Cataloguing, knowledge and power

Cridford, Thomas J. Cataloguing, knowledge and power. Journal of Radical Librarianship, 2019, vol. 5, pp. 61-83. [Journal article (Paginated)]

document.pdf - Published version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (203kB) | Preview

English abstract

This paper seeks to unpick the changing perceptions of the concepts contained in its title and investigate some of the relationships between them. It does this by exploring the history of modern cataloguing from the mid 1800s to the present day. It is argued that over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries cataloguing developments took place predominantly in the library world and, understood through the principles of European Enlightenment thought, catalogues were perceived to provide the public with access to external knowledge and thus empower them. It then identifies technological, cultural and ideological developments in the twentieth century, notably the rise of ‘postmodernism’, as challenges to both the primacy of library catalogues and the tradition of Enlightenment thought within which they were conceived. Finally, it argues that corporate digital companies are now at the forefront of cataloguing and explores the way in which the public have become the subject of these catalogues. Drawing upon Foucauldian theory, it is suggested that rather than allowing knowledge and power to flow to the public these catalogues enable corporate and government bodies to hold it over the public and use it to influence their lives in unprecedented ways.

Item type: Journal article (Paginated)
Keywords: cataloguing, knowledge, power, Enlightenment, postmodernism, Foucault, surveillance
Subjects: A. Theoretical and general aspects of libraries and information. > AB. Information theory and library theory.
I. Information treatment for information services > IA. Cataloging, bibliographic control.
Depositing user: Stuart Lawson
Date deposited: 27 Oct 2019 12:40
Last modified: 27 Oct 2019 12:40


Ball, K., Haggerty, K. and Lyon, D. (eds) Routledge handbook of surveillance studies. London: Routledge, 2012.

Berman, S. Prejudices and antipathies: a tract on the LC subject heads concerning people. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1971.

Cadwalladr, C. The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked. The Guardian, 7th May 2017

Cadwalladr, C. and Graham-Harrison, E. Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach. The Guardian, 17th March 2018

Chandel, A.S. and Prasad, R.V. Journey of catalogue from Panizzi’s principles to resource description and access. DESIDOC Journal of Library and Information Technology 2013; 33(4), pp.314–22.

Chapman, A. RDA: A new international standard. Ariadne, 30th October 2006

Cutter, C. A. Rules for a printed dictionary catalogue. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1876.

Day, R. Indexing it all: the subject in the age of documentation, information, and data. London: MIT Press, 2014.

Denton, W. FRBR and the history of cataloguing. In Taylor, A (ed) Understanding FRBR: What it is and how it will affect our retrieval tools. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2007.

de jesus, n. Locating the library in institutional oppression. In the Library with the lead Pipe, 2014

Doward, J. and Gibbs, A. Did Cambridge Analytica influence the Brexit vote and the US election? The Guardian, 4th March 2017

Foer, F. Facebook’s war on free will: how technology is making our minds redundant. The Guardian, 19th September 2017

Foucault. M. The archaeology of knowledge. London: Routledge, 2002.

———. Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. London: Penguin, 1991.

Gohr, M. Ethnic and racial diversity in libraries: how white allies can support arguments for decolonization, Journal of Radical Librarianship; 2017 vol. 3, pp.42–58.

Howard, S.A. and Knowlton, S.A. Browsing Through Bias: The Library of Congress Classification and Subject Headings for African American Studies and LGBTQIA Studies. Library Trends 2018; 67(1), pp.74–88.

Lawson, S. Public Libraries and Knowledge Politics, [Preprint] 2018 Available at:

———. The politics of open access: Chapter 2. PhD thesis draft version 0.1. 2018 available at

Lewis, P. and Hilder P. Leaked: Cambridge Analytica’s blueprint for Trump victory. The Guardian, 23 March 2018

Lupton, D. Digital sociology. London: Routledge, 2015.

Lyotard, J. The postmodern condition: a report on knowledge. Translated by Bennington, G. and Massumi, B. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1979.

Miksa, F. The legacy of the library catalogue for the present. Library Trends 2012; 61(1), pp.7–34.

Moore, S. A genealogy of open access: negotiations between openness and access to research. Revue Française en sciences de l’information et de la communication 2017; 11(2). Available at:

Noble, S.U. Algorithms of oppression: how search engines reinforce racism. New York: New York University Press, 2018.

Olson, H.A. Mapping beyond Dewey’s boundaries: constructing classificatory space for marginalized knowledge domains. Library Trends 1998; 47(2), pp.233–54.

Otlet, P. (ed) International organisation and dissemination of knowledge: selected essays of Paul Otlet. Translated by Rayward, WB. New York: Elsevier, 1990

Pasquale, F. The black box society: the secret algorithms that control money and information. London: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Poster, M. (ed) Jean Baudrillard: selected writings. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Polity, 2001.

Rafferty, P. FRBR, information, and intertextuality. Library Trends 2015; 63(3), pp.487–511.

Thompson, K.J. More Than a Name: A Content Analysis of Name Authority Records for Authors Who Self-Identify as Trans. Library Resources and Technical Services 2016; 60(3), pp.140–55.

Vattimo, G. The transparent society. Translated by Webb, D. Cambridge: Polity, 1992.

Webster, F. (4th edn.) Theories of the information society. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2014.

Winston, J. How the Trump campaign built an identity database and used Facebook ads to win the election, 2016


Downloads per month over past year

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item