Health warning: this post deals with the arcane art of classification – a boring chore to some, a fascination to others, but an invaluable tool in making sure your stock is well used. Personally I enjoy it, but it is easy to get enmired in details that don’t matter too much in a school library. Coding the Highways I discusses classification in general and what to consider, while Part II looks at more specific particulars. Read on, but you have been warned 🙂
Classifying and cataloguing is usually taken care of centrally, or even externally, by larger library organisations, but it’s an integral part of a school librarian’s job. Most of my cat’n’class gets accomplished when the rest of the school are on holiday, otherwise it’s too busy.
Classification numbers, most often using the Dewey Decimal System (DDC), can be overlong and complicated, but a decent school librarian will adapt those numbers for the benefit of their users. So for example, a ‘correct’ classification of a book on cooking in the Caribbean could be 641.59729; not many 12 year olds going to remember that. Most of us stop at three numbers after the decimal point and less if we can get away with it.
DDC also considers which part of the subject is dealt with. Take for example, the Roman Empire. That broad historical topic can be classified at 937, but there are subdivisions for different time periods, and completely different numbers will apply for religion (220s), architecture (720s), art (709), literature (870s), army (350s), slavery (326), technologies (600s), Latin (470s) and science (500s) etc etc. You could also choose to build your own number, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment. The school librarian’s decision to classify everything connected with ancient Rome at one number, or use the full flexibility of Dewey, will depend entirely on how the school will use those particular resources. Material on Roman gods and goddesses might be part of the History syllabus, or Religious Education, or English, or Art, or Drama, or part of an interdisciplinary event, or all of them, not forgetting general reading for interest. It’s vital that all pupils that want related resources can find them, no matter why they are required.
Most pupils just ask for the resources they want, but browsing is incredibly important, especially once young people recognise particular Library shelves contain their preferred types of reading. So it’s vital that related topics sit as close together as possible. At the same time, Librarians recognise that pupils will look at whatever number is provided without understanding the meaning of that number in the classification system.
Pupils also tend to forget that Dewey collects every book of the same subject at the same number (no matter how often they are reminded) and often get frustrated trying to find the information they need: just because one volume on the Roman Empire includes details about the Roman pantheon, it doesn’t mean that they all do.
All of this will pass rapidly through librarians’ minds as they classify, and most resources will fit comfortably into a particular class, but there’s always one or two that make you ponder. And one of those for me was The Highway Code.