Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto - OCS, 15th INTERNATIONAL ISKO CONFERENCE

Font Size: 
Luca Giusti

Last modified: 2018-06-19



Developing new lines of investigation about the process that led to definition of Colon Classification (1925) and Apupa pattern (1951). Gaining unusual points of view on the cultural background of those fundamental pillars of knowledge organization as an opportunity to renew approaches to information retrieval, strengthening its capability to take on challenges that the digital age poses to our societies.



A historical investigation, focused on periods preceding the creation of two of Ranganathan’s fundamental innovations; these periods present typical features arising at the moments of radical change of paradigm:

  • Cross cultural dialogue. Unusual and deep interest in opening to distant cultures; with the awareness that he had to take on the challenges of that societies. In 1924 Ranganathan travelled  to England, where he studied librarianship and visited about a hundred innovative applications in community reading centers. In 1950 he went to the United States where he came into contact with the needs of emerging IT industries and international post-war organizations such as Unesco.
  • Deep crisis. Ranganathan left for England after the severe crisis that followed his drastic choice to abandon mathematics research and teaching to become a librarian. In the book Philosophy of classification he wrote about other istances of his uneasiness occurred during his journeys: “The moment (…) was one of crisis in my mind. My recent visit to Europe and America [1948-50] (…) helped me to realize the great demand which is developing in all spheres of thought –pure as well as applied- for documentation service of the most exhaustive kind. It also gave me an opportunity to experience the inadequacy of the existing classificatory technique to meet that demand. The feeling in me has been very similar to what it was when I visited the British libraries twenty-five years ago [1925]”.
  • Great discovery. The above quote continues: “It was this which led [1925] to the designing of new foundations for library classification and to a comparative study leading to the enunciation of the canons and principles of the subject. The present experience [1950] has led to the deepening of these foundations so as to take the additional load of documentation. So far it has not been possible to find a totally new foundation. All that has happened is to carry the existing foundations to a deeper level”.

“The additional load of documentation” refers to hyper-specialized micro-contents generated by the great acceleration that the Second World War gave to information science and on its applications to telecommunications. In particular huge investments in large, interdisciplinary and multicultural research groups involved in a race against the Nazi regime to implement decisive military technologies such as cryptography or thermonuclear reactions.

This historical context set some challenges from the point of view of knowledge management and organization:

  • on the one hand they need filtering to avoid the risk of overload of micro-contents;
  • on the other hand they need to enlarge laterally traditional disciplinary niches, enhancing the creative and innovative potential of interdisciplinarity and multiculturalism.

These groups experienced first speed, intensity and complexity of workflows that now seem to be extended to society as a whole, generating similar challenges, such as information overload or filter bubble.

Ranganathan’s answer to that challenges seems to be contained in the notion of “classification as a mean of communication”, giving the title to an important chapter of the book in which Ranganathan introduced the AUPA pattern  (Alien-Penumbral-Umbral-Penumbral-Alien) pattern, at the end of his journey to US.

Ranganathan’s above statement about “a deeper level” suggests that this idea had been present in progress since his journey to England in 1925. We tried to confirm this hypotesis adopting an inductive investigation method to deepen some terminologies and pattern that seem to resonate with other disciplines:

  • the progression from penumbral to umbral seems counterintuitive as compared to the habit to represent cognitive processes as progressions from shadow to light (cfr. enlightening);
  • the permanence of the Latin term umbra instead of English shadow;
  • similarities with other bell curve patterns such as Gaussian curve or the distribution of cones and rods in human visual perception system.

Trusting Ranganathan’s skill to avoid unwanted resonances, we have developed some hypotheses, and check them with the care required in any interdisciplinary study.



Among the most significant hypotheses and with more evidence, we report what the term umbral might be related to the work that the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan did a few years before in Cambridge on mathematical notations for so-called umbral calculus. The way C.S.Peirce describes these notations, suggests cross-references to faceted-classification: “In other mathematics, they have no existence in the universe of quantity. But joined together in sets they do. They are just like chemicals radicals, each having a certain number of unsatisfied wants. When each of these is satisfied by union with another, the completely saturated whole has an existence in the universe of quantity”.

Going back to the history of the umbral calculus we are confronted with the revolution of the differential and infinitesimal calculations worked out by Leibniz and Newton, that makes the connection between faceted classification and theory of knowledge. In particular in Monadology Leibniz introduced the distinction between conscious apperception of parts and unconscious perception of the whole characterizing  every perspective of our own perception.

This point of arrival seems to be close to the one proposed by La Barre (2006) and by Van den Heuvel (2011) about the theory of A.N.Whitehead, significantly-called penumbra of consciouness. In particular concepts of conscious apprehension of focal elements and unconscious prehension of background elements in each perspective of the universe seem to recall Leibniz’s theory. Ranganathan and Library Research Circle studied assiduously Whitehead‘s non-metrical projective geometry, in an attempt to bring the mappings of multidimensional knowledge into a une-dimensional and uni-directional line.

Ranganathan's answers to challenges of his society are a great opportunity for our current and future challenges.