edited by Birger Hjørland and Claudio Gnoli


Douglas and Antony Foskett

Table of contents:
1. Douglas Foskett
    Selected bibliography
2. Antony Foskett
    Selected bibliography

Douglas Foskett and his brother Antony were two important librarians, scholars and teachers operating in UK and Australia respectively. This article provides information on them, adapted from their obituaries.

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1. Douglas Foskett


Douglas John Foskett was an important librarian, educator and classification theorist. He was born in London on 27 June 1918.

Educated at Bancroft's School and the University of London, he received a BA with honours in English from Queen Mary College in 1939 and an MA from Birkbeck College in 1954. During summer vacations, while studying at Queen Mary College, he worked in the Ilford Public Library. In 1940 he began a long and distinguished service as a member of the Library Association. Inevitably, his professional career was interrupted by World War II, but following military service in the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Intelligence Corps in 1946, he returned to the Ilford library as an assistant librarian. He also continued his professional training and became a Fellow of the Library Association (F.L.A.) in 1949. In 1975 he was made an honorary fellow and became President of the Library Association in 1976.

Figure 1: Douglas Foskett

1948 was a momentous year that did much to shape the rest of Douglas Foskett's life. He moved from the Ilford library to the Research Division Library of the Metal Box Company where, as stated in his own words, he "soon realized how the skills required for a scientific and industrial research 'information officer' depends 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" (Foskett, n.d.).

It was fortuitous that in that same year he met → S.R. Ranganathan. This contact gave him a new view of the possible use of the concept of → facets together with traditional generic analysis. With this understanding, he began to apply facet analysis in schemes for Packaging, Occupational Safety, Health and Education. The result of this work suggested to him that facet analysis could be applied to any subject and could be the basis for possible future research. Thus he was afforded the opportunity to become one of the pioneers of the emerging discipline that came to be called → information science. 1948 was also the year of the Royal Society's Information Conference and from this conference emerged the Classification Research Group (CRG), a Group in which he remained fully involved for the rest of his life.

He was a man of many parts and his career encompassed many activities. His many contributions to librarianship, and in particular to the theory and practice of classification, have been clearly recognized through numerous tributes and awards both at home and abroad. Evidence of this can be seen in his participation on numerous commissions and advisory boards throughout the world. Among these were UNESCO's International Advisory Committee on Documentation, Libraries and Archives, the United Kingdom Unesco National Commission and the Thesaurus Working Group of the Council of Europe's EUDISED project. Moreover, he was committed to the importance of the careful and thorough training of librarians to a high standard. To this end, for many years he was teacher and examiner par excellence at the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, University College London, and served as visiting lecturer in many universities and library and information science training programmes across the world.

Of particular significance were his contributions to the theory and practice of classification and indexing. A founding member of the CRG, he served as its secretary and later as its Chairman and was a moving force in all of its activities. Indeed, he was an active contributor to the CRG's work until very shortly before his death. In 1955 the CRG had endorsed “the need for a faceted classification as the basis for all methods of information retrieval” (Classification Research Group 1955).

This principle was later endorsed at the Dorking Conference in 1957. It was in this context that Douglas Foskett's scholarship and research made its mark through his work in the study and dissemination of the theoretical concepts of Ranganathan. Putting facet analysis into practice, he developed a number of classification schemes, the best known of which are the London Education Classification and Class J, Education, for the second edition of the Bliss Bibliographic Classification. Less well known, perhaps, is the scheme he prepared for Lord's through his legendary dedication to the game of cricket. Among other important works are his Classification and Indexing in the Social Sciences, The Sayers Memorial Volume edited with Bernard Palmer and his work on "Classification and → integrative levels" (Foskett 1961).

Testimony to the significance of his contributions to scholarship and the advancement of library and information science are the numerous prestigious honours that he has received. Among these are the awarding of the OBE in 1978 for his record of public service to his country and his installation as a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1985. In 1993, D.J. Foskett was further honoured by a number of his distinguished colleagues in a festschrift (Humby 1993a) on the occasion of his 75th birthday. Its content details very completely the activities and interests that filled the many facets of his life and includes a 31-page bibliography of his many contributions to scholarship and practice.

Douglas John Foskett contributed much to the advancement of librarianship and information science. At the same time he charmed the world with his sunny personality, his friendliness, his marvelous sense of humour and his love of cricket. On May 6, 2004 the library and information science world, and in particular the world of classification, was saddened and became considerably poorer with his death. His intellectual legacy will live on and continue its impact and he will be greatly missed by his wife, Joy, colleagues and friends.

Selected bibliography

An intended complete bibliography 1939-1992 is published by Humby (1993b).

Foskett, D.J. 1958. Library classification and the field of knowledge. London: Library Association. (Reference and Special Libraries Section, Nerth Western Group Occasional papers, 1.) Text of an address delivered in Manchester on 26th February, 1958.

Foskett, D.J. 1961. "Classification and integrative levels". In The Sayers memorial volume: essays in memory of William Charles Berwick Savers, edited by D.J. Foskett and B.I. Palmer. London: Library Association, 136-50. Reprinted in Theory of subject analysis: a sourcebook, edited by Lois Mai Chan et al. Littleton, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 1985, 210-20.

Foskett, D.J. 1962. The creed of a librarian – no politics, no religion, no mortals. London: Library Association, 1962. (Reference, Special and Information Section, North Western Group Occasional papers, 3.) The text of a paper given at a meeting of the Group in Manchester on 27 March, 1962. Reprinted in The professional development of the librarian and information worker, edited by Patricia Layzell Ward. London: Aslib, 1980, 64-74.

Foskett, D.J. 1963a. Classification and indexing in the social sciences. London: Butterworths.

Foskett, D.J. 1963b. The London Education Classification. London: University of London Institute of Education. (Education libraries bulletin, Supplements, 6.)

Foskett, D.J. 1964. Science, humanism and libraries. London: Crosby Lockwoad. Also published New York: Hafner. A collection of the author's conference papers and articles in journals.

Foskett, D.J. 1967. Information service in libraries. 2nd edition. London: Crosby Lockwond. Also published Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books.

Foskett, D.J. 1969a. "Origins of the conference". In: Classification Research Group. Classification and information control: papers representing the work of the Classification Research Group during 1060-1968. London: Library Association, 7-9. (Library Association research publications, 1.) ISBN 0-85365-421-2.

Foskett, D.J. 1969b. "Some fundamental aspects of classification as a tool in informatics". In: On theoretical problems of informatics, edited by A.I. Mikhailov et al. Moscow: All Union Institute for Scientific ane Technical Information (VINITI), 64-79. (FID 435.)

Foskett, D.J. 1970. Classification for a general index language: a review of recent research by the Classification Research Group, London: Library Association, 1970. (Library Association research publications, 2.) ISBN 0-85365-032-2.

Foskett, D.J. 1972a. "Facet analysis". In: Encyclopedia of library and information science, editors Allen Kent and Harold Lancour. New York: Dekker, vol. 8, 338-46.

Foskett, D.J. 1972b. "Information and general system theory". Journal of librarianship 4, no. 3: 205-9.

Foskett, D.J. 1974. Classification and indexing in the social sciences. 2nd edition. London: Butterworths. ISBN 0-408-70644-9.

Foskett, D.J. and Joy Foskett. 1974. The London Education Classification: a thesaurus/classification of British educational terms, 2nd edition. London: University of London Institute of Education Library. (Education libraries bulletin, Supplements, 6.)

Foskett, D.J. 1975. "Classification". In: Handbook of special librarianship and information work, editor W.E. Batten. 4th edition. London: Aslib, 153-97. ISBN 0-85142-073-7.

Foskett, D.J. 1978. "The theory of integrative levels and its relevance to the design of information systems". Aslib proceedings, 30, no. 46: 202-8. Paper presented at the Leo Jolley Memorial Seminar, 20h June 1977.

Foskett, D.J. 1980. "Systems theory and its relevance to documentary classification". International classification 7, no. 1: 2-5.

Foskett, D.J. and Joy Foskett. 1990. Bliss Bibliographic Classification. Class J: Education. 2nd edition, 1990 revision. London: Bowker-Saur. ISBN 0-86291-2784.

Foskett, D.J. 1991. "Concerning general and special classifications". International classification 18, no. 2: 87-91.

Foskett, D.J. (n.d.) "From librarianship to information science", in Pioneers of information science. Retrieved June 28, 2004 from http://www.libsci.sc.edu/bob/isp/foskett2.htm; archived copy: https://web.archive.org/web/20111113042509/http://www.libsci.sc.edu/bob/isp/foskett2.htm.

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Classification Research Group. 1955. "The need for a faceted classification as the basis of all methods of information retrieval". Library Association Record 57, no. 7: 262-8.

Humby, Michael, ed. 1993a. Libraries and Information Services: Studies in Honour of Douglas Foskett. London: Institute of Education Library, University of London.

Humby, Michael. 1993b. "Douglass Foskett: a bibliography of his writings". In Humby 1993a, 139-173.

[Obituary] Library + Information Update 2004 no. 7-8: 61; 9: 45.

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2. Antony Foskett


Antony (Tony) Charles Foskett was also an eminent librarian, scholar, author and teacher. He was born in London on 5 July 1926, the younger of two sons born to John and Amy Foskett. It is improbable that John, a successful travelling salesman, would have thought that both his sons would grow up to be distinguished members of the library profession.

Figure 2: Antony Foskett

He started his schooling in London but due to the War spent most of his secondary education at Bancroft's School, a private boarding school in Woodford Green, Essex. His education was interrupted at the age of 18 when he contracted tuberculosis and spent many months in a clinic in Switzerland. This affliction and its treatment in those days left him with permanent physical disabilities for the rest of his life. It never, however, affected his mind and possibly made him even more determined to continue with his education and do all the things he wanted to. Though given only 6 months to live at the time, he commenced library studies through the Library Association's accreditation studies programme and so launched, as it turned out, a brilliant career.

After recovering from tuberculosis, he started work at the Bognor Library in Sussex. He moved from there to the Research Library of the Metal Box Company and later obtained an appointment in the Library at the Harwell nuclear establishment. The chief librarian was away when he was appointed and on her return she told him that she would never have given him the job as he did not have a science degree. His response was to gain qualifications in advanced mathematics. That comfortable relationship with mathematics showed in his later work when discussing probability and set theory in the context of information retrieval.

A.C. Foskett began his life-long affiliation with teaching when he commenced lecturing at Loughborough Technical College of Librarianship in 1961, moving in 1966 to the College of Librarianship Wales (CLW) in Aberystwyth. Around this period he became a fellow of the Library Association and obtained an MA from the University of Belfast. As a member of academic staff at CLW, he diligently visited students on far-flung field-work placements and, for at least a year, undertook a more unusual role as warden of the women's hostel at Pantyfedwen in Borth.

His next major assignment was in the USA in 1968–1969 and summer of 1970 as a visiting lecturer at the University of Maryland Library School where he taught at the invitation of professor Paul Wasserman, the founding dean of the school. Tony remarked later that the time spent at Maryland was particularly helpful for the next phase of his life in Australia when he was appointed in January 1973 as principal lecturer and head of the newly formed Library School of the South Australian Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Adelaide. In 1978 he was formally designated head of library studies at SAIT and continued as head of the School of Library and Information Management when SAIT was absorbed into the new University of South Australia in 1986. He set up and developed the School to full graduate degree level and remained the professor and head of School until his retirement in 1991. CLW's loss in not appointing him as head of their Department of Information Retrieval Studies was a great gain for SAIT and later the University of South Australia, although he may not have seen it that way.

Tony Foskett's professional career and abiding interest in classification started in the wake of the land-mark Cranfield Project, sponsored by ASLIB (Association of Special Libraries and Information Bureaux), and the Dorking Conference, both of which brought in an era of renewed developments in libraries in the UK. More importantly, it saw the theory and practice of librarianship lifted to the information plane. Much of this development was spear-headed by, amongst others, Tony's elder brother Douglas in his work with CRG of which Tony was also a member. A major feature of CRG's contribution involved the adoption and further development of facet analysis originated by Ranganathan, the distinguished Indian librarian and author of the Colon Classification scheme. Tony wrote later that "Ranganathan's ideas formed the basis of much of the progress made in classification theory in England in the 1950s". This was quite in contrast to the derision that Ranganathan's work received in some quarters in both the UK and Australia.

Tony Foskett himself wrote extensively on the subject of classification, but his greatest contribution to the theory and practice of librarianship is in his seminal work: The Subject Approach to Information. In the book's opening chapter, much like how management guru Peter Drucker showed a UK company what business they really were in, Tony Foskett shows → information retrieval is a part of the communication process and, therefore, by inference, that libraries are in the business of communication. He illustrated this through mapping elements of the Shannon–Weaver telecommunications model to facets of their information processing equivalents. This represented an enlightened insight into the real and wider role of libraries. The book gave students, for the first time, a competent and readable text into the anatomy of classification theory and practice and an introduction to the field of information science.

The first edition (1969) and first revision of the book (1971) were written when the author was at CLW, with subsequent revisions completed when he was at SAIT and UniSA. Even though there is a mountain of literature on the subject of library classification theory and practice, and research scholars may agree with Tony's modest emphasis on the book being an “elementary text book”, practitioners in the library profession found in one volume the keys that opened the doors to the business they were really in — information delivery. As he writes in the concluding chapter of the 5th edition: “If librarianship has a purpose, it is surely to make information available to those who need it […]. The subject approach is the key to this’. That is amply proved by the book's popularity which saw it go into five reprintings and five editions (1969–1996) that tracked the progress of the subject of classification and pre- and post- coordinate indexing through to the digital library. The book was translated into Portuguese for use in Brazil, into Italian and as a talking book for use in Scandinavia. It is still in demand as current copyright royalties demonstrate.

In South Australia, Tony's contributions to librarianship included: membership of the Libraries Board of South Australia; president in 1975 of the Education for Librarianship Section, Library Association of Australia (LAA); chair-elect in 1970–1981 of the Committee of Australian Library Schools and convener of the DDC Liaison Committee of the then LAA. His international work involved membership of the Central Classification Committee of the International Federation for Documentation (FID) and a UN assignment in Islamabad, Pakistan. Outside of the profession, he was involved in the welfare of the disabled as chairman of the Management Committee of the Disability Information and Resource Centre in Adelaide. In 1992 he was honoured with life membership of the Library Association in the UK.

As a person, Tony Foskett was a caring and devoted family man. He met his wife to be Alex Copsey in 1956 when they worked together at the Metal Box Company. They were married in 1958 and have 5 children, a son and 4 daughters, and were further blessed with 12 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren — a source of great pride and enjoyment for Tony, who in his retirement years, in between his other interests and probably with them in mind, started writing a series of humorous short stories about the adventures of a bear named Jones.

Tony Foskett would happily engage in his intellectual pursuits rather than socialise, but he also had a practical side to his interests. He was a fairly skilled electronics technician and enjoyed wood work; building wardrobes for the children's rooms and, in his considerate way, making a writing desk for Alex when she decided to study for a Bachelor of Special Education degree. Though in an arts-leaning profession, he was never a romantic. However, Tony did like poetry and wrote some himself, contributing occasionally to the Poetry Section of Adelaide's Sunday Mail. Perhaps that is why he could not resist including on the title page of the 5th edition of his book a line from Walter Scott which he paraphrased to read “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to retrieve”, substituting Scott's original word "deceive".

Tony Foskett was remembered by his colleagues and friends as an upright and principled man of impeccable integrity; generous, modest, cultured and altogether a gentleman. His students remembered him as a gifted teacher, a master of his subject and the English language, stern at times, not overly tolerant of incompetence, always approachable and with a personal knowledge of each student's progress. He was happy to extend discussions about their work, as one ex-student remembers, over an after-hours smoked salmon sandwich. Also remembered is his dry sense of humour, some say occasionally sardonic. In the Foreword to his book, referring to set theory, he says:

Having myself been brought up on classical maths, I used to believe that set theory was something to be studied at university level, but I have now learnt enough about it from my children at secondary (and primary!) school to believe that most students will be able to take this section in their stride, and welcome the clarification it affords. Lecturers of course I cannot vouch for.

He was still in good form half a decade after retirement as the last line in the last chapter of the last edition of his book shows. He wrote: “As Marx might have put it: Librarians of the world unite! You have nothing to use but your brains!”.

Tony Foskett's mission in life was to teach and to contribute to the understanding and development of the theory and practice of librarianship. The thousands of students who attended his classes and the bibliographic record of his papers and books bear ample testimony to the accomplishment of that mission. Accomplished doubly so in spite of a life time of indifferent health. The courage and determination with which he approached his every task is epitomised in the way he ignored his disability and walked the kilometre or so from Adelaide railway station to the library school and back on most working days for over 17 years. He then had to negotiate the sweeping stairs of the Brookman Building many times a day. It was ironic that a decade after he retired he received an invitation to the official opening of a lift in the same Brookman Building. His comment on that occasion was very Australian.

It was with profound regret that his death in Adelaide on 14 August 2013 was recorded. In a recent communication from the UK, Tony Foskett is still remembered as one of the giants in the field of classification. The brothers Foskett were indeed that. But whilst Douglas, most deservedly, received wide acclaim, Tony did not in the same measure. In retrospect, it is certain that his peers, especially in Australia, would have wanted the opportunity to redress that omission.

Selected bibliography

Foskett, A.C. 1970a. A guide to personal indexes using edge-notched, uniterm and peek-a-boo cards. 2nd ed. London: Bingley. (1st. ed 1967.)

Foskett, A.C. 1970b. "A New Approach to Teaching Classification and Subject Cataloging". Journal of Education for Librarianship 10, no. 4: 276-282.

Foskett, A.C. 1971. "Misogynists all: a study in critical classification". Library Resources and Technical Services 15, no. 2: 117-121.

Foskett, A.C. 1973. The Universal Decimal Classification: the history, present status and future prospects of a large general classification scheme. London: Bingley.

Foskett, A.C. 1984. "Better dead than read: further studies in critical classification". Library Resources and Technical Services 28, no. 4: 346-359.

Foskett, A.C. 1996. The subject approach to information. 5th ed. London: Library Association. (4th. ed. 1982, 3rd ed. 1977, 2nd ed. 1971, 1st ed. 1969.)

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Version 1.0 published 2023-07-03, last edited 2023-07-12

Article category: Biographical

This article is an adaptation of two obituaries: Nancy Williamson, "Douglas John Foskett, 1918–2004", Knowledge Organization 31 (2004) no. 1: 1-2; and Des Tellis, "Professor A. C. (Tony) Foskett, MA, FLA, ALAA (1926–2013)", Australian Academic & Research Libraries 46 (2015), no. 1: 52-55. Articles from the journal KO are open access after 3 years; permission was given by Des Tellis and the journal AARL; images are taken from the same original sources.
How to cite it:
Williamson, Nancy and Des Tellis. 2023. “Douglas and Antony Foskett”. In ISKO Encyclopedia of Knowledge Organization, eds. Birger Hjørland and Claudio Gnoli,