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Essay on History of the Universal Decimal Classification System

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By definition, the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) is an indexing and retrieval language in the form of a classification for the whole of recorded knowledge, in which subjects are symbolized by a code based on Arabic numerals.[1] The UDC was the brain-child of the two Belgians, Paul Otlet and Henry LaFontaine, who began working on their system in 1889, 15 years after Melvil Dewey established the DDC.[2] Otlet and LaFontaine built their system on the foundation of the DDC with Melvil Dewey’s express permission. While Dewey conceived his scheme to be applied to the arrangement of books on shelves, Otlet and LaFontaine, whose fields were Sociology, Law, Statistics, Political Economy, as well as Philology and Literature, were ultimately more interested in journal articles, news items, other related documents, and how to access them. Thus, they required a more detailed system. Fortunately,Dewey agreed to allow them to apply his system to the International Index they had conceived, and by 1895 they had amassed and classified 400,000 cards for their Universal Index. Their system caught on after presenting it to a conference held the same year. Otlet and LaFontaine were required to augment Dewey’s system with numerous devices that they later described as synthetic.

In 1920, a Dutch chemical engineer by the name of Donker Duyvis became the secretary of the editorial panel for the second (French) edition of the UDC, ushering in what was known in the history of the UDC as the authoritative or dictatorial period. Duyvis believed that classification was the necessary liaison between “Efficiency, “”Standardization” and “Information.” With this in mind he initiated the preparation of a new edition of the UDC in...


... middle of paper ...


...nd eventually multilingual) database, and the UDC is also available on in electronic form on the web in addition to CD-ROM format. These have also been published in Spanish and Czech .

____________________________________________________________

[1] Geoffrey Robinson, The UDC in Brief,

[2] See and

[3] A. Chatterjee and G. P. Choudhury, “UDC: International Medium Edition - English Text. A Critical Appraisal,” International Classification 13 (1986), No. 3, 137.

[4] Loc. cit.

[5] Apparently, these two versions are quite markedly different from one another.

[6] The UDC Flyer

[7] See

[8] A. Chatterjee and G. P. Choudhury, 138.


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