From the catalogs of babes

{January 20, 2009}   OSC debut

So the first draft of the Open Shelves Classification has just been posted (OSC 1.0?). I have followed the development of the OSC since its inception last summer, though I ended up not participating for a variety of reasons.

One thing I like is that this first “version,” if you will, has been posted not just for review, but for actual attempted application. On every LibraryThing book page there is a box at the bottom where you can choose in which of the top-level OSC classifications you would class the title. You can classify your own personal collection, or you can classify a random work. Try it–it’s actually quite addicting, especially when you start seeing how your personal choices correlate (or not) with others.’ It reminds me a bit of the Google Image Labeler, a “game” where you work online with a partner to earn points for keywording images: if you both tag the image with the same keywords, you earn more points. (I always found Google’s attempts at this very interesting, as some of us in the real world get paid actual cold hard cash for this sort of thing, but I digress…) I actually had to force myself away from classifying random works with OSC so as to get some actual cash-earning image keywording done.

I did notice that attempting to classify my own personal collection was exponentially more difficult than classifying the random works.

At least half of the random works I was assigned were clearly fiction, and so easy to classify in the “Fiction and Poetry”*category. I also got a number of cookbooks, which were equally clear and easy to classify, despite not being personally familiar with the titles. From the public library statistics gathered, it seems that fiction is indeed one of the (if not the) largest categories in public library collections. If that’s true, then I wonder if the top-tier categories could use some tweaking–I’d want my classifications to reflect my collection, so if more than 50% of the collection is fiction, then possibly 50% or more of the top-tier categories should reflect that.  It seems like the top-tier categories would simply be fiction and non-fiction, with everything else becoming second-tier levels like “science fiction,” “historical fiction,” under fiction and “art,” “science,” etc. under non-fiction. Hard for me to say, as my collection experience is not in public libraries or even fiction, although I have a background in literature and worked for a number of years at a bookstore where–you guessed it–fiction made up a large percentage of desired reading material.

And I’ll admit up front that I’m biased, and when I hold the OSC up to my personal and professional collections (neither of which would represent a more generalized public library collection, I admit) I don’t think it holds up (I know, I know, it’s not supposed to, but a girl can dream, can’t she?). My biggest issue: where do I class books on fashion? “Art”? “Biography/Autobiography”? “Crafts and Hobbies”? “History”? “House and Home”? “Performing Arts”? “Social Science/Sociology”? “Technology and Engineering”? Because I can find examples of fashion books from our library collection that would fit under any of those categories–books on fashion can be about artistic aspects and visual impact, the story of the life of a fashion designer, how-to books for both amateurs and professionals (which run the gamut from home sewing by hand to industrial manufacturing, a huge range of its own), the history of clothing, fashion shows and collections, the sociological implications of fashion and clothing, and more. And what’s worse is that many of these subjects are often included within he same books. So the way the OSC is currently designed, books about fashion would be scattered throughout the library, which doesn’t support browseability for those titles, and browseability has been shown to be a higher priority for artistically-minded patrons, even more so than the general public. Plus, I’m still not sure how to best handle the books on multiple topics. Scope notes could possibly clarify, but at that point, with the scope notes and directions and multiple categories, we’re no better off than DDC for fashion, where history of costume is 391, fashion design is 746.92, clothing construction is in 646, and apparel manufacturing is in 687, spreading topics apart that I would prefer be in close proximity for our patrons.

Do I think the OSC should be edited to fix this problem? No. Our library collection is specialized and unique, and so creating specific classifications for our materials isn’t really germane to the OSC’s purpose. But I still think it’s a good question–where  exactly would one classify books on fashion in a public library using the OSC? Because they might not have as many, but public libraries have books on fashion, too.


Come talk about the OSC at ALA Midwinter: Saturday, January 24, 2009, 1-3 p.m. @ Courtyard Marriott conference room.


*a category that I don’t really understand, in the context of the additional top-level category of “Literary Collections”–would a collection of poetry not be literary? Would short stories be under fiction or collections? Because if an author writes both novels and short stores, and the former is classed in fiction and the latter in collections, then the author’s fiction won’t be shelved together, which would make browsing for, say, F. Scott Fitzgerald, rather annoying. But I digress…

et cetera