960.

Further reading