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Library classification

library classification, library classification labels
A library classification is a system by which library materials are arranged according to subject Library classifications use a notational system that represents the order of topics in the classification and allows items to be stored in that order Library classification systems group related materials together, 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 The library classification numbers can be considered identifiers for resources but are distinct from the International Standard Book Number ISBN or International Standard Serial Number ISSN system


  • 1 Description
  • 2 History
  • 3 Types
    • 31 English language universal classification systems
    • 32 Non-English universal classification systems
    • 33 Universal classification systems that rely on synthesis faceted systems
  • 4 The practice of classifying
  • 5 Comparing classification systems
  • 6 See also
  • 7 Notes
  • 8 References


Library classification is an aspect of library and information science It is distinct from scientific classification in that it has as its goal to provide a useful ordering of documents rather than a theoretical organization of knowledge Although it has the practical purpose of creating a physical ordering of documents, it does generally attempt to adhere to accepted scientific knowledge

Library classification is distinct from the application of subject headings in that classification organizes knowledge into a systematic order, while subject headings provide access to intellectual materials through vocabulary terms that may or may not be organized as a knowledge system


Library classifications were preceded by classifications used by bibliographers such as Conrad Gessner The earliest library classification schemes organized books in broad subject categories The increase in available printed materials made such broad classification unworkable, and more granular classifications for library materials had to be developed in the nineteenth century

Although libraries created order within their collections from as early as the fifth century BC, the Paris Bookseller's classification, developed in 1842 by Jacques Charles Brunet, is generally seen as the first of the modern book classifications Brunet provided five major classes:theology, jurisprudence, sciences and arts, belles-lettres, and history


There are many standard systems 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:

  • Universal schemes which cover all subjects, for example the Dewey Decimal Classification, Universal Decimal Classification and Library of Congress Classification
  • Specific classification schemes which cover particular subjects or types of materials, for example Iconclass, British Catalogue of Music Classification, and Dickinson classification, or the NLM Classification for medicine
  • National schemes which are specially created for certain countries, for example the Swedish library classification system, SAB Sveriges Allmänna Biblioteksförening

In terms of functionality, classification systems are often described as:

  • enumerative:subject headings are listed alphabetically, with numbers assigned to each heading in alphabetical order
  • hierarchical:subjects are divided hierarchically, from most general to most specific
  • faceted or analytico-synthetic:subjects are divided 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

Methods or Systems

Classification types denote the classification or categorization according the form or characteristics or qualities of a classification scheme or schemes Method and system has similar meaning Method or methods or system means the classification schemes like Dewey Decimal Classification or Universal Decimal Classification The types of classification is for identifying and understanding or education or research purposes while classification method means those classification schemes like DDC, UDC

English language universal classification systems

The most common systems in English-speaking countries are:

  • Dewey Decimal Classification DDC
  • Library of Congress Classification LCC
  • Colon classification CC
  • Universal Decimal Classification UDC

Other systems include:

  • Harvard-Yenching Classification, an English classification system for Chinese language materials
  • V-LIB 12 2008 Vartavan Library Classification for over 700 fields of knowledge, currently sold under license in the UK by Rosecastle Ltd see http://rosecastleatspacecom/index_files/VartavanLibraryhtm

Non-English universal classification systems

  • A system of book classification for Chinese libraries Liu's Classification library classification for user
    • New Classification Scheme for Chinese Libraries
  • Nippon Decimal Classification NDC
  • Chinese Library Classification CLC
  • Korean Decimal Classification KDC
  • Russian Library-Bibliographical Classification BBK

Universal classification systems that rely on synthesis faceted systems

  • Bliss bibliographic classification
  • Colon classification
  • Cutter Expansive Classification
  • Universal Decimal Classification

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

The practice of classifying

Library classification is associated 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 cataloger 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 eg 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 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, Universal Decimal Classification, which uses a complicated notation of pluses and colons, is more difficult to use for the purpose of shelf arrangement but is 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

Comparing classification systems

As a result of differences in notation, history, use of enumeration, hierarchy, and 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 and numerals, or letters, numerals, and other symbols
  • Expressiveness:This is the degree to which the notation can express relationship between concepts or structure
  • Whether they support mnemonics:For example, the number 44 in DDC notation often means it concerns some aspect of France For example, in the Dewey classification 5980944 concerns "Birds in France", the 09 signifies geographical division, and 44 represents France
  • Hospitality:The degree to which the system is able to accommodate new subjects
  • Brevity:The length of the notation to express the same concept
  • Speed of updates and degree of support:The better classification systems are frequently being reviewed
  • Consistency
  • Simplicity
  • Usability

See also

  • Attribute-value system
  • Categorization
  • Document classification
  • Knowledge organization
  • Library management
  • Library of Congress Subject Headings


  1. ^ Bhattacharya, Ganesh; Ranganathan, S R 1974, Wojciechowski, Jerzy A, ed, From knowledge classification to library classification, Ottawa Conference on the Conceptual Basis of the Classification of Knowledge, 1971, Munich:Verlag Dokumentation, pp 119–143 
  2. ^ Bliss, Henry Evelyn 1933 The organization of knowledge in libraries New Yorka:H W Wilson 
  3. ^ Lois Mai Chan September 28, 2007, Cataloging and classification Cataloging and Classification ed, The Scarecrow Press, Inc, ISBN 9780810859449, 0810859440 
  4. ^ a b Shera, Jesse H 1965 Libraries and the organization of knowledge Hamden, Conn:Archon Books 
  5. ^ Sayers, Berwick 1918 An introduction to library classification New York:H W Wilson 
  6. ^ "Subject access points" ivadk 
  7. ^ 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


  • Chan, Lois Mai 1994Cataloging and Classification:An Introduction, second ed New York:McGraw-Hill,ISBN 978-0-07-010506-5, ISBN 978-0-07-113253-4

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