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Universal Decimal Classification
Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine
Manuel du Répertoire bibliographique universel-First French Edn
1905.

The Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) is a bibliographic and library classification representing the systematic arrangement of all branches of human knowledge organized as a coherent system in which knowledge fields are related and inter-linked. The UDC is an analytico-synthetic and faceted classification system featuring detailed vocabulary and syntax that enables powerful content indexing and information retrieval in large collections.

Since 1991, the UDC has been owned and managed by the UDC Consortium a non-profit international association of publishers with headquarters in The Hague (Netherlands).Unlike other library classification schemes that have started their life as national systems, the UDC was conceived and maintained as an international scheme. Its translation in world languages started at the beginning of the 20th century and has since been published in various printed editions in over 40 languages.UDC Summary, an abridged Web version of the scheme is available in over 50 languages.

The classification has been modified and extended over the years to cope with 
increasing output in all areas of human knowledge, and is still under continuous review to take account of new developments. Albeit originally designed as an indexing and retrieval system, due to its logical structure and scalability, UDC has become one of the most widely used knowledge organization systems in libraries, where it is used for either shelf arrangement, content indexing or both.UDC codes can describe any type of document or object to any desired level of detail. These can include textual documents and other media such as films, video and sound recordings, illustrations, maps as well as realia such as museum objects.
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The UDC was developed by the Belgian bibliographers Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine at the end of 19th Century. In 1895, they created Universal Bibliographic Repertory (Répertoire Bibliographique Universel) (RBU) which was intended to become a comprehensive classified index to all published information. The idea that the RBU should take the form of a card catalogue came from the young American zoologist Herbert Haviland Field who was at the time himself setting up a bibliographical agency in Zurich, the Concilium Bibliographicum.

A means of arranging the entries would be needed, and Otlet, having heard of Dewey Decimal Classification wrote to Melvil Dewey and obtained permission to translate it into French. The idea outgrew the plan of mere translation, and a number of radical innovations were made, adapting the purely enumerative classification (in which all the subjects envisaged are already listed and coded) into one which allows for synthesis (that is, the construction of compound numbers to denote interrelated subjects that could never be exhaustively foreseen); various possible relations between subjects were identified, and symbols assigned to represent them. In its first edition in French "Manuel du Répertoire bibliographique universel" (1905), the UDC already included many features that were revolutionary in the context of knowledge classifications: tables of generally applicable (aspect-free) concepts—called common auxiliary tables; a series of special auxiliary tables with specific but re-usable attributes in a particular field of knowledge; an expressive notational system with connecting symbols and syntax rules to enable coordination of subjects and the creation of a documentation language proper.

The Universal Bibliographic Repertory itself has developed into a remarkable information resource. In the period before World War I it grew to more than 11 million records. The catalogue and its content organized by UDC can still be seen in Mundaneum in Mons, Belgium (in 2013 recommended for inclusion in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.



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