Purpose – This paper examines William Stetson Merrill, the compiler of A Code for Classifiers and a Newberry Library employee (1889‐1930) in an attempt to glean lessons for modern information studies from an early librarian's career. Design/methodology/approach – Merrill's career at the Newberry Library and three editions of the code are briefly examined using historical, bibliographic, and conceptual methods. Primary and secondary sources in archives and libraries are summarized to provide insight into Merrill's attempts to develop or modify tools to solve the knowledge organization problems he faced. The concept of bricolage, developed by Levi‐Strauss to explain modalities of thinking, is applied to Merrill's career. Excerpts from his works and reminisces are used to explain Merrill as a bricoleur and highlight the characteristics of bricolage. Findings – Findings show that Merrill worked collaboratively to collocate and integrate a variety of ideas from a diverse group of librarians such as Cutter, Pettee, Poole, Kelley, Rudolph, and Fellows. Bliss and Ranganathan were aware of the code but the extent to which they were influenced by it remains to be explored. Although this is an anachronistic evaluation, Merrill serves as an example of the archetypal information scientist who improvises and integrates methods from bibliography, cataloging, classification, and indexing to solve problems of information retrieval and design usable information products and services for human consumption. Originality/value – Bricolage offers great potential to information practitioners and researchers today as we continue to try and find user‐centered solutions to the problems of digital information organization and services.
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