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Faceted classification

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Faceted classification

Faceted classification is a classification scheme used in organizing knowledge into a systematic order. A faceted classification uses semantic categories, either general or subject-specific, that are combined to create the full classification entry. Many library classification systems use a combination of a fixed, enumerative taxonomy of concepts with subordinate facets that further refine the topic.


  • Definition 1
  • Retrieval 2
  • Examples of Faceted Classifications 3
    • Colon classification for library materials 3.1
    • Universal Decimal Classification 3.2
    • Missile classification 3.3
    • Personal information management 3.4
    • Faceted Classification for Occupational Safety and Health 3.5
    • Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) 3.6
  • Comparison between faceted and single hierarchical classification 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


There are two primary types of classification used for information organization: enumerative and faceted. An enumerative classification contains a full set of entries for all concepts.[1] A faceted classification system uses a set of semantically cohesive categories that are combined as needed to create an expression of a concept. In this way, the faceted classification is not limited to already defined concepts. While this makes the classification quite flexible, it also makes the resulting expression of topics complex.[2] To the extent possible, facets represent "clearly defined, mutually exclusive, and collectively exhaustive aspects, properties or characteristics of a class or specific subject".[3] Some commonly used general-purpose facets are time, place, and form.[4]

There are few purely faceted classifications; the best known of these is the

  • How to Make a Faceted Classification and Put It On the Web - an article by William Denton
  • WebSemantic a Faceted Classification and Put It On the ReuseHow to
  • Carl Linnaeus Invented The Index Card. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 9, 2010, from /releases/2009/06/090616080137.htm - a mention of Linnaeus's use of faceted classification in the original index card system
  • OpenMeta tagging system for the Mac - a (currently) flat system for making facets. (Requesting links for hierarchical tagging systems)

External links

  1. ^ Lois Mai Chan (2005), Library of Congress subject headings, Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited,  
  2. ^ a b Elaine Svenonius (2000), The intellectual foundation of information organization, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press,  
  3. ^ Taylor, A. G. (1992). Introduction to Cataloging and Classification. 8th ed. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited.
  4. ^ a b c Chan, Lois Mai (2007). Cataloging and classification (Third ed.). The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 321.  
  5. ^ a b Coyle, Karen (1975). "A Faceted Classification for Occupational Safety and Health". Special Libraries 66 (5-6): 256–9. 
  6. ^ Taylor, Arlene G. (2004). The organization of information. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. 
  7. ^ Star, S.L. (1998, Fall). Grounded classification: grounded theory and faceted classification. [Electronic version]. Library Trends. 47.2, 218.
  8. ^ Garfield, E. (1984, February). A tribute to S.R. Ranganathan, the father of Indian library science. Essays of an Information Scientist, 7, 37-44.
  9. ^ Chan, L.M. (1994). Cataloging and classification. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
  10. ^ Colon Classification (6th Edition) by Dr. S.R. Ranganathan, published by Ess Publications, Delhi, India.
  11. ^ Ranganathan, S. R (1987). Colon classification, 7th ed. revised and edited by M.A. Gopinath. Bangalore: Sarada Ranganathan Endowment for Library Science, 1987
  12. ^ About universal decimal classification and the udc consortium. (2006). Retrieved November 30, 2013, from
  13. ^ Batty, D. (2003). Universal decimal classification. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science.
  14. ^ Ranganathan and Facet Analysis. (2007). Mystic seaport. Retrieved November 29, 2013, from
  15. ^ H.V.D. Parunak,"Don't Link Me In: Set Based Hypermedia for Taxonomic Reasoning." Proc. Hypertext 1991, San Antonio, TX, 1991, pp. 233-242
  16. ^ "Tinderbox: The Tool For Notes". 
  17. ^ a b Foskett, D. J. (1959). "Construction of a Faceted Classification for a Special Subject". Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information. National Science Foundation. pp. 867–888.  
  18. ^ William Denton. "How to Make a Faceted Classification and Put it on the Web". 
  19. ^ Sirovich, Jaimie (2011). Categories, Facets—and Browsable Facets?, from
  20. ^ Reitz, Joan M. (2004). Dictionary for library and information science. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited
  21. ^ Godert, Winfried. F. (1991). Facet classification in online retrieval. International Classification, 18, 98-109
  22. ^ Adkisson, Hiedi P. (2005). Use of faceted classification. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from


See also

  • Faceted classification systems make few assumptions about the scope and organization of the domain. It is difficult to break a faceted classification schema.[22]
  • New facets may be created at any time without disruption of a single hierarchy or reorganizing other facets.
  • In faceted classification systems one does not have to know the name of the category into which an object is placed a priori. A controlled vocabulary is presented with the number of documents matching each vocabulary term.
  • A faceted system focuses on the important, essential or persistent characteristics of content objects, helping it to be useful for categorization of fine-grained rapidly changing repositories.
  • Faceted classification systems allow for the combination of facets to filter the set of objects rapidly. In addition, the facets can be used to address multiple classification criteria.[21]
  • Hierarchical classification systems are developed classes that are subdivided from the most general subjects to the most specific.[20]
  • Faceted classification systems allow the assignment of multiple classifications to an object, and enable those classifications to be applied by searchers in multiple ways, rather than in a single, predetermined order. Multiple facets may be used as a first step in a search process.[19] For example, one may start from language or subject.

Hierarchical classification refers to the classification of objects using one single hierarchical taxonomy. Faceted classification may actually employ hierarchy in one or more of its facets, but allows for the use of more than one taxonomy to classify objects.

Comparison between faceted and single hierarchical classification

  • Associated Concepts (e.g., philosophy)
  • Physical Attributes
  • Styles and Periods
  • Agents (People/Organizations)
  • Activities (similar to Rangathan's Energy)
  • Materials (similar to Rangathan's Matter)
  • Objects (similar to Rangathan's Personality)[18]

While not strictly a classification system, the AAT uses facets similar to those of Ranganathan's Colon Classification:

Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT)

Notation was solely alphabetic, with the sub-facets organized hierarchically using extended codes, such as "g Industrial equipment and processes", "ge Machines".[17]

  • Facet A: Occupational Safety and Health: General
  • Facet B: Special Classes of Workers, Industries
  • Facet C: Sources of Hazards: Fire, Machinery, etc.
  • Facet D: Industrial Accidents and Diseases
  • Facet E: Preventive Measures, Protection
  • Facet F: Organisation, Administration

After a study of the literature in the field, he created the classification with the following facets: [17][5]

Faceted Classification for Occupational Safety and Health

The HyperSet system [15] formalized faceted classification using set theory, and implemented a prototype retrieval system, many of whose features are implemented in the Tinderbox personal content manager.[16]

Personal information management

Another example of faceted structure was presented in a study done by Cleveland and Cleveland (1990). The author presents the concept of air-to-ground missile as a part of a hypothetical knowledge scheme. After researching different categorization methods, it was shown that only in a faceted scheme would additional terms exist allowing the user to also search for ground-to-air missile without having to begin a new search under a different term. In a facet scheme, these terms would exist: air, ground, missile and this would allow users to easily fit together each type of classification: air-to-ground missile [and] ground-to-air missile.[14]

Missile classification

The UDC has an overall taxonomy of knowledge that is extended with a number of facets, such as language, form, place and time. Each facet has its own symbol in the notation, such as: "=" for language; "-02" for materials, "[...]" for subordinate concepts.[4]

[13] Another example of a faceted classification scheme is the

Universal Decimal Classification

  • Personality is the most specific or focal subject.
  • Matter is the substance, properties or materials of the subject.
  • Energy includes the processes, operations and activities.
  • Space relates to the geographic location of the subject.
  • Time refers to the dates or seasons of the subject.

Ranganathan stated that hierarchical classification schemes like the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) or the Library of Congress Subject Headings are too limiting and finite to use for modern classification and that many items can pertain information to more than one subject. He organized his classification scheme into 42 classes. Each class can be categorized according to particular characteristics, that he called facets. Ranganathan said that there are five fundamental categories that can be used to demonstrate the facets of a subject: personality, material, energy, space and time. He called this the PMEST formula:[11]

The colon classification developed by S. R. Ranganathan is an example of general faceted classification designed to be applied to all library materials. In the Colon Classification system, a book is assigned a set of values from each independent facet.[8] This facet formula uses punctuation marks and symbols placed between the facets to connect them. Colon classification was named after its use of the colon as the primary symbol in its notation.[9][10]

Colon classification for library materials

Examples of Faceted Classifications

Search in systems with faceted classification can enable a user to navigate information along multiple paths corresponding to different orderings of the facets. This contrasts with traditional taxonomies in which the hierarchy of categories is fixed and unchanging.[7] It is also possible to use facets to filter search results to more quickly find desired results.


Faceted classifications exhibit many of the same problems as classifications based on a hierarchy. In particular, some concepts could belong in more than one facet, so their placement in the classification may appear to be arbitrary to the classifier. It also tends to result in a complex notation because each facet must be distinguishable as recorded.[2]

Arlene Taylor describes faceted classification using an analogy: “If one thinks of each of the faces of a cut and polished diamond as a facet for the whole diamond, one can picture a classification notation that has small notations standing for subparts of the whole topic strung together to create a complete classification notation”.[6]

Many library classifications combine the enumerative and faceted classification techniques. The Dewey Decimal Classification, the Library of Congress Classification, and the Universal Decimal Classification all make use of facets at various points in their enumerated classification schedules. The allowed facets vary based on the subject area of the classification. These facets are recorded as tables that represent recurring types of subdivisions within subject areas. There are general facets that can be used wherever appropriate, such as geographic subdivisions of the topic. Other tables are applied only to specific areas of the schedules. Facets can be combined to create a complex subject statement.[4]


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