Librarian Reacts to Change, part II

Melvil Dewey Can’t Land Punch.  Librarian of Congress Poised for Victory. (source)
Melvil Dewey Can’t Land Punch. Librarian of Congress Poised for Victory. (source)

[Continued from Librarians React to Change, part I] Academic and research libraries are not fans of the Dewey decimal system, and they employ other organizational schemes.  The Library of Congress (LC) classification system arranges books using an alphanumeric call number system.  It spans the alphabet from A to Z, although it ignores the W’s and a range of Q’s.  While subject headings are constantly updated and expanded, they are fit within the existing call numbers.  The National Library of Medicine (NLM) utilizes the letters unused in LC to classify medical books with a high degree of specificity.  If you would like to see a guide to the classification systems, click here. Which classification system should a large library use? I can picture a melee of librarians duking it out for classification supremacy.

Touro Libraries, always the peacemaker, did not want to take sides.  We employ both the LC and NLM systems for classifying our books.  (I jest. Other libraries also use both systems concurrently.)  This means, however, if you are searching the catalog by subject or call number you must set your search to one of the classification systems. Want a medical book?  Select NLM Subject before your search.  Medically oriented books, however, might co-exist in the world of “popular literature” as well.  If you want to make life easier, don’t take sides; search by keyword instead.

Organizationally, an academic library is unlike a public library.  You can’t just walk over to the “statistics section” to browse the shelves.  Social science statistics will be housed with the social sciences (HV), psychology statistics with the psychology (BF), and biostatistics with the health sciences (WA).

Want some fiction?  (And I know you do!)  P is the class designation for languages and literature.  This broad heading is further divided into subclasses relating to the language in which the book was originally written.  PS is the subclass for American fiction, and it is further divided by time period and geographic region.  If you are looking for books by African-American authors, you would search in this location, but remember, the operative word here is American.

All writers of color are not lumped together in the same section.  The works of Igiaba Scego, who writes in Italian, would be shelved with the PQs. This is the subclass where French, Spanish and Portuguese literature also can be found.  Books by May Ayim, although translated into English, would be with the PTs, the subclass which includes German (and other throaty languages, one of which, I kid you not, is Flemish). Someday (maybe Tuesday), when Drake pens a collection of poetry, it may sit on a shelf in the PRs, next to a collection by this guy, or even close to this guy, because they all have at least one thing in common. (That they started from the bottom? No.) They are all Canadian.

Browsing library shelves can only get you so far.  The intricacies of any organizational schemes mean that, on occasion, a book seems to live among strangers.   Why would one book on casting (hands, not fishing lines) live with the WEs  (Musculoskeletal system), while another with the WOs (Surgery)?  I am not a mind reader (or cataloger), so I can’t tell you.  I can tell you that when I am in the library, I use the catalog for all my book finding needs.  You should, too.  I’ll even show you how.  You will need to know a little something about the book you seek. The author’s name would be nice, but short of that, the book title, subject, or a keyword will do.  Just don’t tell me you will recognize your textbook when you see it, and that the cover is blue, because I just might scream.



Contributed by: Carol Schapiro, Librarian, Midtown Library

One thought on “Librarian Reacts to Change, part II

  1. Aviva Adler March 15, 2015 / 9:33 am

    Happened to me just the other day – a patron came in looking for a book she couldn’t remember the title of, and which she insisted had a blue cover. When located, it was white, with blue lettering! 🙂

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