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Categorically speaking

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Adopting the new Uniclass system of classification will simplify your practice library, and bring its categories up to date

Are you suffering from information overload? Have you carried out a practice information audit recently? Have you examined your information needs at each project stage? Uniclass, the most recent classification system for the construction industry, may help you to structure practice information in a useful way.

What it is

Uniclass - Unified Classification for the Construction Industry - is a library of 15 classification tables. It is in part based on existing schemes, CI/SfB, caws (Common Arrangement of Work Sections for building elements), cesmm3 (Civil Engineering Standard Method of Measurement), and epic (Electronic Product Information Co-operation). Uniclass, developed by nbs Services on behalf of the Construction Industry Project Information Committee (cpic), is the result of international co-operation and is backed by professional organisations (riba, rics, cibse, cc, doe, ice).

Why change?

Uniclass is designed for computerisation. The notation is simple, with no brackets or lower-case letters. Uniclass tables can be used for both library and project information. For example, Table J, workmanship, (the Uniclass implementation of caws) can be used in the technical/ practice library, and will be compatible with specifications based on the National Building Specification and bills of quantities organised according to smm7. Product classification, (Table L), however, is separate from Table J.

Uniclass is up to date and covers new building types and concepts, such as foyer buildings, tensile-fabric structures, and passive stack ventilation. It is broad in its subject coverage, includes engineering as well as building, and addresses the needs of architects, engineers and surveyors.

Uniclass can be used at whatever level is required by the practice. Many tables have concise versions. These can be used alone, or combined with other tables.

Classifying a small practice library

Read the introduction carefully. Familiarise yourself with the indexes and the concise versions of the tables. You will not need to use all the tables. For example, 'windows' is found in the Elements, Products and Work sections tables depending on whether they are a cost element, a product or a construction activity.

For each document, check its subject coverage in the main index. Trade literature will have a Table L code (products), reference books such as Working Details a Table B code (subject disciplines), British Standards Table A (forms of information), building studies in Tables D or F (facilities or spaces) and practice articles in Table C (Management). Always check the code you have selected in the actual tables before you allocate it.

Use Uniclass at the simplest level appropriate to your needs. Select from the concise table where possible. For example a piece of literature on timber sash windows for restoration purposes could go at L413. A full code of L41312:P5:N75 would only be necessary if this section of the library contained a lot of material. Record your decisions.

Case studies


This practice specialises in architecture and space and urban planning. The first degw information to be re-structured is the trade and sample collection, previously organised in rough subject areas.

Table L has been used at a basic level, with no supplementary divisions by material. The information professionals are pleased with the results and found that once the users had adjusted to the re-arrangement, there were no problems. Now a start is being made on the monograph collection, where a more in-depth classification is required.

Davis Langdon & Everest

The head office of dle serves about 200 staff. The library is large and comprehensive, covering trade, technical, cost, legal and management information. The trade collection is organised alphabetically by manufacturer, with the remainder structured using broad subject headings and SfB for cost analyses. The users found it difficult to find things so change was encouraged.

Trade and geographical information was left in alphabetical order, as this had always worked. The main Uniclass tables selected are A, B, C (expanded to accommodate the detailed contract files) and D for cost analyses. Tables G, J, L, N and P are used to a lesser extent. The librarians are pleased with the new structure and notation, and have made some changes, expanding and amplifying where necessary to suit the practice and its collection. The qss find it easier and quicker to use.

David Morley Architects

This practice library serves 16 architects. Previously arranged in broad subject categories, it had become increasingly unmanageable. Uniclass was selected for being linked to nbs, European and modern with a simple notation. The architects found that Uniclass works reasonably well for trade information, but technical information is more difficult, probably because of the wider choice of tables available. They were disappointed that there is no direct link between nbs clauses and their trade-literature collection. The main advantage to the librarian is the simple notation.

Feedback and help for librarians

Check if new trade literature has been pre-classified. Encourage manufacturers to use dual classification during the transition period. Tell them about the riba's CI/SfB agency classification service.

Use the pre-printed library classification labels. Even if Uniclass is not in use now, these will be useful at the conversion stage.

The Uniclass development database has been set up by nbs Services to provide feedback for users. For each code any notes and queries are given while suggested new entries are listed with their proposed new codes. Set up on Microsoft Access '97, it is available on request from John Cann.

The Construction Industry Information Group holds regular meetings to discuss information topics.

Published guidance will be available early in 1999.

Help for users

Wall charts will also be available early in 1999.

Use the ms PowerPoint slide show, to be available shortly on riba net, to introduce Uniclass to the practice.

References and contacts

Uniclass: Unified Classification for the Construction Industry. riba Publications 1997, £30. riba CI/SfB Agency 0171 250 4050 (0171 496 8383 from 1 February 1999).

Wall chart, labels, guidance, riba Publications 0171 251 0791

John Cann, nbs Services (circ) 0191 222 8539 or j.cann@nbsservices.co.uk or ribanet ciig, c/o The Building Centre, 26 Store Street, London WC1E 7BT

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