From the catalogs of babes

{January 7, 2009}   parable #4

Once upon a time (i.e., yesterday), I went to the Pollack Library at California State University Fullerton. I needed to do research for a book chapter proposal. Before making the trip, I checked the library’s catalog to make sure they had Cataloging and Classification Quarterly and Art Documentation, the two journals I needed.

CSUF classifies their collection using Library of Congress Classification. Knowing that library and information science is classed under “Z,” I headed toward that section of the periodical stacks. I found Cataloging and Classification Quarterly nearly immediately, but did not see Art Documentation after a cursory browse. I decided to check the call number in the catalog, in case it was perhaps classed in a more arts-related section. The call number was Z5937 .A19. Thinking I must have simply overlooked it, I returned to the “Z” section and stared at the empty shelves between Z119 and Z671. What was I missing?

After consulting with the very nice reference librarian on duty, I learned exactly what the problem was: 5937 is a bigger number than 119 and 671, and therefore comes later in the shelf order. Art Documentation was exactly where it was supposed to be, between Z5704 and Z6151. Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?

But at our library, with both DDC and our Cutter system, numbers are shelved from the first digit forward, which means that 5704 would indeed fall between 119 and 671, Just as 1190 and 1191 would follow 119 and 67 would precede 671.

What’s the moral of this parable? Despite classification system standards, knowledge of library classification at one library does not translate to knowledge at another. The fact that I’m a trained cataloger only makes this more evident–while I’m not as familiar with LCC since I don’t use it on a daily basis like I do DDC, if a catalog librarian can’t figure it out, how can we expect the library patrons?


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