James Duff Brown

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

James Duff Brown
Known forInnovator of open access libraries ; author of The Subject Classification

James Duff Brown (1862–1914) was a British librarian, information theorist, music biographer and educationalist. Most of his life was spent in London.


He was born in Edinburgh, but after beginning his library career in Glasgow, he subsequently moved to London, and worked in Clerkenwell for the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury. He devised three classification systems: Quinn/Brown (1898), Adjustable classification (1898) and Subject Classification (1906). The latter system was for municipal libraries and was informed by his advocacy of open shelf access of books in the UK. Indeed, he was [t]he pioneer of this new system [while he was librarian] of Clerkenwell, where the first experiment in open access was launched in May, 1893.[1][2] This was referred to as "safe guarded open access". Alongside his classification work, he produced a standard textbook on librarianship (the Manual of Library Economy). In 1898 he was threatened with a libel action by Charles Goss, over a polemic defending open access, and he was forced to apologise.[3][4] He further contributed to theoretical journals and also produced correspondence courses in librarianship "upon which most British librarians depended for their professional studies until the 1930s". As Librarian in the Metropolitan Borough of Islington he largely built up their collection and service.[5]


His work in classification attempted to deal with the problem of the shelf arrangement of interdisciplinary works, and how to ensure that works on the same topic would be found in the same place. Part of his attempt to deal with this was to create synthesised notation (a rarity among classification systems in his day) to allow composite classmarks to be created.

Clare Beghtol notes He tried to bring all works on a concrete topic together notationally so that, for example, "at E917 for Coffee must be collected everything related to coffee, regardless of standpoint, form or other qualification but it must not be put under such headings as Tropical Agriculture, Beverages, Crops, Foods, Drugs, Ethics, Bibliography, Customs, or any other general head."[6]


  • 1886: Biographical Dictionary of Musicians
  • 1893: Guide to the Formation of a Music Library
  • 1897: British Musical Biography with Stephen Samuel Stratton
  • 1898: Manual of Library Classification and Shelf Arrangement
  • 1903: Manual of Library Economy (7 later eds.)
  • 1906: Manual of Practical Bibliography
  • 1906: Subject Classification (1st ed. 1906 ; 2nd ed. 1914 ; 3rd ed. (rev. by J. D. Stewart) 1939)
  • 1907: The Small Library: a guide to the collection and care of books
  • 1910: Characteristic Songs and Dances of All Ages
  • 1912: Library Classification and Cataloguing


  1. ^ Kelly, Thomas (1977). Books for the People: an illustrated history of the British public library. London: André Deutsch. p. 137. ISBN 0-233-96795-8.
  2. ^ Skelton, Val. "The first open access debate". Information Today Europe. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  3. ^ Harris, C. W. J. (1970). Library world. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Johansen, Michelle (2003). "A fault-line in library history: Charles Goss, The Society of Public Librarians, and 'the Battle of the Books' in the Late Nineteenth Century". Library History. 19 (2): 75–91. ISSN 0024-2306.
  5. ^ Robert Wedgeworth. World Encyclopedia of Library and Information Services. Retrieved 16 December 2008.
  6. ^ Bheghtol, Clare. "James Duff Brown's Subject Classification and Evaluation Methods for Classification Systems" (PDF). Retrieved 2 January 2013.

External links[edit]