Semester-in-Review: Cataloging

Now that the term is over and I'm starting to recover my faculties, I thought I would treat y'all to a taste of the sort of work I was doing over the term. Cataloging (officially known as "Information Organization"), taught by the legendary Candy Schwartz, was a whirlwind introduction to the principles of information organization. One of my favorite segments of the term was actually the final segment, in which we learned how to assign call numbers to books using both the Library of Congress Classification scheme (LCC) and the Dewey Decimal System.

In both systems, you have to find a single way to characterize the nature of the book as you can: what it's about, what kind of book it is, who it's by, and so on. In each system, there are complicated rules explaining how you locate and construct the call numbers. We had to practice on lots of pretend titles in each system, and at the very end of the assignment Candy had us assign call numbers to ourselves using both systems. I thought I would walk you through how I created these two call numbers as a way of sharing a little bit about how these systems work.

Both LCC and Dewey are subject-based classification schemes--grouping books about like subjects in the same general area. This is clearly a benefit to browsers, who most often go to the library looking for information on, say, fish breeding. So first, I had to pick a general subject area (an individual person encompasses too many subjects to be classified easily in a single area). I tried to find a subject classification that would capture the dimensions I highlight in this blog (the "feminist librarian-activist" self). In both cases, this turned out to be a women's studies-type categorization, though the way each system broke down the idea looks a little different.

In the Library of Congress system, you search through the classification index, which is available online to subscribers, for the topic. As many of you probably already know, LC is call number that is made up of a a letter-number combination. In LCC, the "H schedules" are the social sciences, and any number beginning with "HQ" is a topic having to do with "the family, marriage, woman" ('cause, you know, women naturally belong in the same conceptual category as family and marriage). By reading down the table, we construct the following:

HQ (for The Family. Marriage. Woman)
HQ1180 (for Women's studies. Study and teaching. Research)

Below this general category is

HQ1186.A-Z (alphabetical by region or country, A-Z)

This means we use the letter-number combination (known as a Cutter number, after librarian Charles Cutter) for the geographic region the "book" discusses. I chose the United States as a whole.

HQ1186.U6 (for United States)

Finally, I create a cutter number so that I can alphabetize the book on the shelf by author. This cutter number consists of the first letter of the last name (C), followed by a number from 2-9 that roughly corresponds with the second letter of the name (O).

HQ1186.U6 C7 (by Cook)

So I--or perhaps this blog--could be given the call number of HQ1186.U6 C7, meaning "a resource dealing with women's studies research and teaching in the United States."

The Dewey system is similar, but only uses numbers, rather than letter-number combinations, until one reaches the cutter number for authors (again, C7 for Cook). Dewey uses the numbers from 0-999 in groups of 100s (so we talk about "the 100s" or "the 300s" as a unit). The 300s are the social sciences:

300 (Social sciences)

Which are then broken down further,

305 (Social groups)
305.4 (Women)

In Dewey numbers, a decimal point always follows the first three numbers for readability (like the way a phone number, at least in the U.S., is always given in 3-3-4 combination).

305.42 (Social role and status of women)

Since I wanted to specify my interest in feminist history, I added the "09" designation, which is the standard number for "history and geography" that can be added to any subject classification.

305.4209 (for Feminism—history)

At this point in the number construction process, I wanted to specify that this was a book about feminism in the United States. In Dewey, you do this by adding the number for the country (73 for the United States).

305.420973 (for United States)

And finally,

305.420973 C7 (by Cook)

So 305.420973 C7 is a call number meaning "a resource on the history of feminism in the United States."

While I'm not ready to become a professional cataloger, I have to admit there's a great deal of satisfaction in puzzling out how to classify and order things (hey, this is the woman who has her personal library arranged by LCC call number). And now, if I ever happen to be turned into a book by a nefarious curse or inadvertent spell, I will have the call numbers to ensure I'm properly shelved.

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