I S K O

edited by Birger Hjørland and Claudio Gnoli

 

Henry Evelyn Bliss

by

Table of contents:
1. Early life and career
    1.1. Childhood
    1.2. Schooldays and student life
    1.3. Early working life
    1.4. Young adulthood and family matters
    1.5. Life and work at the City College Library
2. Personal life
    2.1. Marriage and family life
    2.2. Personal interests
    2.3. Deafness
    2.4. Political and religious beliefs
3. Later career and contributions to scholarship
    3.1. Later career
    3.2. Intellectual achievements
    3.3. Philosopher librarian: 3.3.1. The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences (OKSS) (3.3.1.1. The organization of knowledge; 3.3.1.2. Classification theory; 3.3.1.3. The system of the sciences; 3.3.1.4. A historical survey of systems of knowledge); 3.3.2 The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries and the Subject Approach to Books (OKL)
4. Interactions with others
    4.1. Reception of Bliss’s work
    4.2. Relationships with others
    4.3. Bliss and Ranganathan
5. Later life
    5.1. Bliss re-evaluated
    5.2. Final years
Acknowledgments
Endnotes
Publications of H. E. Bliss
Unpublished writings of H. E. Bliss
References
Colophon

Abstract:
The paper describes the life of Henry Evelyn Bliss, classification theorist, creator of the Bliss Bibliographic Classification, and librarian at the City College of New York. It provides an account of Bliss’s life from childhood to his death in 1955, and considers some of the formative influences on him and his work. His family and personal life, as well as his private interests, are also covered. Bliss’s intellectual work and output are evaluated (the Bibliographic Classification itself is the subject of another article), and his writings are examined for the classification theory he was the first to systematize, and for ideas that demonstrate thinking ahead of his time. Reference is made to the historical and professional context of Bliss’s career, and to the many librarians, academics, and public figures worldwide with whom he interacted.

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1. Early life and career


1.1. Childhood

Henry Evelyn Bliss was born on January 29 1870 at the old Grand Union Hotel on 42nd Street and Park Avenue, New York City (Campbell 1976, 135), opposite what is now Grand Central Station, then still under construction (Goforth 1980, 4). His parents were Henry Hale Bliss and Evelina Matilda Bliss (née Davis). Bliss had an older sister, Florence Wadsworth Bliss, born in February 1869 [1]. The Bliss’s were in comfortable circumstances, and lived in “an elegant home on Fifty Third Street” (Livingston 2010, 34). Henry Hale Bliss was a real estate broker, acting for wealthy families such as the Astors, Vanderbilts, and Goulds, and Bliss’s mother was a rich woman in her own right, having “received a substantial inheritance from her first husband”, Robert Swift Livingston, with whom she had a daughter, Mary Alice (Livingston 2010, 2). The Livingstons were one of the most prominent families in New York (Livingston 1910), Livingstons having been signatories to the Declaration of Independence, and the United States Constitution. Robert Swift Livingston was a former county judge, the grandson of the last lord of the Manor of Livingston, and the owner of an estate at Almont, on the Hudson, where “he lived as a country gentleman” (Pearson 1936, 174). As well as being financially independent through her first marriage, Bliss’s mother was well connected to New York society; she was a member of the same family as Matthew Davis [2], close friend and biographer of vice-president Aaron Burr (Mushkat 1975), and her mother, Mary Ann Davis, had, in addition to the Davis family fortunes, acquired substantial capital through her three marriages.

Figure 1: Henry Evelyn Bliss (courtesy Bliss Classification Association)

Both Bliss’s parents were descended from English families who settled in the Eastern United States in the colonial period, and his earliest roots through the male line can be traced back to Thomas Bliss [3], who lived in Hartford, Connecticut in 1639 (Campbell 1976, 135). Bliss’s son, John Hale Bliss, recounts that “my father was at heart an aristocrat, and he retained the tastes of one who has been brought up in this background, however decrepit” (Campbell 1976, 137).

Bliss’s early life appears settled, although, according to Goforth (1980, 5) “there was much friction between his parents”, and they separated in the 1880s (Livingston 2010, 2). Other sources tell us that “it was a perfectly friendly divorce” (Pearson 1936, 175), “the declared cause of the separation was trivial”, and “they remained on amicable terms, and were accustomed to visit each other” (New York Journal 1896a, 23). In her later years, “Evelina often walked to the Colonial Hotel […] to dine with her husband and her daughter Mary Alice” (Livingston 2010, 2), and Mr. Bliss “dropped in for an occasional game of tiddledywinks [sic]” (Pearson 1936, 175).

Bliss’s first seven years were spent mostly in the city of New York, and the next six, from 1877-1883, on his mother’s family estate at Toms River, New Jersey. Late in life Evelina’s mother, Mary Ann Davis, had married Tom Placide, a member of a famous theatrical family, and the Bliss’s shared their house, Bon Haven, “a substantial property of considerable natural beauty, near where the river enters the bay” (Livingston 2010, 36). After the deaths of Tom Placide, by suicide in 1876, and Mary Ann in 1878, the Bliss’s assumed ownership of the house. They were subsequently sued by John Hooper, Mary Ann Davis’s son from a previous marriage, claiming that “undue influences had been brought to bear on Mrs. Placide by the Blisses” (New York Times 1880), and a substantial part of the estate, which was estimated at $75,000, was lost to them, although they were able to retain the house. Bliss was to visit the property again at the end of his life, when he recognised the rooms, including that where Tom Placide had ended his life (Beck 1956, 243).

Until he was eleven Bliss was educated at home by his mother, who “taught him to read, write, sing and read the catechism” (Campbell 1976, 135). Evelina had “taken lessons in piano and voice, and was an accomplished singer of opera and popular songs” (Livingston 2010, 2). Bliss retained the love of music throughout his life, singing in the local church choir at his home in Dobbs Ferry (although he had no religious belief (Goforth 1980, 34)), until prevented by deafness in his later years (Campbell 1976, 138). After the age of eleven, Bliss had “a series of governesses who tutored him in arithmetic, history, French and Latin” (Anderson 1978, 36). Alongside his schoolroom studies, Bliss was an active boy, and a particular skill and pleasure was “building small boats and sailing them” (Bliss 1927). Campbell (1976, 138) tells us that “[a]s a teenage boy on Barnaget Bay, near Tom's River, [he] was proficient, even in rough weather, with the ‘sneak box’ or cat boat” [4]. During his youth he also developed a liking for gardening and woodwork. The latter was to be a lifelong interest, along with the writing of poetry, a diversion from his professional and scholarly work. Anderson (1978, 39) and Current Biography (1953, 77) record that Bliss was a member of the British Poetry Society, and a short volume of poetry, Better Late than Never (1937a) was Bliss’s only published work besides those on classification and library management.

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1.2. Schooldays and student life

The family returned to New York City in 1883, when Bliss went to school for the first time. He attended two successive grammar schools, one at 69 West Fifty-fourth Street, the second at 68 West 128th Street, which he left in 1885 as Salutatorian, that is the second ranked graduating student in his cohort (Current Biography 1953, 75). In the same year he enrolled on the classical course at the College, formerly the Free Academy, of the City of New York, now the City College of the City University of New York [5]. In some sources this is referred to as a classics course (Mueller 1993, 133), but the Annual Register of the College shows that it was actually a broad programme, which included subjects such as history and philosophy, chemistry and trigonometry, and which formed the basis for the College of Liberal Arts and Science. The counterpart for students pursuing a scientific programme involved mechanical classes and some of the first training in practical applied fields (Van Nort 2007, 7). Anderson (1978), when writing of The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences (Bliss 1929a), states that “Bliss’s mathematical background is evident throughout the work” and that he “used words and expressions, with a careful, almost mathematical precision” (although this appears to be a paraphrase of Berwick Sayers’ comment on Bliss’s first volume of theory that “the author uses words with an exactitude which is almost mathematical in its precision” (1954, 765). She suggests that Bliss’s “early attempts to master all knowledge […] he had sought to do through the study of mathematics” (Anderson 1978, 37). There seems to be no other evidence of this mathematical background, so it is not entirely clear how it might be the case, but it is certainly true that his study of philosophy and logic contributed substantially to the later work of classification, and that some of his theoretical work was published in scholarly philosophy journals (Bliss 1915; 1917b; 1935b). Bliss is recorded as a student in the Sophomore Class of 1887/88 under the name of ‘Harry Evelyn Bliss’ although no other source refers to him by this familiar form of address.

Bliss left the College in 1888 without a degree, although he was awarded a Certificate (Thomas 1998, 55). His leaving was possibly because he was disappointed with the course (Campbell 1976, 135), although it is more likely to have been because of the “need to earn his living” (Thomas 1998, 54), the Bliss’s being in more straitened circumstances at this time. It seems probable that Evelina lost most of her Livingston money “in the panic of 1873” (New York Journal 1896a, 23), the first of a series of late Nineteenth century financial crises (Nitschke 2018, 221), and the inheritance from her mother’s family was also “rapidly disappearing” (New York Times 1896, 8). A contributory factor could also have been Bliss’s relative youth. It should be noted that the City College (founded as the Free Academy of New York) delivered courses at a number of different levels, including secondary education, so it is possible that his attendance there was simply an extension to the grammar school education, which Bliss had left at the age of fifteen.

One history of the City College (Van Nort 2007, 13) tells us that “the young men who enrolled in the Free Academy were often only 13 or 14 years of age […] after finishing their education in the New York Free School System”; this is supported by Traub’s history of the College (1994, 26) which confirms that “the average age of entering students was fourteen, and the usual level of preparation was correspondingly low”. Bliss’s experience is possibly in line with that. It was not unusual for students to drop out of the College; “large entering classes and small graduating classes were typical of the college in the nineteenth century” (Roff et al. 2000, 10). Roff et al. quote the minutes of the Board of Trustees (1873, 2-3), where the Chairman says:

The majority of the students of our college are from families dependent for their support on their own industry. They come to school as long as they can be spared from their productive pursuits […]. It is to be lamented that so few find it convenient to complete the course, but it is a great thing for the young men and a great thing for the city, that such a multitude can spend two or more years upon the higher studies […].

The Free Academy, and the College of the City of New York, which it became in 1866, was a bold experiment in publicly funded education, “perhaps the longest-running radical social experiment in American history” (Traub 1994, 9). Its founder Townsend Harris proclaimed “Open the doors to all […]. Let the children of the rich and the poor take their seats together and know of no distinction save that of industry, good conduct and intellect” (Harris 1847). Nor was the new institution the object of charity or patronage, but a truly democratic venture, as declared by Dr. Horace Webster, first president of the Free Academy on the occasion of its formal opening, January 21, 1849: “The experiment is to be tried, whether the children of the people, the children of the whole people, can be educated; and whether an institution of the highest grade, can be successfully controlled by the popular will, not by the privileged few but by the privileged many” (Addresses Delivered upon the Opening of the Free Academy 1849, 27).

That the young Bliss was sent here, rather than to one of the private universities of New York, such as Columbia College, which was “aristocratic in social attitude, and resolutely classical in curriculum” (Bender 1987, 91), is doubtless further evidence of the decline in the Bliss family fortunes. The culture of the City College, with its strong emphasis on equality and individual merit, may well have been instrumental in forming the young Bliss’s political views, which, although he never joined the Socialist party, tended strongly towards socialism (Campbell 1976, 137). Whatever the case, Bliss’s father disapproved of his son’s life and interest in learning, and, like many other parents of City College students, had no great career ambitions for him, being determined that he go into business. Gorelick (1981, 67) confirms that this was common enough. “Most of the students dropped out because their parents could no longer afford to keep them in school; others left because a business career did not require four years of college, nor did a career in teaching, medicine or law.”

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1.3. Early working life

Bliss had no desire to join his father’s real estate firm, but spent three years in the commercial world, in a variety of posts detailed by Goforth (1980, 7-8). The first of these was as an advertising clerk in a tea importing company, from which he was discharged after a year because ‘the treasurer found him engaged in horseplay with a fellow employee’ (Goforth 1980, 7). From there he went to the Campbell Printing Press Manufacturing Company, also as a clerk, but walked out after another dispute when he was asked to work overtime. Bliss had planned to spend his Saturday afternoon at an opera matinée featuring the great Adelina Patti and refused to oblige when his employer insisted he work. His third clerkship, with a “gentlemanly Spanish-American importing firm” (Goforth 1980, 8), lasted only a few months, until July 1890.

Despite not taking his degree, Bliss had continued with his intellectual pursuits during this period, and now his ambitions turned to the world of education (Anderson 1978, 36). In 1890 he taught for five afternoons a week at Baron de Hirsch’s School for Americanising Hebrew Boys [6]. In the following year he passed the examinations for a license to teach in the city’s public schools, and then was employed in an evening school. But before he could find a full-time teaching post, he was invited to become the Deputy Librarian at the City College, which appointment he took up in October 1891, and where he was to stay for the rest of his working life. This must have been a stroke of good fortune for Bliss, and perhaps a surprising one, given that he had not completed his degree, and had no background or training in library work. The latter was not unusual at that time, but most academic librarians would have had some pretension to scholarship. Ironically, in 1887, while Bliss was a student at City College, Melvil Dewey was establishing the first US library school at Columbia College, now Columbia University, New York, but there was never any possibility that Bliss might attend it. His only professional education was some years later at the Summer School in library economy held at Amherst College in July-August 1903, where he gained a Certificate (Thomas 1998, 55). Thomas also records that Bliss was “encouraged in his interest in classification” by W. I. Fletcher, librarian of Amherst College [7], who had conducted the course, and he “received advice from Charles Ammi Cutter at the Forbes Library”. This relative lack of schooling is commented on elsewhere, where it is said that “Mr. Bliss regards his education as derived mostly from life and work, books and business” (Library Journal 1930, 605).

Both Campbell (1976, 136) and Goforth suggest that Bliss’s social connections were seen as useful to City College, an institution still in its infancy, and also observe that “Bliss was liked by certain faculty members and they sponsored him for the position” (Goforth 1980, 9). John Hale Bliss, cited by Campbell (1976, 136), is clear that his father was specifically selected for the post of librarian:

It was of course John Finley who made the College of the Academy, who built the new uptown campus, who sponsored father, because, aside from his recognition of him and liking him [Finley] was looking for recognition and status—here was father, a man who might be a great man and a great tribute to the College—certainly, play along with him.

Finley went on to be the third president of the College, from 1903 to 1913, having previously held a newly established chair at Princeton. From 1913 he was president of the University of the State of New York, and commissioner for education of the State of New York. In 1921 he became associate editor of the New York Times and editor-in-chief from 1937 to 1938, when he retired through ill health. Finley was largely responsible for the upgrading of the Free Academy, and for its physical expansion. Like his predecessors, Finley “embraced the ethnic heterogeneity of New York” (Bender 1987, 291). He was to “bring the intellectual vitality and social ambition of the Jewish Lower East Side under the watchful and nourishing care of City College […] laying the foundations that made CCNY one of the nation’s most exciting colleges in the 1920s and 1930s” (291).

Roff et al. (2000, 17) tell us that Finley “demonstrated the ability to select good administrators and inspire them with his own enthusiasm”, which speaks well for his choice of Bliss. It seems that, while Bliss had failed to complete his degree, he had nevertheless impressed his teachers and the College authorities.

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1.4. Young adulthood and family matters

During Bliss’s early adult life both his parents were briefly the subject of public interest, his father being the first recorded fatality in a motor vehicle accident in North America when he was struck and killed by a taxi while alighting from a street car by Central Park in New York City (New York Times 1899). The incident is also reported in some detail in the New York Journal and Advertiser of 15 September 1899 (7), under the headline “The Death Stretch Beside the Park”. The taxi driver, Arthur Smith, was arrested and charged with manslaughter, but acquitted since there was no evidence of malice or negligence. A plaque was placed at the site on the centenary of Henry Hale Bliss’s death, when a ceremony of dedication was attended by a respectable assembly, including his great-granddaughter (Haberman 1999, B1).

Bliss’s mother Evelina was at the centre of a cause celebre in 1895, when Mary Alice Livingston, the daughter of her first marriage, and Bliss’s half-sister, was tried for her murder (Livingston 2010, 2). Mary Alice had a powerful reason for wishing her mother dead; she was in dire financial straits, and she and her three illegitimate children were dependent on the good offices of her stepfather Henry Hale Bliss, who maintained them in an apartment at the Colonial Hotel in Harlem (Livingston 2010, 2). Although Evelina’s portion of the Livingston money was now gone, Mary Alice’s share of the estate was held in trust until her mother’s death, and amounted then to about $82,000 [8] (New York Times 1896, 8); Pearson (1936, 174) has it somewhat larger at $85,000. At the time Bliss and his sister Florence were living with their mother in her quarters at 397 St. Nicholas Avenue, an apartment building in Upper Manhattan, across from the southern end of St. Nicholas Park (Livingston 2010, 1), and close to where the City College’s new campus would be built in the early 1900s. However, both Bliss and Florence were away on vacation at the time of her death (New York Times 1896, 8). On 30 August 1895 Mary Alice, then calling herself Fleming, had sent her ten year old daughter Gracie round to the apartment, taking with her some clam chowder and a piece of lemon meringue pie for Evelina’s supper. Shortly afterwards Evelina became very ill, and she died later that evening. Had she not been visited by a friend who called a doctor, Evelina’s death might well have been put down to one of the various medical conditions she suffered from, and certainly Florence and Henry, when they returned, seemed to think that their mother’s death was natural. But as Evelina herself thought she might have been poisoned, an autopsy was carried out, and Mary Alice was arrested on a charge of murder. The trial itself was something of a sensation, and reported in detail in the New York Times on a daily basis. Mary Alice showed no signs of nervousness, but she was no stranger to the courtroom, having twice petitioned for breach of promise in respect of two of her four illegitimate children. Those trials had also featured in the national press, and did little to enhance Mary Alice’s reputation. The first action in 1883, against Henry Fleming “an oil merchant, part owner of the New York Refining Company and president of the Petroleum Exchange” (Livingston 2010, 39), is also said by Livingston (2010, 50) to have been the backdrop to the final breakdown of Evelina’s marriage to Henry Hale Bliss and the occasion of his leaving Toms River for New York. Their squabbles were partly about how to manage Mary Alice, and partly about money, but Fleming’s admittedly unsubstantiated claims that he had slept with both Mary Alice and Evelina cannot have helped the cause of marital harmony. A second, unsuccessful, action in 1886 was brought against Henry Willis, a lawyer, and the claimed father of Gracie, the bearer of the clam chowder (Livingston 2010, 54). Two further children resulted from a liaison, current at the time of the trial, with Ferdinand Wilckes, “a young German with a sandy beard […] who was in the coffin business” (Pearson 1936, 175). Wilckes had been introduced to Mary Alice several years earlier by her half-brother Henry as “an old chum of mine in college, and one of the best fellows you ever met” (Livingston 2010, 87).

Not much is recorded of Bliss’s reaction to his mother’s death, but when approached by a reporter from the World immediately after the funeral he said “I cannot believe that she [Mary Alice] could do such a thing […] The truth will come out though” (Livingston 2010, 8). While Florence attended the court daily, sitting by her sister’s side throughout, Bliss took no part in the trial proper, although he appeared at the inquest held to determine the cause of death. There, although said by Livingston (2010, 60) to be ‘pale and nervous’ while giving evidence, he shook his half-sister’s hand, and in an interview with the New York Times a few days earlier had said that “in her present trouble, I am her friend”. A more colourful account of the proceedings in the New York Journal for May 27, 1896 (9-10), described Bliss as “the defendant’s half-brother, a lady-like young man”, from which we might infer that Bliss was somewhat refined in his manner. The account includes a sketch of the young Bliss, a rare (if not unique) record of his physical appearance in early life.

Figure 1: Sketch of Bliss at the inquest into the death of his mother, Evelina Bliss, from a report in the New York Journal May 27 1896 (https://www.loc.gov/item/sn84031792/1896-05-27/ed-1/)

One positive outcome to the trial was that Henry Hale Bliss had apparently become reconciled to his son’s choice of career, perhaps because of the inevitable comparison with the conduct of other members of the family. At the time Bliss Senior was being openly observed by detectives in connection with the case and pestered by journalists, and he was concerned about the consequences for his own affairs. “’I will lose $5,000 dollars in my own business by being identified with these scalawags’ he declared angrily” (New York Tribune Sept. 5 1985, 1). However the Tribune also reports him as saying: “I am proud of my son Henry. He is the librarian of the College of the City of New York, and his best friend is Alexander S. Webb” [9].

Ultimately, Mary Alice was acquitted, possibly because of a ‘reasonable doubt’ about her guilt, but more probably because the prospect of her execution in the recently introduced electric chair disinclined the jury to convict. Nevertheless, her brother was by then fairly well convinced of her guilt. As documented by Livingston (2010, 151), he later wrote in a privately retained family history that:

[H]er 1896 murder trial “became a case of reasonable doubt and more or less unreasonable mercy”. Referring to himself, “the present writer”, in the third person, “sincerely thought and still thinks Alice Livingston was guilty, but he reasonably admits some doubt, and he sadly felt and still feels some pity, and he approves the mercy”.

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1.5. Life and work at the City College Library

In 1891 Bliss started working in “the tiny library of the old Free Academy Building on East 23rd Street” (Dunlap 1995, 104). In his early days at the College Bliss was de facto librarian, but “had only one assistant” (Campbell 1976, 136). He is recorded in the Annual Registers of the College as the deputy librarian from the 1892/93 volume onwards, with Charles George Herbermann, professor of Latin literature, as librarian during most of his tenure. In this period Melvil Dewey was a member of the Board of Regents of the College, although rather strikingly neither Dewey, nor Bliss, nor Herbermann were ever members of the College Library Committee. The Library at the start of Bliss’s employment contained 26,740 volumes (Annual Register 1891/92), although some thirty years later the figures had risen to “over 70,000 bound volumes and 40,000 pamphlets” (Annual Register 1920/21, 51).

Not much is recorded of the general administration of the College Library, apart from that contained in Bliss’s own correspondence, but a glimpse is provided by Van Nort (2007, 18):

The original institutional library [i.e. the Free Academy] provided limited access to members of the college community. Students could check out one book between 8.30 and 9.00 a.m. on alternate Fridays upon presenting a detailed form with three faculty signatures. Books were to be returned between 3.00 and 3.30 p.m. on alternate Fridays. Professors could borrow up to six books at one time, while tutors were allowed only three.

Later in the library’s history a more liberal approach to access appeared to be in force, consistent with the general egalitarian stance of the College: “The reference department is open to all. Books may be borrowed by persons connected with the College in any way now or in the past, and by outsiders properly introduced under the rules of the Library Committee” (Annual Register 1920/21, 51).

A photograph from the early period shows a typical Nineteenth century library with tall glass-fronted bookcases arranged in bays, and large flat tables rather than desks for study. In Mosenthal and Horne’s The City College (1907, 77) we find a rare reference to Bliss in the caption to another photograph, this time of the west end of the College Library: “[t]he main part of the library, choked with books and cases, lies to the left. The distributing desk and shelves of the deputy librarian, Mr. Bliss, are in the background”. Bliss’s key role in the library is neatly summed up: “[i]t is there that everybody applies for information of every kind”. It is also documented (Campbell 1976, 136) that “Bliss's early duties included advice to students on reading, and in this way he came to know a number of people who later became well known”. They included those who “became prominent in law, literature, philosophy and the sciences” (Current Biography 1953, 75). Campbell (139) also cites John Hale Bliss, Bliss’s eldest son, born in 1908:

I recollect as a boy, from talk at home, and work father brought home, and occasional visits to the library itself, that father was deeply involved with the actual administration, with the acquisition and actual classification of books, and, whenever he found an exceptionally promising student, [with] his guidance in mastery of the use to a scholar of a library, and actual guidance in his reading and use of books and knowledge.

Figure 3: An early photograph of the Library at City College, showing Bliss’s desk in the background (reproduced from Mosenthal and Horne 1907, 77)

Bliss’s position in the library did not seem in these early years to be a very happy one. Campbell (1976, 136) records that “his efforts to improve the library met with little help or response”. Campbell also quotes (136-7) from Bliss’s own account, dated 22 December 1903: “I have worked hard for the College for more than twelve years, with little reward beyond a small salary and with little hope of improvement for the library or promotion for myself”. In the same source he refers to “the present unspeakable condition of the library and its unpromising prospect”, but he had failed to engage the attention of his superior: “A year ago last spring I tried to interest Professor — [the Librarian] in the future of the library. He nearly fell asleep while I was pleading”.

The parlous state of the library at that time is confirmed by external sources. Traub in his 1994 history of City College (31) cites Hershkopf, “a graduate of the 1906 class” who remembers that “the library was crowded and old; it had not really been well kept up for a number of years”.

The situation ought to have improved when the College moved to its new and much grander home on St. Nicholas Heights in 1908, although the library still appears to have been a low priority. Bliss remained powerless: “I tried to get a hearing on the plans in the new building. But Professor — would not do anything until it was too late […] The architect had already fixed things for us with incomparable ignorance of what a library needs” (Bliss 1903). Although provision was made for a library in the main Shepard Hall building (Van Nort 2007, 27), it would not be until after Bliss’s retirement that a purpose built library was constructed [10].

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2. Personal life


2.1. Marriage and family life

On June 1, 1901 Bliss married Ellen de Koster, a teacher in the English Department of Hunter College (Anderson 1978, 36), whom he had known for some years. Hunter College, then Normal College, was the second established (1870) of the colleges of the City University of New York, after City College, and its “female counterpart” (Gorelick 1981, 74). At the time Hunter was one of the first women’s colleges to provide free higher education, delivering teacher training, and a BA Arts degree. According to Campbell, “it was apparently […] a deeply happy marriage” (1976, 136), although Goforth is more doubtful about the strength of the partnership (1980, 34) suggesting that it was undermined by Bliss’s concentration on his work, and his impossible standards which Ellen could not hope to live up to. Their older son, John Hale Bliss, as cited in Campbell (1976, 144), says of his father that “in all ways, as a person, he wanted to excel […]. He was a perfectionist [… who] did not always apply good psychology or have a sense of humor”. As a result “family life was overcome by his efforts to produce something worthy to be remembered”. Goforth (1980, 34) too suggests that “Bliss was a man consumed by his work, and his leisure activities were subordinate to his labor on the classification”. Nevertheless, his family was clearly a source of personal support and comfort to Bliss. In a personal memo of 22 December 1903 cited by Campbell (1976, 136) Bliss had written “[w]ere it not for the love and consolation of my wife and child now I should indeed be discouraged and sad”, and “I […] must seek consolation in my family and in private study”.

The Bliss’s lived initially on Washington Heights, and then, after the birth of their third child, in Mount Vernon, New York (Goforth 1980, 11). In the spring of 1913 they moved to Dobbs Ferry, New York State, a historic village on the Hudson River about 21 miles from New York City (Goforth 1980, 19), which was their home for the rest of their marriage. They had four children, daughters Enid Evelyn and Margaret, and two sons, John Hale Bliss, and Conrad de Koster Bliss. John Hale Bliss studied logic and philosophy at Harvard, and worked in the construction industry (Goforth 1980, 39). Conrad, the youngest child, was “blond, blue-eyed and good-looking. He was also his mother’s pet” (Goforth 1980, 38). His early life was dogged by ill-health with frequent attacks of rheumatic fever, and sometimes long periods of hospitalization. The cost of this illness, and the subsequent programme of rehabilitation, was a heavy financial burden on the Bliss’s. Bliss resented it, and there was little respect between them: “of all the Bliss children, he had the most painful relationship with his father” (Goforth 1980, 39). Nevertheless, Conrad was perhaps the most successful of Bliss’s offspring; he attended Cornell University, acquired a PhD, and became a professional engineer. Campbell (1976, 143) describes him as “a chemist, metallurgist and production engineer of distinction who contributed greatly to the American war effort in the Second World War and allied fields later”. Goforth (1980, 39) records that “Conrad designed, developed, and produced the air-breathing device that permitted American pilots to fly high-level bombing missions during World War II”. When he died at the comparatively young age of 52, one of the causes of death was rheumatic heart disease, no doubt the consequence of his childhood illness.

Details of the Bliss’s early family life are mainly attested to by the personal correspondence between his eldest son, John Hale Bliss, and Dr. John Campbell, sometime Secretary of the Bliss Classification Association, and also between John Hale Bliss and Allene Goforth, MLIS student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the author of a biographical study of Bliss. Allowing that it is an individual and personal view, John Bliss’s recollection paints a vivid picture of life with the Bliss’s. Goforth (1980, 35) drawing on her correspondence with him, tells us that “life with father was seldom dull”, mainly due to the many and varied differences of opinion between them. Bliss Senior did not like to be disagreed with, but “such a wealth of independent thinkers produced a great deal of argument in the Bliss household”. A number of Bliss’s eccentricities were compelled on the children, including his trespassing and picnicking on other people’s estates because he did not believe in private ownership of land (see below) which greatly embarrassed the children. Another one of these peculiarities was his refusal to comply with daylight saving time, which as a “back-to-nature type who rose at dawn and retired at dusk, he regarded as immoral, and a forerunner of the decline of Western civilization” (Goforth 1980, 40). The family were forbidden to reset their clocks and watches, which resulted in confusion for all of them, including Bliss himself, and some occasions of literally ‘missing the boat’ when out on family excursions. The children were also regularly recruited as unpaid labourers in various domestic projects, including re-shingling the high pitched roof of their home. John Bliss recalls (Campbell 1976, 144) that Bliss’s purpose was that the children “were to learn patience, care, and the true values therefrom […]. We did learn these things! Also [we] were ‘turned off’”.

Tragically, Enid died in 1918 [11], “a victim of the Spanish flu epidemic and complicated by whooping cough” (Goforth 1980, 22). She was Bliss’s favourite child, a “tall, honey haired, blue eyed girl […] a living symbol of his early married happiness” (Goforth 1980, 22), as John Hale Bliss has it (Campbell 1976, 138), “the embodiment through the consummation of an idyllic marriage of all the youthful, otherwise frustrated idealism of his romantic world”. “[T]o her father she was perfection itself” (Goforth 1980, 37). In a letter to Goforth of April 9, 1979, John Hale Bliss records that his father never really recovered from the shock of her untimely death (22).

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2.2. Personal interests

Considering Bliss’s dedication to his intellectual work, and the demands of family life, he enjoyed an astonishing range of leisure interests and hobbies.

Thomas (1998, 56) tells us that ‘in his personal interests Bliss saw himself as a “jack of all trades”’. Thomas’s analysis of Bliss’s correspondence (1998) finds mentions of a number of activities, most of them of a very practical nature, no doubt a balance to his intellectual work. From boyhood he had been a keen sailor and boat-builder, and in his early years became interested in carpentry. Thomas (1997, 56) says that “[a]n active hobby was cabinet making - organizing or reorganizing bits of wood into furniture”, and that he admired “English carpenters and cabinetmakers”. Goforth (1980, 41) also confirms Bliss’s long attachment to working with his hands:

When the old gardener at Toms River died, he bequeathed his treasured carpenter’s tools to Bliss. These implements, including old Buck chisels, and wooden rabbet planes, were put to good use by their new owner, an excellent cabinetmaker. Bliss also enjoyed repairing and upholstering furniture, as well as general carpentry work.

He was a talented sportsman on land as well as on the water. Campbell (1976, 138) tells that ‘he was a catcher and star batter for a “sand-lot' baseball team in Harlem while it was still a country residential area. He played a very good game of tennis well into his 'forties. He was also Secretary and Treasurer of a hiking and country outing group”. This interest in walking would last well into his old age, when he still walked up to a thousand miles a year, and it was combined with a general interest in natural history and conservation. A related activity was gardening (Thomas 1998, 56) “including tulips, irises, peonies, and roses”, Goforth (1980, 41) adding that the peonies were “prizewinning”. She also records (41-2) that “during World War I he had a victory garden, that aside from its practical value, had ideological significance as well”, because of Bliss’s early interest in conservationism “long before it became a household word”.

Music was another talent, and a life long pursuit, from the days when his mother “had taught him to read, write, and sing”. Bliss had “a fine baritone voice” (Goforth 1980, 42) and, “at one time considered singing as a career”. “Though not a churchgoer” (Campbell 1976, 138), “he sang, often solo, in the Dobbs Ferry church choir for many years, and helped organize its parish singing club”. The arts more broadly were also important to him, and his various biographers mention his interest in “art, architecture, and antiques” (Goforth 1980, 42), and “looking at paintings” (Thomas 1998, 56). His poetry was, of course, of major significance for him. Dowdell (2000, 4) says that Bliss “had written poetry for almost all of his life. It appears that the classification work was just part of his life, but perhaps not of his basic passions”.

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2.3. Deafness

A barrier to Bliss’s enjoyment of music was his deafness, to which there are numerous references (Barron 1995; Beck 1956; Campbell 1976; Dunlap 1995; Garfield 1974; Ranganathan 1971; Thomas 1998). It does not seem to have been a problem in his early life, but was apparent in 1917 (Dunlap 1995, 103) or 1918 (Campbell 1976, 138) when he was still in his forties. There appeared to be no solution to the condition, other than the use of hearing aids of different kinds, which would have been usual practice at the time. Goforth (1980, 22), on the basis of her correspondence with John Hale Bliss, suggests that Bliss “could not be philosophical about it”, and that his “inability to accept his deafness prevented him from overcoming his handicap”. At first that handicap did not appear too severe. Dunlap (1995, 103) describes Bliss in the period 1937-40 as “talking sociably with […] colleagues”, albeit with a hearing aid. Thomas (1998, 56), citing Bliss’s correspondence, concurs with that, suggesting that in 1938 the deafness was “only partial”, but by the end of his life he was evidently quite incapacitated by it. He refused a meeting with → Ranganathan in 1950 on the basis that he was “stone deaf”, stressing that “it will be very difficult for us to converse. It will be very embarrassing for me” (Ranganathan 1971, 223). At the time when he met with Eugene Garfield (1975, 250) in 1954 his hearing was extremely poor, and, despite a hearing aid, he was “very hard to talk to”. When he spoke, it was “in a very loud voice, which startled everyone in the room”. Others who encountered him late in life make no mention of it at all. On the contrary he is depicted by John Jamieson, his publisher, as “lively and interesting” (Goforth 1980, 48), and “an almost incessant talker”, so it is likely that, with the help of hearing aids, Bliss managed his social exchanges quite well when it suited him.

The deafness is most often mentioned in connection with Bliss’s association with the church choir at Dobbs Ferry, since his giving that up was a direct consequence. More significantly, it must have been a tremendous hindrance to his professional life, and possibly, according to Dunlap (1995, 103), the reason for his failure to secure the senior post at the City College Library. Surprisingly, John Hale Bliss (Campbell 1976, 138) does not include deafness as a reason for his father’s being passed over, but rather his personality traits; he was “not co-operative”, “not the man […] to get along with people”, and it was “difficult to work with him”, all of which may well have been linked to his impaired hearing. It was no doubt a factor in his sometimes strained relations with others.

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2.4. Political and religious beliefs

Bliss’s political stance was one of curious ambivalence. Despite his aristocratic background, he adhered to some evident socialist principles; for instance Campbell (1976, 137) records that he “took his children picnicking on other people's estates because he did not believe they should have them for themselves”. This may be something of a distortion, for Goforth (1980, 35) documents his friendship with Edwin Gould, the wealthy philanthropist, who, having come across the Bliss’s walking on his estates, made them freely available, perhaps because he suspected that his own father had swindled Bliss’s in a real estate deal, and wished to make amends. Bliss’s son describes him as a “Fabian socialist” (Campbell 1976, 138), while Goforth (1980, 35) says that he never joined the Socialist party, but “many of his friends were socialists”. His acquaintance in adult life certainly included a number of prominent political and social activists such as Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of the New York Evening Post, and the novelist and educational reformer Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Bliss’s son describes this ambivalent stance well when he says (Campbell 1976, 137):

My father was not a democrat. He may not have pushed a society of the survival of the fittest, but he did believe in the selection of the best; that the engineer, the scientist, the educator, the artist, the author, and the editor should be (and knowledge and the ability to use it would make him) the leader, the ruler. He might be a socialist of sorts, but no advocate of the supremacy of the proletariat, and shy of rule of the majority.

To an extent this is at variance with the picture of the community that Bliss paints in The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences, where considerable value is placed upon all kinds of organizations and all strata of society. He writes at length about knowledge in relation to social organization, about freedom and progress, and about his own understanding of society (Bliss 1929, 5): “[s]ocial we are in body and mind […] sowing and tilling not only for ourselves, but for our offspring, for future society”. Bliss did not see himself aligned with the far left (10): “radical socialism has not only challenged the rights of individual freedom and personal property, but has threatened the existing and developing social institutions”. He is rather a middle-of-the-road socialist (11): “[s]omewhere between the extremes of state socialism and individualism will develop the true freedom in the well organized society”.

At a personal level, disappointment in the values of his immediate family may have led him to a life of scholarship; as his son, John Hale Bliss suggests in a letter to Campbell (Campbell 1976, 137), his profession could have been “an attempt to identify with something more worth while to him than the usual American involvement with business, with a life of material things, with the seeking and exploiting of wealth and power”. We also know that Bliss’s father “disapproved of his son's life and interest in learning, and insisted that he go into business” (Campbell 1976, 135); their relationship was in general a poor one, and that may have increased Bliss’s desire to go in another direction.

But there were also some powerful contextual factors operating on the young Bliss, and while the City College authorities may have been influenced by Bliss’s family background and his societal connections, the culture of the emerging institution was doubtless similarly influential on the young Bliss’s philosophy of life.

Bliss’s views on religion are much clearer. The record is that Bliss was “an agnostic, who considered religion to be a delusion” (Goforth 1980, 34). Campbell (1976, 138) describes him as “apparently without religion”. Bliss’s wife was deeply religious, one of the points of disagreement between them. Ellen Bliss (Goforth 1980, 34) “was a devout person, quite active in church affairs”. Her obituary in the New York Times (1943, 23) says that she “had been treasurer of the women’s auxiliary of Zion Episcopal Church […] as well as director of the Hudson River Branch of the Seamen’s Church Institute”. John Hale Bliss (Campbell 1976, 141) remembers that “my mother was very religious, and this was all it took to alienate my father intellectually”. While Ellen was much engaged with the church at Dobbs Ferry, Bliss, despite his lack of belief, was also a regular church attender, mainly for the purpose of singing in the choir, until his deafness made this too difficult.

A contributing factor may again have been the secular environment of the City College, which was a significant contrast to previous higher education provision in New York, although the Free School Society formed in 1805, supported a number of non-sectarian schools (Roff et al. 2000, 2). Bender (1987, 91) tells us that Columbia College had “strong ties to the Episcopal Church”, whereas Bliss’s sponsor, John H. Finley, had “secularized and liberalized the school, abolishing compulsory chapel, in an attempt to make the school more attractive to the children of immigrant New York” (Bender 1987, 291).

In the Bibliographic Classification, alone among the compilers of schemes, he places Religion, which he says is “a purely human phenomenon” (1929, 288), with the social sciences, consistent with the scientific study of religions. There is a philosophical justification for this: in The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences (1929, 289) he considers that “[t]he science of religion is descriptive historical and comparative […] comparative religion is a branch of empirical science”, and in The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries (1933, 248) he says “[r]eligion, in its relation to human life, human nature, and society and ethics, should be placed in relation to anthropology”. Bliss is also pluralist in his approach to different faiths: “to these comparative studies should be subordinated the studies of particular religions, including the Christian, the Hebrew, the Mohammadan, etc., and their special theologies, ethics, and ecclesiology” (289). This can be seen as a very liberal attitude at a time when library classifications normally gave overwhelming precedence to Christianity, but is doubtless evidence of Bliss’s neutral stance on belief.

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3. Later career and contributions to scholarship


3.1. Later career

As a consequence of his disappointment with the City College Library Bliss determined to devote his energies to his scholarly work, and to the development of his new system of classification, which he had already begun to sketch out: “I […] must seek consolation in my family and in private study. I will set to work on my classification’ (Bliss 1903). He did make several efforts to seek a post elsewhere, but was generally unsuccessful, starting with a failed application for the job of Assistant Librarian at Brooklyn Public Library in 1908 (Thomas 1998, 55). Two years later when the University of Chicago was reorganizing its libraries and considering classification, Bliss was unable to meet the requirement of completing his scheme within a year (Thomas 1998, 55); otherwise Chicago might have adopted the scheme and appointed Bliss to install it. There is evidence that Bliss was offered a post by the University of Illinois at some time between 1911 and 1913 (Goforth 1980, 19), but “had to turn down this opportunity because his wife refused to bring up her children in such a heathen uncivilized place as Chicago” [12]. Promotion at City College was also elusive. Despite being acting librarian for three years from 1915-1918 after Herbermann’s retirement, he was not confirmed in the post, another academic, Homer Newton, being given the role. This may have been because, by 1917, his deafness was becoming apparent (Dunlap 1995, 103). Nathaniel Stewart in his history of the College library (1935, 91), quoted in Goforth (1980, 20), clearly felt it to be an error:

Not to underestimate or belittle the choice of Professor Newton as Librarian, it might be said that it was a pity not to have given Mr. Bliss the opportunity to continue in his role or even be awarded the librarianship. A fine student of cataloging and classification, and accurate and meticulous supervisor, a man who had known every nook and corner of the Library, and had shared in its labors for nearly a quarter of a century, it is probable that Mr. Bliss would have made a fine Librarian at the time.

In 1925 Bliss was appointed to the post of head of Departmental Libraries (Current Biography 1953, 76) ‘in which position he worked on the consolidation of the several departmental libraries into a unified system’. In 1928 he was given the title of associate librarian.

Towards the end of his professional life he was passed over again at City College, when Francis Lee Dewey Goodrich, previously at the University of Michigan, was appointed as chief librarian in 1930 (Campbell 1976, 137). Goodrich was “recognized as an unusually successful librarian”, and his “formal education […] was considerable for a librarian of his period” (Harvey 1978, 205). He was a prolific writer of journal articles, held several editorships, and was co-author of the best selling textbook on library administration, which “brought the two authors national reputations” (Harvey 1978, 206). His professional status and experience certainly would have outshone Bliss’s, so it is hardly surprising that he was chosen. He was also rated highly for his managerial and diplomatic skills, an area in which Bliss was conspicuously unsuccessful. Harvey tells us that Goodrich’s “finest qualities were those of sincerity, integrity, modesty and unselfishness. His ability to maintain friendly relations with academic student bodies as well as with faculty members, in spite of severe library problems, were well known throughout his career” (1978, 207). In correspondence with Campbell (1976, 138) Bliss’s son expresses this contrast elegantly:

why was my father rejected, passed over at the College for Librarian? Yes, the socialism bit was part of it. But my father was "hard to take" as the American expression goes. He was no diplomat. He was very uncompromising and critical, he was not co-operative, he had to have his way, was […] almost arrogant in his insistence on being right. It was difficult for him to work with or for another, and he made it very difficult to work with him. […] Dr Goodrich was the Librarian for many years. We all knew him. He and father were close friends. Goodrich was a very fine and a very kind man; just the man to cope with my father in peace and friendship.

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3.2. Intellectual achievements

As a result of the time he was able to devote to his personal and academic interests, Bliss ultimately made a significant contribution to the theory and philosophy of library science in general, and more particularly to the organization of knowledge, an expression which he seems to have been the first to coin.

In the earlier part of his career he published a number of articles both in the professional press and in scholarly journals, even as he worked on the first versions of his classification, an outline and principles of which were published in Library Journal in 1910. Papers on a variety of subjects as varied as accession records (1903; 1913), government publications (1904), bookbinding (1905), departmental libraries (1912), alphabetical order (1912), cooperative cataloguing (1927), corporate names (1936), and a philosophy for librarianship (1935), appeared alongside more classification oriented writing on notation (1910), conservatism in library classification (1912), standardization in classification (1929), scientific and philosophic classification (1931), form in classification (1937), and several papers on classification for special libraries (1929; 1937; 1938). Some more substantial essays on the theory and philosophy of classification appeared in learned journals in other disciplines, notably papers on relations in general, on the subject-object relation, both in Philosophical Review (1915; 1917), and on the system of the sciences in Philosophy of Science (1935). A letter on the problems of classification for the bibliography of science was published in the leading scientific journal Nature. Alongside these were a number of reviews, prodigious personal correspondence (Thomas (1998, 53)) suggests “five thousand long letters”), and, in 1937, the single volume of poetry, Better late than never. At the City College he co-edited the City College Quarterly in collaboration with Professor Lewis Freeman Mott (Current Biography 1953, 76).13

His major achievements are, however, to be found in his two books on the theory of knowledge organization, and the Bibliographic Classification itself, intended originally as the final element of a three part opus (Library Journal 1930, 605).

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3.3. Philosopher librarian

Despite the discouraging atmosphere of the early years Bliss’s decision to focus on his scholarly interests turned out to be a good one. The work on his classification and his study of the theory and philosophy of classification eventually earned him some attention and respect, and in his fifties he began to see some rewards for his labours. This included acknowledgement by his employers of the value of his intellectual work, and some real practical support in allowing him time to pursue it.

In 1921 Bliss, then Assistant Librarian, attended the Conference of Eastern College Librarians at Columbia University (Library Journal 1930, 605), where he met Ernest Cushing Richardson, the notable library historian and classification theorist, then librarian at Princeton, and a former president of the American Library Association. Bliss let it be known that in addition to his system of classification, he was engaged in a broader project, a theoretical study of the organization of knowledge, “which he planned to be universal in scope, international in application” (Current Biography 1953, 76). Richardson encouraged Bliss in the development of the classification, and suggested that he make his theoretical work a foundation for the scheme itself. The project came to the attention of president Mezes of City College [14], who was interested in international bibliography, and in the following year, 1922, the City College agreed that “Mr. Bliss could have ample time for this service [i.e. the writing of books, and the creation of the classification] in library interests as well as in educational and scientific; and to ensure its completion the permission was again and again liberally extended” (Library Journal 1930, 605). A critical figure here was Goodrich, who continued with the arrangement in the period after 1930 “even though Goodrich himself had no interest in library classification or the possibility of reclassification” (Thomas 1998, 55).

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3.3.1. The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences (OKSS)

By June 1924 Bliss “had completed a draft of more than a thousand pages on the organization of knowledge, and a 150 page outline of his system of classification. In the following half-year he recast the manuscript so that it could be published as two separate but connected volumes” (Current Biography 1953, 76). Finding a publisher proved difficult, as neither the university presses nor commercial houses could be persuaded that the book would sell well enough to cover costs. The American Library Association were not interested, and had anyway refused to publish other of his writings (Campbell 1976, 139): “[o]nly three of Bliss's papers were ever published by the Association, and two of those were condensed”. This was despite the fact that Richardson had commended the book in the warmest terms to the Catalog Section of the ALA at its 1926 Chicago Conference, and a resolution was passed by the Section that “the Editorial Committee of the A. L. A. be asked by this Section to give favourable attention to the merits of the proposed publication of Henry E. Bliss, ‘The Organization of Knowledge and the Classification of Books’, and in their discretion to aid diligently in finding a publisher” (Lamb 1926, 487).

However, when John Dewey, then “America’s greatest living philosopher” endorsed Bliss’s work, Henry Holt bought the book, and published it in 1929 with a “laudatory introduction” penned by Dewey himself (Current Biography 1953, 76).

This, the first of Bliss’s major works, may well be regarded as the first comprehensive study of the theory of classification. It certainly seems to be the earliest occurrence of the expression organization of knowledge to indicate the theory and application of classification. Broughton (2008, 46) describes the book as:

[A]n encyclopaedic analysis of organized knowledge in its broadest sense, the institutions and mechanisms by and through which it is disseminated, various principles and systems of classification both scientific and philosophical, and a thorough going investigation and analysis of the academic disciplines.

Before Bliss’s efforts there had been very little attempt to propose any substantial theory or philosophy of → bibliographic classification. Although Cutter had in 1976 formulated some rules for subject entry as part of his Rules for a Dictionary Catalogue (Cutter 1904) these were largely concerned with the form of the entry, and did not consider the problems of the organization of material, nor was there any discussion of structure and relationships. Dewey’s Decimal Classification, also published in 1876, and the Library of Congress Classification, the first volumes of which appeared in 1905, were both based on pragmatic lines with little if anything in the way of underlying principles. Dewey’s scheme did display some generally desirable features (such as subordination in the hierarchical display and a correspondence between hierarchy and → notation), but these were applied intuitively and not worked out in any formal manner. Other early works on library classification were predominantly historical and descriptive in style. Some primers of library classification of the early Twentieth century such as Richardson’s Library Classification: Theoretical and Practical (1901), and Berwick Sayers’ An Introduction to Library Classification (1918) do cover some general principles of classification, but there is nothing either on the scale of Bliss’s work, nor with the references to scholarship that inform and support his arguments. Bliss himself (Bliss 1929a, xiii) sets forward a very reasonable claim to this originality when he says:

That this is the first undertaking to treat this subject comprehensively and with an approach to thoroness is a claim that the writer thinks he may make with truth. A second claim that he feels entitled to put forth is that he has stated and adduced certain principles that heretofore have been but vaguely conceived, or have been secluded in treatises on logic.

Many readers will be familiar with the new ideas that Bliss brought to the design of a classification scheme, such as its relationship to literary warrant and educational consensus, the notion of gradation in speciality, and the need for hospitality and flexibility. These are discussed in greater detail in a separate article on the Bibliographic Classification itself. As a complement to such practical and technical considerations, most of the content of OKSS is concerned with a broader philosophical understanding of the nature of knowledge, and particularly of the role of organizations, setting the latter within the context of both the organization of science, and the organization of society.

Bliss himself would have regarded his work as being much wider in scope than library science. He had responded (Library Journal 1930, 605) to Richardson’s “urging that the system of classification be developed […] that he was more interested in larger aspects of the general movement of the organization of knowledge”, and in 1925 he wrote to George Utley, librarian of the Newberry Library, that “my chief interest is not my proposed system of classification”. There are several other suggestions that he regarded the two enterprises as quite separate. In 1925 (Thomas 1998, 78) he had intended that the proposed work of theory “might be published without special reference to my classification”, which was indeed the case. Following Richardson’s notion that the theory should provide the basis for any classification, it is clear that A System of Bibliographic Classification, the outline published in 1935, had been intended as “an exemplification rather than a standard” (Bliss 1931), and “for study rather than application” (Bliss 1936). Much later, in a letter to Ranganathan of December 22 1937, he claimed that he had “worked out the scheme first and thought out the theory afterwards, or rather I am just now attempting to work out the theory”.

The Organization of Knowledge is a study of the theory of classification per se, a study of the nature of knowledge, and the many relationships within and between the scientific disciplines, “science” being a term he used for any established domain. But it is not a study of library classification, organization of knowledge being independent of the organization of books or of libraries (Bliss 1929a, xi):

[T]he organization of knowledge comprehends not only the mental processes, the development of concepts and the conceptual synthesis of knowledge, but also the intellectual correlation and systematization of knowledge, from the simpler social synthesis of common experience and elementary education to the more complex conceptual systems of science and philosophy.

In this respect Bliss should be seen as closer in intention to Leibniz, Comte, Bacon, or Spencer, philosophers of science and creators of conceptual systems such as are examined in the final part of the book. The progression from mental process to concept formation, synthesis, systematization, and complex conceptual system may also remind modern documentalists of the information theory of Paul Otlet (1934, 41) with its model of “les choses; les intelligences; la science; les livres; la bibliographie; l’encyclopédie; la classification”.

Nevertheless, Bliss was completely convinced of the need for systematic organization, or classification, as the basis of information retrieval, and he was dismissive of any → alphabetically based approach to the problem, as he was of orders constructed without a logical and philosophical basis. On both counts Dewey’s scheme is found to be deficient, and he was also highly critical of Dewey’s followers and their belief that the index to a classification can compensate for inadequacies in the scheduling, a phenomenon he described as the ‘subject-index illusion’ (Bliss 1929a, xii & 12; 1933b, 36). In the Preface to Volume I of the Bibliographic Classification (Bliss 1940, viii) he tells his audience that “this work may be regarded as an elaborate protest against the inconsistencies of illogical alphabetical order of subjects ”.

The content of OKSS falls into four major sections:

  • the organization of knowledge, largely as it is observed to be in human society through organizations and institutions of all kind, including educational institutions and libraries
  • the order of nature, principally concerned with the theory of classification from a philosophical and logical perspective
  • the system of the sciences, and orders and relationships as they exist in various disciplines and domains
  • a historical survey of conceptual systems of knowledge.

Many of the ideas contained in OKSS are remarkably far sighted, and it can be regarded as a fertile seedbed of thinking yet to come. Just as Bliss formalised and articulated elements of theory that had only been implicit in the writing of his predecessors, so some aspects of future → knowledge organization can be detected, although not fully realised, in his work: a ‘bottom-up’ or emergent view of classification; the notion that authority, or consensus, resides in all kinds of communities of interest, not just the scientific and philosophical; a methodological approach to the analysis of → disciplines and fields that is similar to the techniques of modelling and → domain analysis; the concept of composite specification that enhances the representational power of the classification, and will permit its use for “the multiplicity of subject matter in documents, pamphlets, periodicals, abstracts, clippings, and other resources of information, research, and the recently extended scope of ‘documentation’”. In this last feature are many indications of the → faceted classification that Ranganathan’s work would more fully embody.

A hindrance to acknowledging Bliss’s contribution is that the terminology he uses is not adopted by those who follow him, so that, while the ideas are there, the obvious line of influence is not.

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3.3.1.1.The organization of knowledge

Bliss’s analysis of the way in which knowledge is organized through social institutions seems virtually unparalleled in the library science canon, and he appears to be the only Twentieth century theorist to place classification in a social context in quite this way. Today the concept of authority is more widely challenged, and the role of society and its disparate communities in validating knowledge structures and determining vocabulary more generally accepted, but such a view would have been hard to detect in the more conservative culture of Bliss’s time. This phenomenon Bliss calls the scientific and educational consensus (Bliss 1929a, 16), and it is one of the core elements of his approach to classification.

[W]e may distinguish the organization of experience, the organization of knowledge, the organization of thought, the organization of will, purpose, or effort, the consensus of communal minds and of public opinion, the consensus of scientific minds, and the consensus of educational, moral, and institutional minds. For brevity we shall recurrently refer to the scientific and educational consensus.

Hence, while there is a philosophical basis to his ideas of ordering, the part played by society in determining the nature and form of subjects and/or disciplines is given considerable weight. The more modern concept of authority can be found everywhere in Bliss’s hugely detailed examination of organizations, and the emergence of his idea of consensus. For Bliss knowledge is only validated by communities of interest in agreement, and these are not restricted to traditional, intellectual sources such as universities and learned societies. This section of OKSS is given over to a very lengthy discussion of the way in which knowledge is discovered, ratified and disseminated, the organization of society at all levels being inextricably related to the organization of knowledge. Bliss examines the notion of community in the broadest manner, looking at the role of government, the professions and business, labour organizations, churches, voluntary groups, schools, clubs and, very notably, ‘unorganized citizens’ (Bliss 1929a, 32), almost certainly the first reference to the role of the individual in indexing and retrieval that would become significant in the Twenty-first century. The notion of the ‘unorganized citizen’ as having a part to play in the determination of what constitutes knowledge is a particularly potent precursor of the → folksonomist, the social tagger, and the citizen scientist of our own days. He also stresses concepts such as the standardization of knowledge, intellectual cooperation and the need for a commonly agreed body of knowledge, the consensus, to guard against bias and poor motives in the dissemination of knowledge. Out of this social and organizational collaborative activity classifications will emerge (Bliss 1929a, xii):

The intellectual and economic needs of humanity are not fulfilled by mere cooperative accumulation and arbitrary classification of the data of knowledge and the materials of utility. In the earlier stages of organization indeed all hands and minds may be occupied with the preliminary work of collecting, naming, marking and indexing. The workers may for the time regard such methods and results as satisfactory […]. In subsequent stages tentative classifications, conceptual or practical, may be adopted; and, tho crude and arbitrary, they are likely to become established in a conservative historical and economic situation. All classifications are in truth relative to views or conceptions, interests or purposes, and are therefore in some respects arbitrary and conceptual. But with growing experience, knowledge and education the relevant classifications become progressively rational and systematic. This developing organization of knowledge is not, however, rigidly structural and static, but functional and plastic, and it should be liberally adaptive to new interests and changing communal conceptions.

Here we see the seeds of several other key ideas, most of which are associated with much more recent approaches to classification: the pragmatic aspect of classification; its relativity and lack of fixity; the needs of the user group as a powerful determinant of the classification; the developing and evolving nature of knowledge; and the need for flexibility and adaptability in classification. There is also in Bliss’s writings a strong sense of the classificatory structure growing out of its context, of information aggregating into a whole, with elements of a ‘bottom-up’ approach to classification which is, for its period, quite novel. That Bliss adheres to a ‘bottom-up’ approach to classification is found in his idea that classification can be analytic (that is proceeding from the ‘top down’) or synthetic (the building up of conceptual systems). His statement that the then current classifications “belong to the era of analysis and specialization, rather than to the era of synthesis and organization; they belong to the past when documents were filed in pigeon-holes and business correspondence was copied in indexed books” (Bliss 1929a, 412) reflects modern criticism of hierarchical, top-down classifications. And (407), “a system of knowledge should function in both these ways; it should be both analytic and synthetic. The classified data of analytic knowledge are synthesized in the conceptual systems of knowledge and thought”.

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3.3.1.2. Classification theory

As a result of his analysis, Bliss formulated 14 principles of scientific, or logical, classification (Bliss 1929a, 156–7), which deal with the nature and structure of knowledge and the relationships in and between classes. They are dealt with at length throughout the book, and include formal definitions of terms and clarification of the distinctions between them. For example (132):

A class consists of all the things that are, or may be, related by likeness in the essential significant, and selective characters, properties, and relations, by which it is defined. The likeness of the things classed may inhere in a single significant or important, character, property or relation, or in any combination of these, or in the whole nature, or ‘essence’ of the thing.

This is a sophisticated definition of class, taking us a long way beyond classical logic, and the Aristotelian notion of a class defined by precise attributes. It is closer in thinking to Wittgenstein’s view that a class may have no single defining characteristic, but is rather an aggregate of characteristics only some of which may be displayed by a constituent concept (Wittgenstein 1953, §3). It also shows similarities to the ‘fuzzy’ categories used by cognitive anthropologists in tackling folk classifications, as in the prototype theory favoured by Rosch (1975) and others (Lakoff 1987; Pinker 1997), and by the artificial intelligence research community.

Bliss’s understanding of class is generally very complex, and he sees subtle differences in the perception of class from a personal, subjective, social and political point of view. Much of this discussion is grounded in philosophy and logic, with reference to many individual philosophers and logicians, and careful examination of various schools of thought, for example the comparison of realism, conceptualism and nominalism to define respectively, things, meanings, and words or names (127).

Bliss pays great attention to the precise nature of classes, concepts and their verbal correlates, names and terms, and how definitions, analyses and descriptions are used to identify and limit classes. He notes the impermanence of names, stating that “a class is definite, its definition adaptable, its name multiple; it may have many names in the several languages, in any of which it may have several synonyms” (139). He distinguishes two types of relationships in a series of classes: the classes are either coordinate, representing progressive steps on an equal level; or they are subordinate, representing successive steps in division, with increasing specificity. The discussion that accompanies this part of the theory shows an appreciation of what would eventually become part of facet theory in the notion of hierarchies and arrays. “Coordinate classes may be measured or qualified with regard to some attribute, and the series may be arranged accordingly” (153). Such a series we would today call an array, and the qualifying attribute a principle, or characteristic, of division. Bliss allows that subordination and coordination can occur simultaneously (as when a hierarchy occurs within an array), and he allows for a situation where “subdivisions […] may be of parallel rank, and such might also fairly be called coordinate” (154). Bliss also defines and formalizes what has been done intuitively by a previous generation, in the principle of general-before-special, progression from the general to the particular, or what Bliss calls the generic to the specific or analytic, and what Ranganathan would later name as increasing concreteness. As Bliss says, “this principle is no new discovery; it is as old as logic” (214). It is complemented by the notion of gradation in speciality, a means of ordering subjects of equal status by increasing complexity and by the dependence of subjects on preceding ones, a more subtle device, and one which appears to have been entirely of Bliss’s own creation.

Much of Bliss’s detailed work on the nature of relationships between subjects lays down the foundation for contemporary thinking on relationships in both classificatory structures and → thesauri. The formal identification of subordination (broader and narrower relationships), coordination (associative relationships), and the relationship between concept and name are all integral to the idea of semantic structure in the classification and its related thesaurus. In considering the role of → logical division, Bliss examines the relationship of genus to species, and concludes that differentiation from the genus is integral to the concept of species (140), and that the genus–species relationship does not constitute a whole–part relationship — another fine distinction that would later be crucial in the identification of relationships in generating a faceted thesaurus. Today these principles are so firmly embedded in classification and indexing theory that they are taken as axiomatic and hence usually fail to be attributed to Bliss. At the same time as he articulates a number of features of classification theory that have previously been intuitively applied, Bliss begins to experiment with more radical notions that will only be fully worked out by a later generation. Among these, his notion of a fundamental order of things, and his attempts at expressing compound content, what he terms composite specification, are the most significant.

Some indications of what will be faceted classification can also be seen in Bliss’s discussion of regular and consistent systematization of concepts in what he calls cross-classification. In another example of terminological cross-purposes, this phrase is also employed in library science to mean the possibility (and sometimes actuality) of placing multiple copies of a document in more than one location in the classification system. Harrod’s Librarian’s Glossary (Prytherch 2000, 198) defines cross classification as:

1. The action of dividing when forming a scheme of classification by more than one characteristic in a single process of division, leading to confusion of ideas and terms and resulting in the parts having no real relationship to one another, and in placing related subjects in different divisions or unrelated subjects in a given array of classes

2. A tabular classification, or one that is reducible to tabular form, in which the classes or subclasses of each series are crossed by the terms of a secondary series of specifications, so that the resulting sub-classes have the specifications of both series and are therefore common to both.

Although the first definition is more commonly understood, Bliss uses cross classification in this second sense, and refers to such an arrangement both in the Classification itself, and in various places in the theoretical discussion. In OKSS (154, 155) he defines it thus:

Cross-classifications are duplex arrangements of vertical series, coordinate with regard to one principle or interest, crossed by horizontal series representing other aspects. […] This form of classification, graphically set forth, is often termed tabulation. It is usually simple and unelaborate; and it is limited in applicability.

A system of entities and relations may […] be surveyed from different aspects and traversed by diverse interests and purposes. There may accordingly be many classifications crossing or branching in many ways. A one-dimensional serial classification has no structural reach. […] Cross-classifications and two-dimensional graphs are also inadequate; for they become congested with ramifying details that would really require three dimensions for their structural representation, or even four dimensions.

Although it is not entirely brought to completion, this notion of a multi-dimensional matrix is so close to the structure of a faceted classification that it must be seen at least as a precursor. By the time that Volume 1 of the Bibliographic Classification was published in 1940, this idea of dimensionality is more developed, and acknowledged to be theoretically limitless. In a demonstration of how a tabular classification may be reduced to a schedule (11), Bliss asserts that the schedule “is virtually three-dimensional or polydimensional. This negates the stricture frequently made that schedules are linear classifications”. Bliss provides a great number of examples of how such complexity is represented, in most cases by the use of special schedules for subdivision of a given class, but also augmented by the use of standard schedules for place, period, form and so on. Such representation he calls ‘composite specification’, analogous to Ranganathan’s process of ‘synthesis’. His examples often include four or five different aspects (what we could call facets), and led him to the idea that the Classification was as useful for the classification of journal articles as for books. Later he would talk enthusiastically to Eugene Garfield (1974, 253) about such a use of the Classification and hence its applicability to machine systems. There the term coordination is used rather than composite specification. Garfield (1974) observes that Bliss was the first to use the device of coordination (that is synthesis to express complex content), and that “coordination or coordinate indexing is implicit in most, if not all, machine systems of information retrieval. Through the device of coordination, Bliss was able to apply his system not only to books, but to periodical articles as well. From the point of view of machine applications, it is also worthy of exploration because it employs the briefest notations of all existing systems of classification”.

The mention of ‘entities’ and ‘relations’ is also very telling in terms of what a classificatory structure consists of: not just things or concepts but the relationships between them, although at this stage those are most likely restricted to ideas such as subordination and coordination rather than anything more complex. Nevertheless there is a hint of things to come in the way of → ontologies and their design in the Twenty-first century.

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3.3.1.3. The system of the sciences

Bliss starts from the position that there is a natural order of things, and a “natural order of the sciences” (1929a, 219), the essence of which can be determined by philosophic and scientific means. It is clear that Bliss’s objective here is the determination of a linear order, and he specifically rejects the notion of dependence, or a “hierarchy of the sciences” as proposed by Comte in 1830 (222). For Bliss the order of nature “is partly real and partly conceptual”, “a plexus of relations, involving some that are developmental, progressive, and evolutional” (223). These he refers to as ‘natural orders’ which he contrasts with “the natural order of the sciences” (223), a nice distinction, and one that enables him to tabulate the relations between a concept and its place in science, philosophy, history and applications. Another extremely detailed schema shows the comparison and correspondence between the order of nature, the developmental order of knowledge, the pedagogic order, logical order, and order of speciality (that is, of scholarly disciplines) (232-5). Within the logical order sciences are seen to embrace the mental and social sciences, as Bliss terms them, as well as the natural sciences (223). Later scholars would commend the ordering of classes in the Bibliographic Classification as the best of all the general schemes, and comparisons are made (Spiteri, 1995) between his sequence and the theory of → integrative levels as conceived by Needham (1937) and Feibleman (1954). Integrative level theory does of course require the notion of dependence of a level on its preceding one, but Bliss would doubtless have considered this not as dependence, but as an example of → evolution or progression from one component of the order to the next.

A substantial part of OKSS is concerned with a very detailed and careful analysis of the sciences as interpreted broadly by Bliss to embrace the “anthropological and the psychological sciences”, social sciences, and “industries, technologies and arts”. This is informed by Bliss’s exceptionally wide reading in all disciplines, and all of his analysis is referenced to significant works in the various fields. Garfield (1970, 95) records that he “had the perseverance to read fundamental textbooks of every branch of knowledge and science then extant. Out of his fantastically broad knowledge of science, he constructed the classification system which bears his name”. Thomas (1998, 55) also attests to the fact that “Bliss’s thinking, writing of theoretical works, and the construction of his classification were […] stimulated and informed by his reading and by corresponding and meeting many colleagues”. He consulted “hundreds of books, and thinkers, and other peepl [sic] about the opinions in my books” (Bliss 1933c). Much of the text is occupied with the working out of relationships between subfields and topics, and the establishment of their linear ordering according to his principle of gradation in speciality (or general before special). Some subjects are special because of their complexity, what Bliss calls composite sciences (268-9):

Special in another sense are the branches of physical science that study special kinds of physical objects, crystals, rocks, mountains, clouds, meteors, planets, stars, etc. In such concrete studies physical and chemical properties and relations are usually involved together, and with the methods of those two general sciences are combined the more abstract methods of mathematics and statistics. The most general of these composite sciences is Astronomy […].

The working out of these different and sometimes irreconcilable orders into a single linear sequence for the purposes of a bibliographic classification took Bliss many years and much intellectual effort, and was doubtless a factor in delaying the publication of his own classification. But the result was much admired for its underlying scholarship and for the superiority of the classificatory order. The practical realisation of his thinking in the main class order of the Bibliographic Classification is discussed in more depth in the article on the scheme, as is the way in which he handled complexity in the subject content of documents through analytico-synthetic features, such as composite specification, and the use of auxiliary tables.

To a large extent Bliss is a rationalist, assuming that the natural order can be arrived at intellectually, but he combines this with a distinctly empirical approach through his analysis of the educational and social context of knowledge. This is fairly well summed up when he says “[t]ho knowledge is unitary, interests are plural and distinct” (409).

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3.3.1.4. A historical survey of systems of knowledge

Bliss’s first work concludes with a description and critique of various philosophical systems of knowledge, again indicative of his considerable scholarship, and in itself a useful overview of significant theories of knowledge. The scope extends to systems used in encyclopaedias and dictionaries as well as theoretical essays at modelling the world of learning, such as Bacon’s, and conceptual systems of science including those of Comte (1830), Arnott (1827), Ampère (1834-43), and Spencer (1864). Needless to say, Bliss is highly critical of all of these, to the point of dismissiveness. The survey continues into the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth century to embrace Wundt (1889), the “great failure” (381), “three lesser failures” (386), namely Bordeau (1882), to whom Bliss awarded “the booby prize” (386), Hoffman (1898) and Barthel (1910), and a number of minor characters whom Bliss designates as “some almosters” (388), a designation intended to be congratulatory (they had ‘almost’ got it right), and which includes Ernest Cushing Richardson, who had so encouraged Bliss in his endeavours.

Figure 4: Bliss’s own ‘System of Knowledge’ from The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences (p. 302-3) (click to enlarge)

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3.3.2 The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries and the Subject Approach to Books (OKL)

By 1929 Bliss had completed the second element of his trilogy, The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries. Finding a publisher was again a difficulty. Bliss negotiated with the American Library Association’s Publishing Board for several years (Current Biography 1953, 76), but could not meet their demand that he provide a substantial subsidy to meet all the publishing costs. The book was then offered to H. W. Wilson, who accepted it, and published it in 1933. This time came success. The book sold out in six months, was reprinted, and a second edition issued in 1939. As a result there was renewed interest in Bliss’s first volume, and H. W. Wilson purchased all the remaining stock from Henry Holt. Wilson would eventually publish the Bibliographic Classification, and, except for his book of poetry produced by Putnam in 1937, continued as Bliss’s publisher to the end of his life.

The second of Bliss’s theoretical works is concerned with the application of his philosophy of classification to the practical organization of library collections, and the problems that occur in dealing with the real subjects of books. Here we find a detailed examination of bibliographic classification as opposed to the philosophic classification that had occupied him previously. Nevertheless, Bliss was at pains to stress the interrelatedness of the two (37):

The distinction so often drawn between the classification of knowledge and the classification of books should not lead us to negative conclusions. […] There are indeed two kinds of classification, on the one hand the logical, natural, and scientific, on the other hand the practical, the arbitrary, the purposive; but for library classification we should join these two hands; the two purposes should be combined. To make the classification conform to the scientific and educational organization of knowledge is to make it the more practical. A logical and scientific organization of knowledge should be adapted to the practical requirements, the various bibliographic services, and the necessary economies.

The book begins with a detailed discussion of the problem of classification for libraries, the principles of library classification, and the examination of various characteristics of library classifications, such as notation and scheduling. There is a lengthy examination of why classification is important in library organization, and how the classification of books is related to the classification of knowledge. Bliss allows (36) that “there are indeed two kinds of classification, on the one hand the logical, natural, and scientific, on the other hand the practical, the arbitrary, the purposive; but for library classification we should join these two hands”. With reference to his previous volume, Bliss asserts (37) that “the system of the sciences and studies of life and art surveyed there furnish a basis for adaptation to a classification of books for libraries”. He then revisits the principles of classification proposed in OKSS, and from them and “from previous studies of the problems involved” enumerates thirty-two principles of classification of libraries, which, he suggests “may be summarized and generalized as a theory”. In conclusion, a number of important concepts are stressed, many of which have entered the canons of library science as axiomatic to knowledge organization: concepts such as subordination of the special to the general; grading in order of speciality; consistency with scientific and educational consensus; collocation and synthesis; alternative locations; correlative notation; systematic auxiliary schedules; recurrent and composite specifications and relations.

Here Bliss also deals with many of the structural and design features of classification systems that he was in process of putting into place in the Bibliographic Classification. The sections on notation centre around the choice of characters and the consequent size of the notational base, closely related to the resulting length of classmarks; several academic studies of readability, memorability, and responsiveness to letters and numbers, as well as codes in general, are cited to support his arguments. Bliss is opposed to “the prevalent prejudice in favour of […] figures” (53), but not to combinations of letters and figures. Combinations of letters he allows could have “objectionable meanings or may appear ludicrous”, but does not think this could “outweigh the manifest economies of a notation of letters”. He is insistent on the importance of brevity in classmarks, and it is one of the key bases for his criticism of other schemes, but there is no discussion of what to the modern eye is a more distinctive feature of the Bibliographic Classification, and that is the lack of correspondence between length of notation and the position of a class in the hierarchy. Bliss sees little merit in using notation to indicate subject content in any such direct manner, nevertheless he places value in systematic mnemonics where recurrent concepts are consistently represented by the same notation, that is through the use of auxiliary tables or schedules for these commonly occurring concepts. In the first outline of the classification, published in the Library Journal in 1910, Bliss labels such tables as Mnemonics, or Systematic mnemonics, but by the time of the publication of A System of Bibliographic Classification in 1935, they have become Systematic Schedules. Notations intended to extend specification in a limited subject area are initially designated Subdivisions, but in the full classification they are presented as Special Auxiliary Schedules.

A perhaps unexpected feature of his thinking on notation is the idea of it serving the more contemporary purpose of mapping between systems (47): “the notation may also serve as a means for referencing, or translating, the various terms, or classes, of one classification to those of another classification or of one in another language”.

Another substantial section is that on ‘systemizing’ and scheduling. The idea of a ‘system’ is perhaps not common in works on classification, and Bliss draws distinctions between a classification and a system; a classification (72) deals with “the order of sciences and studies, the coordination of classes, and the subordination of divisions”, whereas a system will also address “the multifarious interweaving relations, in a thousand ramifying interests in the ever varying aspects of knowledge and thought”. Broadly speaking, systemizing adds functionality to the classification and allows it to represent complex content through combination, or composite specification. Bliss begins (73) with a “structural scheme or plan, which may be regarded as the conceptual pre-existent state to be developed in the expansive system of functional schedules”. There are five steps in this process: a general synopsis; a schedule of main classes; the notation and mnemonics; systematic schedules; important alternatives. Bliss has a good deal to say on the format and layout of the finished classification, including the need for typographical distinctions (which are very evident in the Bibliographic Classification), and the display of notes, definitions and instructions. More surprising for the period is the attention paid to some aspects of vocabulary control, not always considered by compilers of classifications as contrasted with those constructing subject heading lists or thesauri. Bliss’s guidelines do not always follow the conventions established by Cutter in his Rules for a Dictionary Catalog, with its emphasis on ordinary users, since for Bliss (86) the schedules are for classifiers, and classifiers should be masters of terminology’. Hence, “[c]ommon names and catchwords are better than descriptive phrases and inverted complex terms. But scientific, technical, and philosophic terms should be used where they are briefer or more distinctive than phrases in familiar terms”.

Part I ends with a section on classification for special libraries, on which subject Bliss had published several journal articles (1912b; 1929b; 1934a; 1937b; 1938a). His role as head of Departmental Libraries at the City College had doubtless provided him with plenty of material in this area.

Part II deals with the core operational functions of classifying, subject cataloguing, and bibliography. Bliss offers detailed guidance on the practical work of classifying which is less often seen in modern textbooks on cataloguing and classification. Such topics as determining the ‘aboutness’ of a book, and how to deal with misleading titles, provide practical advice on classification, as does consideration of what local users may require. A far-sighted examination of collaborative and cooperative cataloguing explores the possibilities of both joint efforts in cataloguing, or cataloguing carried out through a central agency. Bliss also speculates that bibliographic records in the form of pre-prepared catalogue cards could be supplied to publishers and booksellers and sold with the books themselves; these cards might include an indication of subject content through classmarks from one or more standard schemes of classification. But although (142) “subject-cataloguing and classifying for libraries would be greatly facilitated and economized” , Bliss warns that “it is altogether needless and uneconomic to adopt the individual classification of an individual library. However great, rich, and liberal this may be, it may not be typical, and, if not, its classification will be fit for few other libraries”.

And, as with OKSS, the final part of the text is devoted to the description and analysis of systems of knowledge organization, in this case bibliographic classifications. Bliss terms them “historic library classifications”, although they are the schemes then in general use, “the leading classifications” (193), rather than any earlier systems. The survey starts with a very brief account of older historic classifications (193-8), with some emphasis on the influences exerted by the conceptual systems of knowledge discussed at length in OKSS; however, a “complete or compendious historical survey of bibliographical classifications would not come within the scope and purpose of this volume”. A chapter each is devoted to the schemes then in more widespread use in the United States: The Decimal Classification (as Dewey’s scheme was titled until after his death in 1931); Cutter’s Expansive Classification; and the Library of Congress Classification. Under the umbrella heading of ‘Three European Classifications and One Asiatic’ Bliss reviews → Brown’s Subject Classification, the Classification of the University of Halle, the International Catalogue of Scientific Literature, and the → Colon Classification of Ranganathan. The section (and hence the book) ends with a general summary of the situation with regard to classification.

Needless to say Bliss’s assessment of these schemes is almost uniformly negative. He states that “a good classification is a structural survey of the fields of knowledge, thought, and interest” (306), and that the existing schemes “have disregarded the essential principles of classification for organization of knowledge” (305). Usually the shortcomings are seen to reside in the subject coverage and the disposition of classes, over which Bliss himself had laboured for so long, rather than the functionality of the schemes, although there is also much criticism of notation with respect to the length and complexity of class marks. Occasionally concessions are made to good classificatory principles, but a great deal of the negativity surrounds the unavoidable fact that classifications acceptable at the time of their creation fail to accommodate new subjects and ways of thinking. The analysis of Library of Congress Classification includes sixteen pages devoted to faults in the allocation and association (or not) of different topics, so that (268) “the Library of Congress is impaired thruout by too many inconvenient separations of closely related subjects, by dispersion of the parts of many subjects, by too many unnecessary complications, and by too many important omissions and deficiencies”. The same fault is found with Brown’s Subject Classification (288), which is “not distinctly better as regards the order of the main subjects nor as regards the relations and collocations of the specific subjects”.

The Expansive Classification fares a little better, and Bliss allowed that there “is much to appreciate and admire in Cutter’s classification” (240), but “the classes for social sciences, economics, and education are very meagre and inadequate. There is too little provision for subjects that were new in that decade, and for those of the present there is of course much less provision”. Corollary to that is the opinion that most schemes are beyond the point where these problems could be addressed. The Expansive Classification (241) “has not been kept up to date, improved, or revised, nor is it likely to be in the future”, and Dewey’s scheme (229) is “hopelessly beyond reconstruction”. Ironically, the lack of an institutionally backed and well-funded mechanism for revision and maintenance would later be seen as a major disadvantage of the Bibliographic Classification itself.

Ranganathan’s Colon Classification (300) fares the best of the schemes considered, in that his “mind comprehends the immense diversity and intricacy of objects, aspects, and relations in nature and in life”. The importance of the classification (304) is in “its exemplification of the valid principle of composite classification, systematic and synthetic, for specification of complex subjects of two or more characteristics”, but there are still objections to the order of classes, and to the notation (303), “which becomes exceedingly lengthy and complicated, even for comparatively simple subjects”.

It is striking that the Universal Decimal Classification is “not considered in detail here” (279) because of its intended use in “a great bibliographic catalog, and more broadly for ‘documentation’”, so that Bliss felt it was “hardly adaptable for the organization of knowledge in libraries”. Of all the general schemes it is the most similar in design and functionality to the Bibliographic Classification, at a similar evolutionary stage between the enumerative systems of the Nineteenth century and the faceted schemes of the later Twentieth century, and equipped with the same general and special auxiliary tables, and provision for ‘composite specification’.

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4. Interactions with others


4.1. Reception of Bliss’s work

It is widely documented that the Bibliographic Classification was regarded as the best scheme of its generation, as Langridge (1973, 93) called it, “the most scholarly of all the general schemes - the fine flower of the period of enumerative classification”, although his views were not necessarily shared by the American library community. Bliss’s theoretical works had a similarly mixed reception.

A significant element in the lack of enthusiasm for Bliss’s work was a more general antipathy toward classification per se, particularly in the United States. Partly this was due to the advance of automation for retrieval and a preference for mechanized search over systems based on close physical arrangement and browsing. Critics in this camp were often admiring of Bliss’s scholarship, and did not dispute his findings, but they were opposed to the culture of library classification in general, perceiving Bliss as having missed the boat, and his endeavours as a foolish waste of time. Taube (1953, 453) is typical of this category, with his view that “it is difficult to review in unfavorable terms a monumental work […] exhibiting enormous erudition [… but] the basic question remains concerning the value of the enterprise as a whole”.

A second faction, again principally of the American profession but not exclusively so, were those who privileged word-based approaches to indexing and retrieval over classificatory systems, preferring the subject index and alphabetical subject headings. With his insistence on the superiority of the systematic approach, it was inevitable that Bliss would be in conflict with this group, particularly in view of his published condemnations of the ‘subject-index illusion’ (Bliss 1929a, 412; 1933a, 104; 173; 200-01) and his use of such phrases as “our enemy the dictionary catalog” (Thomas 1998, 58). They were not a substantial lobby, but writers such as Metcalfe delivered some stinging blows to Bliss both in his monograph and in the professional press. Metcalfe’s editorial responses to some quite innocent correspondence from members of the British Bliss Classification Association in the Australian Library Journal were quite equal in their tone of derision and contempt to anything written by Bliss himself (Campbell and Freeman 1953, 86-7; 1954, 35-6; Metcalfe 1959, passim). He refers to “the philosophically very questionable consensus”, the “degree of logical confusion and linguistic inflexibility in the so-called logical classifications”, and “suggest[s] to Australian libraries and librarians that they stick to the decimal classifications”, because “unlike Bliss and Ranganathan, Dewey did not associate his system with a questionable metaphysic”.

A third group, which overlaps to some extent with the previous one, is that of the supporters of existing schemes, or at least of the status quo. Whatever the merits of the contemporaneous systems, Bliss had thoroughly antagonised their users by his vituperative criticism in The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries and had created a body of opposition to his own work, which some took pains to attack in their turn. His entry in Current Biography of 1953 suggests that his criticisms were regarded as “shockingly heretical” by more conservative librarians, and in a letter to Bliss in August 1933, Dorkas Fellows, the then editor of the Decimal Classification, described his chapter on the scheme as a “malignant diatribe”. Metcalfe (1959) of course mounted a spirited defence of Dewey, and there were others who felt that the Library of Congress Classification was in every way equal to Bliss’s own system and possibly better (Farrell 1934).

Not all of the negative responses were due to these broader external influences. Thomas (1998, 57ff) identifies two of the characteristic features of Bliss’s writing that made him less accessible, and sometimes less attractive, to his potential audience, and that may have “not only limited his popularity and influence in the library profession but also hampered a wider reception and application of his principles, technical devices, and classification system” (57). These are the aforementioned “cutting criticism”, and the excessive length and complexity of his arguments. As regards the former, Bliss acknowledged that he was in part responsible for the ill feeling directed towards him. In a letter to Ranganathan (1938) he confessed that, through his attacks on Dewey’s scheme, “I have made myself unpopular”, and elsewhere, writing to Charles Martel at the Library of Congress (1925a) “[m]y criticisms are perhaps too downright”.

Bliss’s correspondence also addresses the difficulties with his writing style. In 1926 he wrote to George Utley, then Librarian of the Newberry Library and President of the American Library Association, that “[o]thers agree with you that the work is somewhat ponderous, or too extensive”; and in the same year Frank Tolman, reference librarian at the New York State Library, had noted that the work was “much too long. Its exposition is frequently tedious and it has an overplus of trivial observations”.

In contrast, in fields other than library science Bliss’s work was generally applauded. If Bliss’s efforts at a philosophy of classification were not supported by the American Library Association, they were hailed as a great success by the academic community, and he received acclamatory reviews in scientific and philosophical journals such as Isis and Science. Unlike those who found Bliss’s writing impenetrable Heyl (1931, 498) felt that it was “thoroughly scientific. It is an instance of what can be done in the way of converting into a useful volume of reference what might otherwise have been an unreadable wilderness”. Sarton (1930, 378; 379) considered “Bliss’s work […] the fruit of much labor and experience and of a well balanced vision”. He suggested that “it ought to be prescribed and discussed in every library school”, and felt that it would “help [librarians] to realize more clearly the intellectual needs of their profession”. The philosopher John Dewey, in the introduction to Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences, speaks of Bliss’s contribution to the understanding of the role of organizations, and the central educational function of the book, as well as his “sound philosophy” and “solid scholarship” (Dewey in Bliss 1929a, vii).

Because Bliss was outspoken about the criticism he endured, it is often assumed that he enjoyed no support at all, but that was not the case, and he himself reported that “my books have sold better than expected” (Thomas 1998, 83). A number of his contemporaries shared his views about the conservatism of American librarians and the need for change in classification practices. Shera (1936, 497) agreed that ‘our classification systems, as Dr. Bliss has so ably shown, leave much to be desired, and we can ill afford the maintenance of an ostrich-like complacency in regard to their improvement’. Richardson spoke of The Organization of Knowledge in the warmest manner when he addressed the Catalog Section of the American Library Association at their 1926 Annual Meeting in Chicago (Lamb 1926, 487):

The attention of the Section has been called to the fact that the comprehensive work on classification on which Henry E. Bliss of the Library of the College of the City of New York has been engaged for some years is nearly ready for publication. This is by far the most exhaustive work on the history, theory, and application of classification attempted in our Association in its fifty years of activity. It has also important scientific and philosophical bearings and has been approved on these sides by competent experts. Several librarians have examined the work and believe it is a valuable contribution and useful reference thesaurus for all who are interested in applied classification.

When the book was finally published it was again the subject of a resolution (Kelley 1929, 299) this time at the Washington D. C. Conference, “expressing the keen interest of the Catalog Section in the recently published book by Henry E. Bliss entitled The Organisation of knowledge and the system of the sciences, and the hope that the second volume which is a study of classification for libraries will soon appear”.

Within the profession there were also those who recognized Bliss’s contribution, although they might not accept his conclusions. In a review in Library Quarterly Butler (1931, 91) commends The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences, saying:

This book is the most thorough discussion of the philosophical problems involved by our standard theories of library classification that has yet been written. As such it promises to become a classic for the subject. The thought is clear, its expression precise, and the argument thoroughly convincing. From beginning to end the author has achieved an enviable standard in his exposition.

Kelley in her later review of both titles (1934, 665) concurs with this position: “[t]he learning and scholarship that have gone into the writing of Mr. Henry E. Bliss's The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries and the Subject Approach to Books, and its predecessor The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences, are truly impressive”. Even though she did not agree with many of his ideas, Kelley (1937, 33) allowed that in respect of Bliss’s theoretical works “many librarians, both in the United States and in Europe, consider them to be the most exhaustive and fundamental treatments of the subject of the theory of classification and its application to books which we have”. Charles Martel, one time chief classifier at the Library of Congress, also commended The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries (Thomas 1998, 79), while not himself accepting Bliss’s conclusions. “It belongs to the literature of permanent value; whether any library actually classifies its books according to the Bliss schedules has little or nothing to do with that [… the] passage of time would detract little if anything from its value”.

Outside the United States Bliss was generally regarded highly by his fellow librarians, particularly in Britain. British reviews of the Bibliographic Classification were almost exclusively favourable and enthusiastic (Harrison 1953; Mills 1953; Palmer 1954; Paton 1953). Bliss had always been well received there, corresponding throughout his life with British librarians, including Lawrence Burgess of Cardiff Public Libraries, James Ormerod, Derby Public Library, Cyril Barnard at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (himself the author of a classification for medicine), and S.C. Bradford, librarian of the Science Museum, and later president of the Fédération internationale de documentation. His other international correspondents included → Éric and Georgette de Grolier, Paul Otlet, director of the Institut international de documentation, Brussels, creator of the Universal Decimal Classification, and, of course, S. R. Ranganathan (Thomas 1998, passim).

The impact of Bliss’s work on the classification thought of the period was considerable. A. C. Foskett (1971, 267) recounts that “the ideas which Bliss developed on the theory of systematic arrangement, notation, and other aspects of classification, have influenced every writer since”. Sayers referred to him as “that most scholarly of American classificationists” (1964, 212), and speaking of his own substantial book on classification (1964, 212), declared that “woven into the texture of this manual are many yarns from the loom of […] Henry Evelyn Bliss”. In the introduction to the second edition of BC (Mills and Broughton 1977, v), Mills confirms this view: “[I]t is no exaggeration to say that Bliss influenced strongly a whole generation of librarians, not only through the Bibliographic Classification itself but through the formidable theoretical studies of the organization of knowledge which preceded it and laid its foundations”.

As Campbell concludes (1976, 139), “[t]he two books […] and the outline version of his scheme, System of bibliographic classification […] won him a reputation in many parts of the world as an original thinker of great power, and a classificationist who was not afraid to tread out new paths”.

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4.2. Relationships with others

It has already been noted that throughout his professional life Bliss frequently soured his dealings with others because of his tendency to speak his opinions openly, and often harshly. The lack of support from the profession in general, and the American Library Association in particular, which caused so much resentment on his part, was in part a response to the criticism which he was all too ready to hand out on the basis that it was his duty to criticize established classifications (Thomas 1998, 58). The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries (1939) was the vehicle for many of these attacks, and Bliss’s views of his competitors were often dismissive to the point of rudeness. The Library of Congress Classification is considered as having “too many faults […]. As an organization of knowledge it is unscientific and inadaptive; as a library classification it is uneconomical; as a standard it is disqualified” (278). Cutter’s Expansive Classification “has had its day, and has enjoyed a reputation greater perhaps […] than it has really deserved” (241). Dewey’s scheme he dismissed as “an antiquated and inadaptable product based on the plan of an undergraduate of six decades ago and never coherent or scientific or practical. And now it is hopelessly beyond reconstruction” (229). As regards the International Institute of Bibliography in Brussels, the home of the Universal Decimal Classification, Bliss says that the “adoption of the Decimal Classification by the International Institute of Bibliography reflected no credit on that institution and little on the classification” (Bliss 1939, 226).

Bliss’s criticisms were on the whole intemperately expressed, and to some extent unfair, as the schemes he condemned had been devised in an age when there was little established theory or good practice in the area of classification. However, some of his readers thought that the “criticism of earlier classifications is generally incisive […] and pretty adequate and just” (Bernard 1931, 221).

Sharper and more personal comments are to be seen in his correspondence: for example, James Duff Brown is dismissed as having “no gray matter in his make-up” (Bliss 1930). The metaphor of ‘Charlie Chaplin’s clothing’ is used on more than one occasion to describe the Library of Congress Classification (Bliss 1930) and the Universal Decimal system (Bliss 1937b), and ‘our enemy the dictionary catalog’, and ‘the subject index illusion’ are shots frequently fired at alphabetical subject cataloguing, about which he had very little positive to say.

Bliss’s friends cautioned him against such uncompromising language, Grace Osgood Kelley advising against the use of “veiled or marked sarcasm” (Kelley 1933). It created a body of opposition, notably among supporters of Dewey’s scheme, a situation which Bliss acknowledged he had brought upon himself (Bliss 1938). Personal relations with Dewey however “appear to have been perfectly cordial” (Broughton 2008, 52), and he did concede that Dewey, “however strong the condemnation of the Decimal Classification may be […] is above any discredit. His service to librarianship, extending to many matters beside classification, has been constructive in the highest degree” (Bliss 1938, 229). Elsewhere he wrote warmly about Dewey (Bliss 1933, 198) despite his attacks on the classification:

[H]is youthful spirit was not merely practical; he had a mind of large ideas, and of “dreams” that became ideas, and ideas that he made realities. He was a born reformer, in the better sense, and an idealist, an optimist too. He became an influential educator, and a doughty defender. […] Leadership developed in him and was graced with an engaging personality.

More damaging was his split from the American Library Association, from which he resigned in 1933, although after a brief hiatus he re-joined in 1937 (Thomas 1998, 56). In a letter of that period to Henry Lyman Koopman, librarian emeritus of Brown University, cited by Thomas (1998, 56), Bliss complained that he had received “so dubious a welcome there”, and was “treated as an outsider”. In fact he had been a regular attender and presenter at ALA conferences, including those held at Louisville in 1917, where he delivered a paper on the theory of classification, Toronto in 1927, where he spoke about co-operative cataloguing and classification, and at Kaaterskill in 1913 where he was an invited speaker (Bliss 1913, 309). It is likely that part of the problem lay with the lack of interest in classification among the American library community, and their preference for the classificatory status quo, together with Bliss’s perception that this indifference to his ideas was in some way personal. Nevertheless, at Kaaterskill it is recorded that, after Bliss had delivered his paper, “in the subsequent discussion, opened by Dr. Richardson, […] exception was taken to many of Mr. Bliss' criticisms of present classifications”. The debate was doubtless prolonged as “only a few minutes remained for a paper on ‘Art in the college library’” (Bliss 1913, 315).

If Bliss was an outspoken and unsparing critic on the intellectual plane there is evidence that his personal relations were more amicable. Ranganathan records that “he was surprisingly kind, tolerant and human in his personal relation with members of the profession” (1955, 374). Goforth comments (1980, 43) on “his natural friendliness and interest in the people and things around him”, and, quoting John Jamieson his publisher, describes him as “lively, outgoing, opinionated Bliss”. Others who met with him in the last years of his life commented on his charm and sociability. He was “disarming” (Beck 1956, 244), “an extremely polite and gentle individual” (Dowdell 2000, 4). Close and apparently affectionate friendships were sometimes developed through letters, such as that with Charles Berwick Sayers who described him as “a sweet old man”, and C. C. Barnard, Librarian of the London School of Hygiene, who wrote in an obituary “I feel I have lost a real and affectionate old friend in H. E. Bliss”.

His extensive correspondence has already been mentioned, and there is evidence here of the broad spread of his acquaintance. He was in regular contact with leading professionals of the day, both in the USA and Europe, and Campbell (1976, 142) tells us that “he was a sociable man who made friends easily and had many of them”. Campbell also quotes John Hale Bliss on his father:

When young [he] had always made and kept many friends, and as he grew older and more mellow, he developed more and more. His correspondence is fascinating, and is a record of sixty-five years of trends in this age, revealed by many prominent, interesting people from all walks of life. His […] acquaintance with Albert Shaw [journalist and academic], Oswald Garrison Villard [editor of the New York Evening Post], Augustus Tack [painter and portraitist], John Finley [president of New York City College], editor [and author] [Grover] Orth of Williams and Wilkins, Dorothy Canfield [social activist and novelist], and so many others, evidenced the ease with which people involved themselves on a friendly basis with Bliss.

Goforth (1980, 44) mentions other well known names of his acquaintance: Conrad Nordby (academic and writer, for whom Bliss’s son Conrad was named), Upton Sinclair (Pulitzer prize winning novelist and social campaigner), Bernard Baruch (financier and presidential adviser), and Arthur Schlesinger (historian and political commentator). Campbell (1976, 140) quoting from John Hale Bliss, adds to the list of Bliss’s influential contacts, many of whom he had encountered at the City College “as fellow students, as teachers, as students who came under his influence in the library”. Robert Wagner (politician and mayor of New York) and Felix Frankfurter (justice of the Supreme Court) are among those of his father’s circle whom John Hale Bliss describes as “the great liberals of the Roosevelt age”.

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4.3. Bliss and Ranganathan

There is a small but respectable literature which speaks particularly of relations between Bliss and Ranganathan (Broughton 2008; Garfield 1974; Goforth 1980; Kumar 1992; La Barre 2000; Ranganathan 1955, 1971). There is some debate around this relationship, about which there is conflicting evidence. La Barre (2000) speculates whether Bliss’s attitude was one of “sour grapes”, (concluding that it was not), and Kumar (1992, 155) says that “Bliss was his [Ranganathan’s] direct rival” and “they had a love-hate relationship”. The latter is probably an exaggeration; Bliss was ambivalent in his attitude to Ranganathan, but there is nothing to suggest that Ranganathan was hostile in response. In an obituary of Bliss, Ranganathan (1955, 374) speaks warmly of the relationship, remembering “the appreciative and encouraging letters he wrote to me in 1933 when my Colon Classification was published. This was in spite of my being an utter stranger to him and so much his junior in age and experience”. Over a number of years they engaged in a modest correspondence, which appeared to be friendly, but was swiftly terminated in about 1949, when Bliss had been retired from the City College for some time. In the Bliss Centenary Address Ranganathan relates that:

About 1949 I sent to him some of our new results. I was very surprised to get a letter from him which read, “I am no longer interested in all such things. I don’t want to examine the paper you sent me”. This was a great surprise to me. I was wondering what would make him say that.

It is not clear whether Bliss had been offended in some way (if so, Ranganathan appears not to be aware of anything), or if he had simply laid down his intellectual work. Other than the final volume of the Bibliographic Classification, he did not publish anything significant after this date, and he was approaching his eightieth birthday. He certainly declined to meet Ranganathan when the latter visited the United States in 1950, offering deafness as an excuse: “I am stone deaf. It will be very difficult for us to converse. It will be very embarrassing for me. Therefore do not come” (Ranganathan 1971, 223). Although there is evidence that Bliss was quite able to converse when he wished to (Beck 1956; Garfield 1975), meeting with Ranganathan would have been intellectually challenging in a way that the ageing Bliss might not have felt able to deal with. Goforth (1980, 31) relates that, in her correspondence with them, both John Hale Bliss and Bliss’s publisher John Jameison expressed surprise at this refusal, Jameison suggesting that it was more to do with Bliss’s geographical remoteness since he was at the time living in Florida, a thousand miles from New York.

Otherwise, Bliss was sometimes appreciative and sometimes critical of Ranganathan’s work. Writing of the Prolegomena Bliss (1938, 302) considers that “there is much of value to the student in Ranganathan’s penetrating and intelligent discussions”, and “Ranganathan has contributed an important comparative study that merits much credit for its ingenuity and originality” (303). In The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries (298f) he describes the Colon Classification as an “ingenious and interesting system” and his assessment is more generous than that accorded to the other general schemes: “the erudition, insight, and ingenuity of the author are truly admirable. The system is well worth study by those who contemplate constructive developments in bibliographic classification”.

Yet he did not hold back from pointing out the things he disagreed with, nor indeed should he in an academic evaluation. These usually included differences of opinion in the use and definition of terminology, and the complexity of notation related to what he felt was over elaborate and unnecessarily detailed classification. Very occasionally Bliss was personally rude about Ranganathan; Garfield (1975, 253) relates that “he criticized Ranganathan as an upstart because he had never given Bliss credit for what he had obviously learned from him”, and, in a letter to Lawrence Burgess of March 1945 concerning Ranganathan, Bliss took him “less seriously than some others do, including himself” (cited in Thomas 1998, 58). But these were Bliss’s private comments, and the criticism in his published works is more measured.

A. C. Foskett (1971, 267) tells us that “Ranganathan read both of the works on the Organization of Knowledge in a single sitting, and was inspired to write his own Prolegomena as a result”. In the Prolegomena itself (1937, xii-xv), Ranganathan acknowledged the influence that Bliss’s work had on his own, and confirmed how the latter ‘emerged’ from his reading of the two theoretical studies. However, he had not initially found Bliss’s style very accessible, because “his language was so involved and his terminology was so unfamiliar to me that a thorough study of both the volumes was difficult” (Ranganathan, 1971). Bliss had found Ranganathan’s writing equally intractable, and said of the Colon Classification, “[t]he oriental mind may comprehend it, tho the occidental would hardly essay to undertake it” (Bliss 1933a, 299). Similarly, in his review of the Prolegomena (1938, 299), he declared “[t]his book is different, even radical, and it is therefore rather difficult to read and to review”. This was doubtless partly to do with cultural differences, and it should be remembered that both Bliss and Ranganathan were explaining and defining concepts for the first time, and, with no generally established terminology, often labelled them in different ways. The prime example of this phenomenon is probably the business of class mark building, which Bliss called ‘composite specification’ and Ranganathan called ‘synthesis’, although Bliss understood synthesis in a rather different manner. Nevertheless both men have been criticised for the impenetrability of their prose. Thomas comments that “Bliss’s published books and his bibliographic classification system make for rather difficult reading, because of their length, complexity, obscure style, and heavy criticism of other systems […] also because of their date and their typographical presentation” (1998, 53).

Their immediate successors generally regarded them as co-equals, if with somewhat different perspectives. They were “Bliss and Ranganathan, the most influential classificationists since Dewey” (Hyman 1972, 187). Shera (1965, 134) described Bliss as “one of the finest minds yet to address itself to the problems of library classification”, and “Ranganathan is probably the only man who can challenge Bliss on his own terms”. Sometimes Bliss appears to have intellectual priority, when Ranganathan is regarded as one “who ranks with Bliss in possessing one of the two most powerful minds ever to have addressed itself to the problems of bibliographic organization” (Shera 1966, 61). Garfield (1974) did not think that “we will again encounter as profound a theorist as Mr. Bliss”, and refers to him as “the other immortal” (253). “The two, though of quite different cultures, were much alike in some ways. Like Bliss, Ranganathan too is not as greatly or as widely appreciated as he should be” (253).

It is not the case that Bliss and Ranganathan were rivals in any real sense, or that Bliss disliked Ranganathan in a personal way, but he was resentful of the public acclaim that had been Ranganathan’s and which he thought was also his due. Their situations, however, were very different; Ranganathan was a leader in an emerging profession in a developing country; he was politically active and his purview was much broader than Bliss’s; he was a member of the Indian academic and political establishment, and was bound to come to a wider public attention. Bliss was essentially a scholar, a philosopher, and operated within a profession which in the United States was already established, and in which, even if well respected by many, he was not a senior figure. His rivals were the American Library Association, and the supporters of the status quo in classification, not Ranganathan, whose ideas on classification have been no more widely accepted in the United States than have those of Bliss.

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5. Later life


5.1. Bliss re-evaluated

Although his lack of acknowledgement was a constant source of resentment on Bliss’s part, it was to some extent mitigated at the end of his professional life.

His deafness prevented his active engagement at international conferences, but he contributed papers to several. In 1937 a paper on the application of general schemes to special libraries was written for the Scarborough Conference held in England on July 1-4, and read by the chair, Arundell Esdaile, then president of the Library Association. The importance of Bliss’s work was also acknowledged in two invitations from the International Federation for Documentation to submit papers to their conference held in 1938, at Oxford, and to the June 1948 conference which ‘was assembled to consider revision of the Universal Decimal Classification’ (Current Biography 1953, 77). His paper “The problem of classification for bibliography, and a proposal” was read there for him, and later published in Revue de la documentation (Bliss 1948a). John Hale Bliss recalls that the de Groliers, regular correspondents of Bliss, were much interested in his classification, even before full publication. “They offered to take his work, and using a professional group, translate it into French, and promote it as an international tool” (Goforth 1980, 32), but Bliss declined, fearing that they would take credit for any development.

He also received some recognition from the American profession. He was invited to the Library of Congress where he spent some days with David Haykin, then chief of the Subject Cataloguing Department, and other prominent librarians, and was “treated like an honoured guest” (Goforth 1980, 50). After the completion of the Bibliographic Classification in 1953 he was guest of honour at a luncheon meeting of the Editors Council at the H. W. Wilson Company (Wilson Library Bulletin 1953, 854) where he gave an impromptu speech on the development of the Bibliographic Classification (Goforth 1980, 48). Shortly before his death he was invited to direct a seminar at Rutgers University School of Library Science, but did not live to carry out this task.

As well as the retrospective view of Bliss’s achievements as comparable with those of Ranganathan, later writers would also compare him favourably with Melvil Dewey. Garfield (1974, 288) reflects that:

In the popular mind and for most practicing librarians, Melvil Dewey stands alone as the immortal giant of library classification, and certainly the success of his classification system is without parallel. Yet, there are not a few informationists throughout the world who consider the quieter and more cerebral Henry Evelyn Bliss (1870-1955) to be the true genius in this field, and an enormously influential one.

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5.2. Final years

Bliss’s wife died of cancer on September 7, 1943, in her 67th year, “after a long illness” (New York Times 1943, 23). John Hale Bliss (cited in Campbell 1976, 141) suggests that, to a degree, it was a release for Bliss:

My mother's death was indeed a blow to him, but also, it was a convenience to him, certainly as opposed to a long and confining illness. It allowed him, now at a time when he was more independent than he had ever been, to be utterly free to pursue certain things he now had the time and the money to do, when he no longer had to maintain a home, or defer to quite different interests of my mother's, which he was […] too considerate to ignore. His desire to wander about the country, to make and renew acquaintances, and relations with relatives, were an offset to the loneliness, [the] acute awareness of his loneliness, that her loss only accentuated.

Soon afterwards Bliss moved to Pasadena, California, first to live with, and then to be near, his remaining daughter, Margaret (then Mrs. Treat), and her family (Anderson 1978, 36). He spent several months in New York in 1947, when Volume II of the Bibliographic Classification was going through the press. The Preface to Volume II, written in 1946, gives Bliss’s location as Block Island, Rhode Island, but there is no other mention of this anywhere else in the literature; possibly this short text was written during some expedition or vacation visit there. In 1947 Bliss went to live first in Orlando (Campbell 1976, 142), and then in Winter Park, Florida (Current Biography 1953, 77). Livingston (2010, 150) records that during his time in Florida, in the 1950s, “an Orlando reporter discovered his presence in the area and wrote about him, describing Bliss as ‘a world-famous librarian, author, philosopher, and poet’”. The article was headlined “Son of First Auto Victim Lives Quietly” and opened with a description of his father's historic fatal encounter with an automobile in Manhattan in 1899’ [15]. There Bliss stayed until 1952, moving then to 602 East Front Street, Plainfield, New Jersey, close to the home of his son John (Campbell 1976, 142), and where he spent the rest of his life [16]. From Plainfield he was able to make frequent trips to New York, to visit his publishers, to make use of library collections, and to meet with his friends.

After his wife’s death, apart from a brief spell at his daughter’s home, Bliss lived independently and managed his own domestic affairs, unsurprisingly for a man who was capable with his hands, and in earlier life had enjoyed tackling jobs around the home. Campbell (1976, 142) tells us that “he lived alone, bought and cooked his own food, mended his clothes, and cleaned his own rooms”, but quotes Bliss’s son who tells us this solitary lifestyle was not because he did not value family life, but “because experience had taught him it suited him best”.

When he retired from the City College in 1940 Bliss had devoted himself to the completion of his Classification. In 1941 Bliss had written to James Ormerod, chief librarian at Derby in England, that he doubted if “time will be remaining to me to finish our Classification” and two years later Goodrich (1943), in correspondence with H. W. Wilson, expressed the view that Bliss was no longer capable of doing any further work. However, it was finally completed, and Goodrich congratulated Bliss on his achievement (Thomas 1998, 80). Although he appears to have largely abandoned his scholarly endeavours after 1953, when the final volume of the Classification was published, Bliss continued to work, partly on an autobiography, now held in the Henry E. Bliss papers at Columbia University, New York (Thomas 1998, 102), and partly on family history, some of which is deposited in the New York Public Library Genealogical Division (Thomas 1998, 102), but which is mostly retained privately by the Bliss and Livingston families (Livingston 2010, 173). He maintained a wide correspondence with friends and acquaintances, and was in regular contact with his extended family.

Eugene Garfield (1974), who encountered him accidentally in 1954, and met with him several times afterwards, provides evidence that Bliss’s intellectual capacity was in no way impaired, and, although the Classification was finished, his interest in information retrieval was not diminished. Garfield (288) tells us that “[w]e seemed to complement each other in our ignorance — he wanted to know more about machines and how one could employ classification to advantage in machine systems; I was interested in systems of classification that would make machines more useful for information retrieval”. Garfield’s account includes a letter from Bliss dated May 1954 where he wrote “[w]e may talk about Documentation, the electronic sorting machines, and Ranganathan’s proposals for denoting unlimited subject analysis, his devices for systematic extension and ramification”.

In the same article a copy of a letter from Bliss dated 14 October 1954 relates that “I have been so busy for the past two weeks editing and preparing for publication the second Bulletin of the Bliss Classification”. In 1952 John Campbell, then Secretary of the British Bliss Association, had written to Bliss (Campbell 1976, 142) “with a view to organizing users of BC to improve and maintain the classification”. Both Bliss and H. W. Wilson were enthusiastic about the idea, and, Campbell having received a modest response from the BC users, the British Committee for the Bibliographic Classification was formed, and “agreed to distribute free-of-charge to users and others interested, a Bliss Classification Bulletin containing news, revisions, and detailed amendments”. Bliss himself edited the first three editions of the Bulletin, and the Forewords to these Bulletins, in August 1954, and March and August 1955, are his last formal publications.

Bliss’s later years are attested to by a number of anecdotal accounts, including those of Dunlap (1995), Garfield (1974), Drobnicki (1996) and Dowdell (2000). He is regarded with some respect for his achievements, and no little affection. Several mentions are made of his deafness, which by now was very marked, and his use of an ear trumpet (Dunlap 1995, 103). This is described as “a pocket folding ear trumpet which was a curved ivory affair that flared out at the end, like a bell into which one spoke” (Barron 1995), although Garfield records Bliss in 1954 as wearing a hearing aid (Garfield 1974, 250).

Even if deaf, Bliss was still physically quite active, travelling about, and occupying himself with a variety of interests. Current Biography (1953, 77) records that, at the age of eighty-three, Bliss had “given up his favourite activities, gardening and cabinet-making, but continue[d] his daily hikes”. Thomas (1998, 56) tells us that in his lifetime Bliss had walked about 60,000 miles, and in his later years he was reported still to hike about 1,000 miles a year (Campbell 1976, 142). In his old age, if not before, he appears to have been “a vegetarian and a non-drinker” (Dowdell 2000, 4). Garfield recalls that, when they had lunch together in Manhattan, Bliss ate eggs, “because he usually did not trust the food he found in restaurants” (Garfield 1974, 253).

Most impressions of Bliss are as an old-fashioned type of scholarly gentleman, “a short man with an upright carriage” (Dunlap 1995, 103). John Jamieson, his publisher at the Wilson Company, remembered him as “a frail-looking old man”, and a “lively and interesting but almost incessant talker” (Goforth 1980, 48). In a letter of October 16 1944 to Helen Haines [17], cited in Thomas (1998, 57) Bliss describes himself as “a little fellow with something of a sprightly mind […]. The erosions of life have worn down to a little fellow, one who once thought he had a big head, and so undertook a big job”. Garfield (1974, 252) depicts him as “someone from out of the past like Gulliver in Glubbdubdrib, for in spite of his keen interest in new developments, Mr. Bliss at 84 was in demeanor and temperament out of the Nineteenth century and thus all the more fabulous when you consider how contemporary his thinking is”.

The ear trumpets are also mentioned by the New Jersey historian and folklorist Henry Charlton Beck [18] (1956) in a memoir of a trip taken with Bliss up the Toms River; this adventure was in search of information about Joseph Francis, an inventor and boat builder on the Toms River in the early Nineteenth century, about whom Bliss appeared immensely well informed, perhaps because of the interests he had had as a boy who “enjoyed building small boats and sailing them” (Bliss 1927). In the course of the day the party visited various sites and properties in Toms River, recalling previous events and inhabitants, including Charles L. Livingston (Beck 1956, 245) and Tom Placide (243), the erstwhile husband of Bliss’s grandmother. The account is particularly useful as Beck did not know Bliss professionally, and he provides an alternative perspective on his habits and character. Bliss, whom Beck describes as “a retired librarian of baffling age” (238), was previously unknown to him, the outing having been arranged by a mutual acquaintance, the painter Ned Knox [19], but Beck apparently maintained a correspondence with Bliss after the event. It is difficult to place this story within Bliss’s lifetime, as no dates are recorded at all, and Beck was “not at all certain when and where I first heard of Henry Evelyn Bliss” (240). Since Ned Knox died in 1947, it cannot be later than that. However, some of the letters, which Bliss wrote “in a spidery hand”, came from “hideaways on the West Coast”, so this may have been during the period when Bliss was living with his daughter in California (i.e. between 1943 and 1947). Bliss is portrayed as very eccentric in manner, “this disarming, birdlike old gentleman” (244), who “was toting two extracurricular items guaranteed to mark him anywhere - two old-fashioned ear trumpets. One, quite large, was for far-across-the-table conversation … The other was for tuning in small talk at his elbow. [… He] artfully manipulated those somewhat antiquated and battered instruments, with the greatest of ease, and with no show of embarrassment whatsoever” (241).

If Beck’s purpose was to learn more about Joseph Francis, Bliss had a personal objective of his own, which Beck infers as the real reason for his presence (240): “Henry Evelyn Bliss […] was evidently bent on finding the solution of a private mystery, which, I concluded had involved members of his family”. He continues (242):

Henry Bliss was trying to rescue a reputation, to correct the verdict that had been found years before against somebody suspected of poisoning somebody else, all deftly accomplished in a cozy family circle […]. Afterwards when I tried to piece together what I had, I concluded that a woman had been involved, hopelessly tangled in what Henry or somebody thought was circumstantial evidence […].

This can hardly have been anything other than the mystery surrounding the death of his mother and the trial of Mary Alice for her murder. Did Bliss in his final years reconsider his thoughts about the affair, and hope to find some fresh evidence? Bliss did not disclose to Beck that the house where he identified Tom Placide’s room (243) was the same house where he had spent much of his young life. Perhaps the return to the home of his childhood simply brought it all back to mind.

Bliss died on August 9, 1955, aged 85, having been mildly unwell for a day or two before. He took “an afternoon nap” (Campbell 1976, 143), from which he never awoke, dying peacefully and painlessly in his sleep. He was buried in the family plot in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery, Westchester County New York, where now he lies with Ellen and three of their four children.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful for the insights provided by the late Dr. John Campbell through his personal correspondence with John Hale Bliss, and by Alan Thomas in his substantial and masterly analysis of Bliss’s own correspondence held at Columbia University, New York, which resources were not available to me in writing this paper. I have taken the liberty to re-use a number of quotations from Bliss’s letters provided in Thomas’s 1998 article. Alan Thomas is also the source of information about the location of other archival material relating to Bliss and his family. Allene Goforth’s unpublished master’s dissertation on Bliss was also a major source of biographical information, particularly through her correspondence with John Hale Bliss, and with John Jameison, Bliss’s publisher at H. W. Wilson. James D. Livingston, author of Arsenic and Clam Chowder, a member of the renowned Livingston family, and with whom I had a brief correspondence in 2008, had access to Bliss’s unpublished work retained in the family, and reveals in his book some of Bliss’s private comments and thoughts from this unique material. His book was also an invaluable source for the background and history of the Bliss and Livingston families.

Thanks are also due to Forgotten Books, publishers of The City College by Mosenthal and Horne, for permission to reproduce the image of the library at City College New York.

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Endnotes

1. Although Henry Evelyn’s date of birth, January 1870, is widely documented in both academic and genealogical sources, only one source gives a date of birth, February 1869, for Florence. Since Henry and Evelina were only married in on July 23 1868, the two children must have been conceived and born very quickly. Some genealogy sources record a third child of the marriage, George Harrie Bliss, but he was a child of Henry Hale Bliss’s earlier marriage (1853-1856) to Elvira Ketchum Bliss, which had ended when Elvira died at the tender age of 24, in a typhoid epidemic. The two children of the marriage, George Harrie and an unnamed daughter, both died in infancy. Confusion may be caused by the fact that Henry Evelyn is recorded here (Bliss 1881) as ‘Harry Evelyn’.

2. Matthew Livingston Davis (1773–1850) was a Republican journalist, publisher, and politician from New York City. He edited the New York Evening Post with Levi Wayland from 17 Nov. 1794 until 25 May 1795. A member of the Society of Tammany in 1800, Davis was one of Aaron Burr’s political lieutenants in the state election campaigns, and acted as Burr’s second in the duel with Alexander Hamilton in which Hamilton was killed. He was also Burr’s first biographer as the author of the two-volume Memoirs of Aaron Burr, published in 1837.

3. Thomas Bliss Sr., together with his son Thomas Bliss Jr., is recorded on the Hartford Monument as one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut. Although there are more fanciful accounts of his origins, he is most likely the Thomas Bliss who arrived in America during the great Puritan migration of 1620-1640, and originated from Gloucester, England. He was married to Margaret Hulings of Rodborough, Gloucestershire, at St. Nicholas Church Gloucester on 18 October 1621 (Bliss Family History Society at: http://www.blissfhs.co.uk/pioneers.htm). Since both Thomas and Margaret later appear in the records of Hartford, it seems logical that this is the same Gloucestershire Thomas.

4. The catboat was a single mast, single sail vessel (The Catboat Association https://www.catboats.org/). From the 1850s to the early 1900s catboats were the dominant inshore boat on the New England coast, both for work and for pleasure (Chesapeake Catboat Association http://www.chesapeakecatboats.org/the-catboat.html). A sneakbox is a small boat that can be sailed, rowed, poled or sculled. It is predominantly associated with Barnegat Bay in New Jersey (Wikipedia).

5. Dunlap (1995, 104) says that Bliss ‘entered the College with the class of 1890’, but this is at odds with all other sources who agree that he was a student between 1885 and 1888, i.e. between the ages of 15 and 18. In 1890 he was teaching in a boys’ school, and studying for his licence to teach.

6. Maurice de Hirsch (1831-1896), also known as Moritz von Hirsch, was a German Jewish financier and philanthropist who sponsored large numbers of Jewish education and resettlement projects throughout Europe and internationally. In 1881 he founded a benevolent trust in the United States; this supported a Trade School, and an Agricultural School, and also classes for children in the lower East Side of New York, to prepare them to enter the public schools (Adler and Reizenstein 1906).

7. W. I. Fletcher had published his own classification scheme in 1894. Although he was librarian of an academic library, Amherst College, his scheme is intended for ‘an ordinary public library’ (1894, 7). It is not a very detailed classification, rather similar to Dewey’s original 1876 classification (which was coincidentally also designed for Amherst College library), although its sixteen pages include classes for ‘Mesmerism’ and ‘The dog’. He is clearly sceptical about ‘the complicated “notation” found with each of the more elaborate schemes of classification’ (8), and recommends further subdivision by alphabetisation, suggesting Cutter’s author table as a suitable device. Cutter’s Expansive Classification was well established at this time; it is a much more substantial classification, with a complicated notation.

8. The value of Mary Alice’s inheritance by today’s standards can be variously understood (http://www.measuringworth.com). In absolute terms, it amounts to about 2.5 million dollars; with regard to equivalent income, between 12.7 and 20.9 million dollars; its position in the average income distribution would make it worth 22.8 million dollars; seen relative to the total output of the economy, 107 million dollars. Whichever you choose, it was a great deal of money.

9. The name of Alexander Stewart Webb (February 15, 1835 – February 12, 1911) would have been well known to New Yorkers. He was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War who received the Medal of Honor for gallantry at the Battle of Gettysburg. After the war, he was President of the City College of New York for thirty-three years, the second to hold that office. Although he was a great deal older than Bliss, they were undoubtedly acquainted; nevertheless it seems likely that Bliss’s father was exaggerating the closeness of the relationship to emphasise his son’s respectability.

10. The Bowker Alumni Library, named in honour of publisher Richard Rogers Bowker, a City College alumnus, was begun in 1937, but was never completed, and ultimately demolished (Van Nort 2007, 30). Although not a librarian Bowker was a significant influence on the American Library Association and the profession in general. He was one of the founders of the ALA, and the publisher of, and major contributor to, the Library Journal. His support of and financial contribution to numerous individual libraries was extensive, and one wonders why he did not similarly endorse the library in his alma mater.

11. The date of 1918, given in Current Biography may be wrong, and Enid, born on 24 September 1904, died in 1913 when she could have been only eight or nine years old (Find-a-grave Index, accessed through Ancestry.co.uk). The site MyHeritage.com gives her date of death as 1919, and her age as 14, but the inscription on the family gravestone is very clearly 1913, and the Find-a-grave Index records it as such. However, if Enid died of influenza during the epidemic, the date of which was indeed 1918, the two seem irreconcilable.

12. It is not entirely clear which university was involved in the offer of 1911-1913. John Hale Bliss ‘thinks it was the University of Illinois’ (Goforth 1980, 19), but there is no supporting evidence for this. The University of Chicago, founded in 1890, and which was considering the reorganization of its library services in 1910, might well have approached Bliss shortly afterwards. At the time the University of Illinois consisted of several health colleges, which were only fully incorporated in 1913, and seems a less well established institution.

13. Lewis Freeman Mott was another City College alumnus, and one who achieved some standing as a scholar. He became Professor of English there in 1897, and was President of the Modern Language Association in 1911.

14. Sidney Edward Mezes was the fourth President of the City College, serving from 1914 to 1927. He was Professor of Philosophy at the Universities of Chicago and Texas, and President of the latter from 1908 to 1914. He was Director of the think tank set up by Woodrow Wilson in 1917 to study the diplomatic position that would follow the end of World War I, and a member of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace at the Treaty of Versailles.

15. Livingston (169) says that the ‘undated clipping from an Orlando newspaper’ was sent to him by his cousin Gracia Livingston, but efforts to trace this in the Florida Digital Newspaper Library (https://ufdc.ufl.edu/fdnl) have proved fruitless.

16. Charles Dowdell, in a paper written during his MLIS studies at Syracuse University, reveals that Bliss had lived with his (Dowdell’s) grandparents and other family members ‘for approximately a six month period in the early 1950s’ (Dowdell 2000, 3). They appear to have been friends of long standing. A letter from Bliss to the Rev. Victor Lyle Dowdell (the grandfather) in 1947 shows that the Dowdells were then living in Tivoli, N. Y., although that might not have been the case five or so years later. At this time Bliss is known to have been living first in Florida, and from 1952 in New Jersey, but there is no other record of any period spent elsewhere. Possibly the stay coincides with the move from Florida to New Jersey, but there is no evidence to indicate one way or the other. Victor Lyle Dowdell is probably the same as the author of Aristotle and Anglican Religious Thought , Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell UP, 1942.

17. Helen Haines, although not a qualified librarian, was prominent in the early twentieth century library world. Most famous for her 1935 publication Living with Books, she was also sometime editor of the Library Journal and of the Proceedings of the American Library Association conference, an educator in the fields of book selection and collection development, and an officer of the ALA. As a member of the ALA Council she worked with Cutter and with Dewey (Trott 2010, 14), as well as being a personal correspondent of Bliss.

18. Henry Charlton Beck (1902-1965) was an Episcopal priest and a writer. "His books are vivid recreations of the back roads, small towns, and legends that give New Jersey its special character. Father Henry Charlton Beck, who lived in New Jersey nearly all his life, was the author of numerous books on New Jersey folklife, state editor of the Camden Courier-Post, and writer for the Newark Star-Ledger. He is considered New Jersey's first folklorist and his painstaking work has left us with a rich collection of tales" (Rutgers University Press website 2019).

19. Edward Prentiss Knox (1880-1947). “Edward (Ned) Knox was known as ‘New Jersey's Bicycle Artist’. He rode his bicycle while toting along his canvases and paints throughout the Jersey seashore and pinelands trails in search of characteristic scenery and ruins of historic sites. After graduating from Princeton University in 1908, he traveled, while working odd jobs, throughout the mid-west where he first began to sketch and paint the local scenery. He later maintained an art studio on Snyder Street in Toms River, New Jersey from 1915 to 1945 and then in South Seaville, New Jersey from 1946 until his death in 1947” (http://www.askart.com).

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Publications of Henry Evelyn Bliss

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1903. “Economy in Accession Records”. Library Journal 28: 711-713.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1904. “Headings for Government Publications”. Library Journal 29: 475.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1905. “Better Bookbinding for Libraries”. Library Journal 30: 849-857.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1910. “A Modern Classification for Libraries, with Simple Notations, Mnemonics, and Alternatives,” Library Journal 35: 351–8.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1910. “Simplified Book-Notation”. Library Journal 35: 544-546.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1912. "Conservatism in Library Classification". Library Journal 37: 659-668.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1912. “Departmental Libraries in Universities and Colleges”. Educational Review 43: 387-409.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1912. “A Simplified Alphabetic-Order Table”. Library Journal 37: 71-74.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1913. “Accession Records Economized and Systematized”. Library Journal 38: 255-263.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1913. “Some Practical Considerations Regarding Classification for Libraries”. In Papers and Proceedings of the Thirty-Fifth Annual Meeting Of The American Library Association (July, 1913). Bulletin of the American Library Association 7(4): 309-315. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25685189.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1915. “On Relations”. Philosophical Review 24: 37-53.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1917. “The Problem and the Theory of Library Classification”. In Papers And Proceedings Of The Thirty-Ninth Annual Meeting Of The American Library Association (July 1917). Bulletin of the American Library Association 11(4): 200-202.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1917. “The Subject-Object Relation”. Philosophical Review 26: 395-408.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1927. “More Adequate Cooperative Classifying and Cataloging”. American Library Association Bulletin 21: 352-355.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1929. The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences. New York: Henry Holt.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1929. “Standardization in Classification for Special Libraries”. Special Libraries 20: 74–6.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1931. "Billionaire Bibliography". Library Journal 56: 435-439.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1931. "Classification for Bibliography of Science - a Problem." Nature 127, no. 3215 June 13: 889-890 [Letters to the Editor].

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1931. “Scientific is not Philosophic Classification”. Library Association Record 33: 174-175.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1933. The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries and the Subject Approach to Books. New York: Henry Holt.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1933. “What do you mean by Practical Classification?” Special Libraries 24, no. 2: 35–7.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1934. "Comment la classification bibliothèque peut être standardisée? [How Bibliographic Classification may be Standardized?]." Revue du Livre 5: 115-118.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1934. "Comment la classification bibliothèque peut être standardisée? [How Bibliographic Classification may be Standardized]". Revue du Livre 6: 150-152.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1935. "L’illogisme de L’ordre Alphabetique [Illogical alphabetical order]." Revue du Livre 3: 20-22.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1935. “As to a Philosophy for Librarianship”. Library Quarterly 5: 232-235.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1935. A System of Bibliographic Classification. New York: H.W. Wilson.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1935. “The System of the Sciences and the Organization of Knowledge”. Philosophy of Science 2: 86–103.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1936. “An Introduction to Library Classification, Theoretical, Historical and Practical, with Readings, Exercises and Examination Papers, by W. C. Berwick Sayers”. Library Quarterly 6: 88-92. [Review].

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1936. “Some Reflections on Corporate Names”. Library Quarterly 6: 263-269.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1937. Better Late than Never. New York: Putnam.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1937. "Form in Classification”. Librarian and Book World 26: 128-130 [Letter].

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1937. "Special, Related to General, Bibliographic Classification”. Library Association Record 39: 318-322.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. & William Stetson Merrill. 1938. “Comments on the Proposed Nonexpansive Classification System”. Library Quarterly 8: 120-124.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1938. "Composite Classification”. Special Libraries, 29: 160 [Letter].

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1938. "Consistent Classification for Special Libraries”. Special Libraries 29: 78-84.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1938. "S. R. Ranganathan, Prolegomena to Library Classification”. Library Quarterly, 8: 299-303. [Review]

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1938. “Theoretic Principles of Bibliographic Classification”. International Federation for Documentation Transactions 14: C57-C65.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1939. The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries and the Subject Approach to Books. 2nd edition, revised and partly rewritten. New York: H. W. Wilson.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1940–1953. A Bibliographic Classification Extended by Systematic Auxiliary Schedules for Composite Specification and Notation 4 vols. New York: H. W. Wilson.

1940. Volume I Introduction Anterior Tables and Systematic Schedules and Classes A-G. New York: H. W. Wilson.

1947. Volume II Classes H-K The Human Sciences With Introduction and Index. New York: H. W. Wilson.

1953. Volume III Classes L-Z. New York: H. W. Wilson.

1953. Volume IV General Index. New York: H. W. Wilson.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1940. A Bibliographic Classification Extended by Systematic Auxiliary Schedules for Composite Specification and Notation. Volume I Introduction Anterior Tables and Systematic Schedules and Classes A-G. New York: H. W. Wilson.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1947. A Bibliographic Classification Extended by Systematic Auxiliary Schedules for Composite Specification and Notation. Volume II Classes H-K The Human Sciences With Introduction and Index. New York: H. W. Wilson.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1948. "Philosophy of Classification”. Library Quarterly 18: 63-66. [Review of A. Broadfield. The Philosophy of Classification. London: Grafton, 1946.]

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1948. “The Problem of Classification for Bibliography, and a Proposal”. Revue de la Documentation 15: 84-93.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1953. A Bibliographic Classification Extended by Systematic Auxiliary Schedules for Composite Specification and Notation. Volume III Classes L-Z. New York: H. W. Wilson.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1953. A Bibliographic Classification Extended by Systematic Auxiliary Schedules for Composite Specification and Notation. Volume IV General Index. New York: H. W. Wilson.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1954. “Foreword”. Bliss Classification Bulletin 1, no.1 August: 1-3.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1955. “Foreword”. Bliss Classification Bulletin 1, no. 2 March: 1-2.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1955. “Foreword”. Bliss Classification Bulletin 1, no. 3 August: 1.

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Unpublished writings of Henry Evelyn Bliss

Autobiographical record of Henry E. Bliss. Part IV. Section 3. Friends of his work, and Digest of the Correspondence with them. 1905-1943. Index to the autobiographical record of Henry Evelyn Bliss. [Held as part of the Henry E. Bliss Papers. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York]

Notes on the history of Bliss and Livingston families. Also Anderson, Hoope, Davis and other families of old New York. Dobbs Ferry, N. Y. 1943 [Held in the Genealogical Division. New York Public Library]

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References

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Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1937b. June 1. Pencilled comments by Bliss added to a letter from S. C. Bradford. Cited in Thomas 1998, 58.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1937c. December 1937. Letter to S. R. Ranganathan. Cited in Thomas 1998, 78.

Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1938. March 11. Letter to S. R. Ranganathan. Cited in Thomas 1998, 58

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Bliss, Henry Evelyn. 1941. December 1. Letter to James Ormerod. Cited in Thomas 1998, 80.

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Cutter, Charles A. 1891-93. Expansive Classification: Part I: The First Six Classifications. Boston, Mass: C. A. Cutter.

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Dewey, John. 1929. “Introduction”. In Bliss, H. E. 1929. The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences. New York: H. W. Wilson, vii-ix

Davis, Matthew Livingston. 1837. Memoirs of Aaron Burr. New York: Harper.

Dowdell, Charles. 2000. “Bliss Classification”. (Classification assignment, Syracuse University School of Information Studies) Available at Bliss Classification Association website http://www.blissclassification.org.uk/DowdellBliss.pdf.

Drobnicki, John A. 1996. Bliss: the Man and the Classification. ERIC document, ED396758. Available at https://academicworks.cuny.edu/yc_pubs/14/.

Dunlap, Joseph R. 1995. “Glimpses of Henry Evelyn Bliss: 1937-1940”. Unpublished. Included as appendix to Thomas, A.R. 1998. “Bibliographical Classification: the Ideas and Achievements of Henry E. Bliss”. Cataloging and Classification Quarterly 25: 103-4.

Farrell, Colman J. 1934. “The Classification of Books in Libraries (a Review of Organization of Knowledge in Libraries)”. Library Quarterly 4: 207-22.

Feibleman, James K. 1954. “Theory of integrative levels”. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 5: 59-66.

Fellows, Dorkas. 1933. August 24. Letter to Bliss. Cited in Thomas 1998, 58.

Fletcher, W. I. 1894. Library Classification. Boston: Roberts Bros.

Foskett, Antony Charles. 1971. The Subject Approach to Information. 2nd ed. London: Bingley.

Garfield, Eugene. 1970. “Education by Steeping, Nibbling or Classification?” Current Contents March 25: 95.

Garfield, Eugene. 1974. “The ‘Other’ Immortal: a Memorable Day with Henry E. Bliss”. Wilson Library Bulletin 49: 288-292.

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