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Jack Mills, 1918-2010: an academic appreciation

Jack Mills in 1995 Jack Mills spent more than sixty years of his life in the study, teaching, development and promotion of classification and information retrieval, principally as a major figure in the British school of facet analysis which builds on the tradition of S. R. Ranganathan. He was a signatory to the seminal paper “A faceted classification as the basis of all information retrieval”, and represents a significant link in the tradition which begins with Ranganathan and H. E. Bliss, and is represented today in research looking for solutions to the semantic web.

His work as a teacher dates back to 1952, and to his appointment as lecturer at the newly formed North Western Polytechnic School of Librarianship. He taught at the University of Maryland from 1966/67, helping to set up the Library School there, and, after returning to London, taught on short courses, and as a visiting lecturer around the world. He is remembered by generations of students as an inspirational lecturer, and one who made cataloguing and classification (too often regarded as dull) a fascinating subject. His 1960 publication Modern outline of library classification was the standard textbook for British librarianship students for many years, and translated into several languages.

But he is probably best known to the wider professional community as a scholar and researcher. His interest in classification, his teaching experience, and his early publications, led to an invitation to join the Classification Research Group (CRG), which was formed in 1952 as a result of the 1948 Royal Society Conference on scientific information. He was a speaker at the first International Study Conference on Classification for Information Retrieval at Dorking in 1957, and the keynote speaker at the sixth conference at University College London, forty years later.

In 1963/64 he was seconded to be Deputy Director of the Cranfield Project, supporting Cyril Cleverdon in the first major exercise in information retrieval in the United Kingdom. The results of the work at Cranfield had a major influence on British information science, and the documentation from that project continues to be cited in the professional literature today. He was a passionate advocate for classification theory, and also lectured and wrote about the Bliss Bibliographic Classification, the Universal Decimal Classification, and, most recently, the second edition of Bliss which embodies the whole corpus of information retrieval theory developed by the CRG since the 1950s.

When the Library School at the Polytechnic of North London opened in 1968, Jack was the initial choice as head of department, an offer he declined, as he wanted to concentrate on research. He moulded the research department at PNL into one of the most successful UK LIS research groups ever, presiding over such important work as the Intermediate Lexicon, DISISS, the Hillingdon Project, and several classification projects including the creation of schemes for the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, the Wessex Regional Health Authority, and the Library Association.

From the 1960s he was the driving force behind the revision of the Bliss Bibliographic Classification, chairing the Bliss Classification Association Committee, and undertaking the greater part of the work of revision as Editor of the new scheme. A great admirer of Bliss’s classification, Jack had installed it in the library of the City of London College, a project which brought him into correspondence with H. E. Bliss, and occasioned several publications. While preserving the general structure of the original, the revised edition of the classification (BC2) is to all intents and purposes a new scheme of classification, realising the hopes of the CRG for the development of a new British scheme of classification, which had failed to come to fruition through the work financed by the NATO grant in the 1950s. Although relatively little has been written about BC2, its impact on the field of knowledge organization and retrieval has been immense. The influence of the published volumes of BC2 can be seen in the recent revisions of many other systems of classification, notably the Dewey Decimal Classification and the Universal Decimal Classification, whose editions since the 1970s incorporate many features of the fully faceted classification. Facet analysis is not only relevant to traditional classification and knowledge organization systems. The methodology supports the generation of thesauri and subject heading lists, and the creation of structured vocabularies for metadata. Several faceted thesauri were derived from BC2 classes, notable examples being Jean Aitchison’s work on the Department of Health Thesaurus, and that at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, built respectively on Classes H and R of the classification. Today facet analytical techniques are to been seen embedded in much commercial retrieval software, in search engines on commercial sites, and in very many research projects both in academic institutions and professional organizations.

In 1998 Jack Mills was acknowledged by the Conference on the History and Heritage of Science Information as a ‘pioneer of information science’, and was among twenty nominees invited to a dinner in their honour at the Conference in Pittsburgh. In 2003 his contribution to the field was marked by the award of an Honorary Fellowship from the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), and in 2005 he received the Tony Kent Strix award for his contribution to information retrieval.

In a long career, Jack published relatively little by current standards, as did most of his contemporaries in the CRG. But the quality of that small corpus of work is considerable, and in his late eighties he was still making a significant contribution to the scholarly literature. And although BC2 may be perceived primarily as a practical tool, rather than a conceptual work, the statement of principles in the Introduction to the scheme is almost alone in documenting the corporate theory of the CRG as it developed from 1950 and throughout the twentieth century, and is one of the few coherent statements of modern classification theory.

In addition to this critical appreciation, I must add a personal note. The post of Research Fellow to work on the revision of the Bliss Bibliographic Classification, was, in 1972, my first professional job, and the beginning of a working association with Jack that was to last almost forty years (and almost to my own retirement). In all that time I never heard Jack say an unpleasant word to, or about, anyone. He was the most straightforward person I’ve ever encountered, really quite without pretension, and taking everyone at face value. He had formidable energy, and I can remember going with him to CRG meetings in the 1970s, when he ran up the long escalators at Tottenham Court Road Station at high speed, often carrying two bulging bags of papers for the meeting, and leaving me, thirty years younger, trailing behind. He maintained this level of energy well into his eighties. Until quite recently, when he was overtaken by the absurdities of the Internet, which he abhorred, I considered that he taught me everything I knew about classification, and he certainly provided the model of the perfect scholar: rigorous in his thinking, meticulous in detail, passionate for his subject, without ambition or thought of personal advancement, the work being all and the end in itself.

Vanda Broughton
University College London

Jack Mills

Bibliography of published works

Brown, A. G., in collaboration with D. W. Langridge and J. Mills An introduction to subject indexing 2nd ed. London: Bingley, 1982

Brown, A. G., in collaboration with D. W. Langridge and J. Mills Introduction to subject indexing: a programmed text. Vol. 1, Subject analysis and practical classification, Vol. 2, UDC and chain procedure in subject cataloguing. London: Bingley, 1976

Cleverdon, C. W., Lancaster, F. W. and Mills, J. “Uncovering some facts of life in information retrieval”. Special libraries 55(2) 1964, 48-62

Cleverdon, C. W., Mills,J. and Keen, M. Factors determining the performance of indexing systems. Cranfield: College of Aeronautics, 1966

Cleverdon, C. W. and Mills, J. “The testing of index language devices.” Aslib proceedings, 19 (6) 1967, 173-194

Daniel, R. and Mills, J. (for the Classification Research Group) A classification and thesaurus of library and information science. London: Polytechnic of North London, School of Librarianship, 1972

Lancaster, F.W. and Mills, J. “Testing indexes and index language devices: the Aslib-Cranfield Project.” American documentation, 15(1) 1964, 4-13

Langridge, D., Mills, J. and Perrault, J. Indexing for ERIC: a programmed course. School of Library and Information Services, University of Maryland, 1967

Mills, J. “The Bibliographic Classification” in Kent, A. and Lancour, H. (eds.) Encyclopedia of library and information science Vol. 2 1969, 368-80

Mills, J. “The Bibliographic Classification.” in Maltby, Arthur (ed.) Classification in the 1970s: a discussion of development and prospects for the major schemes. London: Bingley 1972, 25-52.

Mills, J. ‘The Bibliographic Classification’, in Maltby, A. (ed) Classification in the 1970s: a Second Look. London: Bingley, 1976, 25-50

Mills, J “The Bliss and Colon Classifications.” Library Association record, 53 1951, 146-53

Mills, J. “Bliss Bibliographic Classification” in Prytherch, Ray (ed.) Harrod’s librarians’ glossary and reference book : a directory of over 10,200 terms, organizations, projects and acronyms in the areas of information management, library science, publishing and archive management 10th ed. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005.

Mills, J.“Chain indexing and the classified catalogue.” Library Association record, 57(4) 1955, 141-148.

Mills, J. “Classification” in Sewell, P. H. Five year’s work in librarianship 1951-55. London: Library Association, 1958, 216-44

Mills, J. “Classification” in Sewell, P. H. Five year’s work in librarianship 1956-60. London: Library Association, 1963, 237-267

Mills, J. “Classification of a subject field.” Classification Research Group Bulletin no.2, March 1957, B1. (Preprint of papers to be presented at the International Study Conference on Classification for Information Retrieval, Dorking, May 1957).

Mills, J “Classifying by Bliss” Library Association record, 52 1950, 370-2

Mills, J. “A comment on the article by R.A. Ukoh ‘Library classification and change: the example of Bliss’. Libri, 25, 168)” Libri 26 (2) June 76, 156-157

Mills, J. “A common language for information retrieval.” Publisher, 181 (4948) Dec 68, 32-33

Mills, J. “Composite classification in the BC.” Bliss Classification bulletin, 2(1) 1957, 6-15

Mills, J. “Dr. Ranganathan and the study of classification” in Library science in India. Madras, 1953, 38-41

Mills, J. “Faceted classification and logical division in information retrieval.” Library trends, 52(3) 2004, 541-70

Mills, J. Guide to the Universal decimal classification (BS 1000C). London: British Standards Institution, 1963

Mills, J. “Inadequacies of existing general classification schemes” in Some problems of a general classification scheme. London: Library Association, 1964, 32-37

Mills, J. “Indexing a classification scheme” Indexer, 2(2) 1960, 44-8

Mills, J. “Information retrieval: a revolt against conventional systems?” Aslib proceedings, 16(2) 1964, 48-63

Mills, J. “Introductory address” (a paper on faceted classification) Knowledge organization for information retrieval. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Classification Research. University College London 16-18 June 1997 The Hague: FID, 1997, 1-11

Mills, J. A modern outline of library classification London: Chapman and Hall, 1960

Mills, J. “The new Bliss Classification.” Catalogue and Index, (40) 1976, 3-6.

Mills, J. “A new edition of Bliss.” Catalogue and index, (17) 1970, 8-9.

Mills, J. “Number building and filing order in BC.” Bliss classification bulletin 2 (10), March, 1957

Mills, J. “Précoordination et hiérarchie dans l’indexation”. Le Bulletin des bibliothèques de France, Sept-Oct 1965, 331-46

Mills, J. “Progress in documentation: library classification.” Journal of Documentation, 26(2) June 70, 120-160

Mills, J. “Ranganathan’s ‘Prolegomena’ and ‘Colon Classification’.” Library Association record, 60(5) 1958, 152-4

Mills, J. Registration classification and cataloguing revised edition. Purley: London and Home Counties Branch of the Library Association, 1960

Mills, J. “Review of the Bibliographic Classification”, Library Association record, 1953, 298-300

Mills, J. “Some current problems of classification for information retrieval.” Classification Society bulletin, 1(4) 1968, 18-27

Mills, J. The Universal decimal classification (Rutgers series on systems for the intellectual organization of information ed. by Susan Artandi, Vol. 1) Rutgers: New Brunswick 1964

Mills, J. “Using classification in teaching indexing.” Journal of documentation, 21(4) 1965, 279-86

Mills, J. and Broughton, V. Bliss bibliographic classification. 2nd ed. London: Butterworths, 1977-1987; Bowker-Saur, 1990-1999; München: Saur, 2007- [J. Mills and V. Broughton except for classes A/AL and W as shown below]

Mills, J. and McCann, W. The organisation of information in the construction industry (SfB Agency UK Development paper no. 3) London: Royal Institute of British Architects, 1968

Career outline

1937 Member of Library Association
1938-40 Assistant, Woolwich P.L.
1945 Associate of the Library Association
1947-48 Senior Assistant, Greenwich P.L.
1949-52 Librarian, City of London College
1950 Fellow of the Library Association
1952- British Bliss Classification Association Committee Member
1952- Member (later Chair) Classification Research Group
1952-62 Assistant Lecturer, North Western Polytechnic
1960- Chair of the Bliss Classification Association Committee
1960-1976 Editor, Bliss Classification Association Bulletin
1963-64 Deputy Director, Aslib-Cranfield Project
1966-67 Library School, University of Maryland
1968 Lecturer, North Western Polytechnic
1973-84 Reader, School of Librarianship, Polytechnic (later University) of North London
1985- Retired


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