Library classification  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"In the Library of Congress the classification was originally based upon Lord Bacon's scheme for the division of knowledge into three great classes, according to the faculty of the mind employed in each. 1. History (based upon memory); 2. Philosophy (based upon reason); 3. Poetry (based upon imagination). This scheme was much better adapted to a classification of ideas than of books. Its failure to answer the ends of a practical classification of the library led to radical modifications of the plan, as applied to the books on the shelves, for reasons of logical arrangement, as well as of convenience. A more thorough and systematic re-arrangement is now in progress."--A Book for All Readers (1900) by Ainsworth Rand Spofford

Artforms of Nature (1904) by Ernst Haeckel The 49th plate from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur of 1904, showing various sea anemones classified as Actiniae.
Artforms of Nature (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
The 49th plate from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur of 1904, showing various sea anemones classified as Actiniae.

Related e



Classification is the act of forming into a class or classes; a distribution into groups, as classes, orders, families, etc., according to some common relations or attributes.

It is a process related to categorization, the process in which ideas and objects are recognized, differentiated, and understood.

It may refer to:



  • Document classification, a problem in library science, information science and computer science
    • Library classification, system of coding, assorting and organizing library materials according to their subject
    • Classified information, sensitive information to which access is restricted by law or regulation to particular classes of people
  • Motion picture rating system, for film classification
  • Classification (literature), a figure of speech linking a proper noun to a common noun using the or other articles


See also

unclassifiable, nosology, classification scheme, periodization, lumpers and splitters

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Library classification" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Related e



A library classification is a system of coding and organizing library materials (books, serials, audiovisual materials, computer files, maps, manuscripts, realia) according to their subject and allocating a call number to that information resource. Similar to classification systems used in biology, bibliographic classification systems group entities together that are similar, typically arranged in a hierarchical tree structure. A different kind of classification system, called a faceted classification system, is also widely used which allows the assignment of multiple classifications to an object, enabling the classifications to be ordered in multiple ways.


Library classification forms part of the field of library and information science. It is a form of bibliographic classification (library classifications are used in library catalogs, while "bibliographic classification" also covers classification used in other kinds of bibliographic databases). It goes hand in hand with library (descriptive) cataloging under the rubric of cataloging and classification, sometimes grouped together as technical services. The library professional who engages in the process of cataloging and classifying library materials is called a cataloguer or catalog librarian. Library classification systems are one of the two tools used to facilitate subject access. The other consists of alphabetical indexing languages such as Thesauri and Subject Headings systems.

Library classification of a piece of work consists of two steps. Firstly the "aboutness" of the material is ascertained. Next, a call number (essentially a book's address), based on the classification system in use at the particular library will be assigned to the work using the notation of the system.

It is important to note that unlike subject heading or thesauri where multiple terms can be assigned to the same work, in library classification systems, each work can only be placed in one class. This is due to shelving purposes: A book can have only one physical place. However in classified catalogs one may have main entries as well as added entries. Most classification systems like the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) and Library of Congress classification also add a cutter number to each work which adds a code for the author of the work.

Classification systems in libraries generally play two roles. Firstly they facilitate subject access by allowing the user to find out what works or documents the library has on a certain subject. Secondly, they provide a known location for the information source to be located (e.g. where it is shelved).

Until the 19th century, most libraries had closed stacks, so the library classification only served to organize the subject catalog. In the 20th century, libraries opened their stacks to the public and started to shelve the library material itself according to some library classification to simplify subject browsing.

Some classification systems are more suitable for aiding subject access, rather than for shelf location. For example, UDC which uses a complicated notation including plus, colons are more difficult to use for the purpose of shelf arrangement but are more expressive compared to DDC in terms of showing relationships between subjects. Similarly faceted classification schemes are more difficult to use for shelf arrangement, unless the user has knowledge of the citation order.

Depending on the size of the library collection, some libraries might use classification systems solely for one purpose or the other. In extreme cases a public library with a small collection might just use a classification system for location of resources but might not use a complicated subject classification system. Instead all resources might just be put into a couple of wide classes (Travel, Crime, Magazines etc.). This is known as a "mark and park" classification method, more formally called reader interest classification.<ref>Lynch, Sarah N., and Eugene Mulero. "Dewey? At This Library With a Very Different Outlook, They Don't" The New York Times, July 14, 2007. [1]</ref>


There are many standard system of library classification in use, and many more have been proposed over the years. However in general, Classification systems can be divided into three types depending on how they are used.

In terms of functionality, classification systems are often described as

  • enumerative: produce an alphabetical list of subject headings, assign numbers to each heading in alphabetical order

library classification is the technical process

  • hierarchical: divides subjects hierarchically, from most general to most specific
  • faceted or analytico-synthetic: divides subjects into mutually exclusive orthogonal facets

There are few completely enumerative systems or faceted systems, most systems are a blend but favouring one type or the other. The most common classification systems, LCC and DDC, are essentially enumerative, though with some hierarchical and faceted elements (more so for DDC), especially at the broadest and most general level. The first true faceted system was the Colon classification of S. R. Ranganathan.

Universal classification systems used in English-speaking world

(The above systems are the most common in the English-speaking world.)

Universal classification systems in other languages

Universal classification systems that rely on synthesis (faceted systems)

Newer classification systems tend to use the principle of synthesis (combining codes from different lists to represent the different attributes of a work) heavily, which is comparatively lacking in LC or DDC.

Comparing Classification Systems

As a result of differences in Notation, history, use of enumeration, hierarchy, facets, classification systems can differ in the following ways

  • Type of Notation: Notation can be pure (consisting of only numerals for example) or mixed (consisting of letters, numerals, and other symbols).
  • Expressiveness: This is the degree in which the notation can express relationship between concepts or structure.
  • Whether they support mnemonics: For example the number 44 in DDC notation usually means it concerns some aspect of France. For example 598.0944 concerns "Birds in France". the 09 signifies country code, and 44 represents France.
  • Hospitality: The degree in which the system is able to accommodate new subjects
  • Brevity: Length of the notation to express the same concept
  • Speed of updates and degree of support: The best classification systems are constantly being reviewed and improved.
  • Consistency
  • Simplicity
  • Usability

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Library classification" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools