Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Alternative subject classifications

So I was cataloging a book on the theory of integral equations (don’t all great stories start this way?), and I had to read the introduction because I love books about math, and the editor mentioned the Mathematics Subject Classification (MSC) (developed by the American Mathematical Society).

The what now?

So I obviously Googled it. And not only did it lead me to a fascinating system of subject classification for mathematics, it also led me to a sister-classification scheme put out by the ACM, the Computing ClassificationSystem (CCM), and to the Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme (PACS) (released by the American Institute of Physics).

Now, all of these were developed at different times. The PACS was not developed until 1975, but the CCS was released in 1964. It’s unclear, from just a cursory search through the internet, when the MSC was developed, but someone wrote “It’s been around almost as long as the AMS.” The AMS was begun in 1888, so that would be a LONG time.

So what do they do? Well, fair reader, they are used to classify academic papers so that poor researchers can make heads or tails of what the author wants their work to relate to. I personally think this is genius. Let the author tell you what their work is about! There is only one primary subject class allowed per paper (for the MSC, I don’t know about the others), but there may be several secondary subjects assigned if the author feels that it is pertinent.

I cannot believe I’ve never heard of these systems before, but I am thoroughly fascinated. The whole idea behind allowing, or even *requiring* the author to classify their own research is such a good one. I used to do that, when I was an original cataloger and was doing original cataloging for professors at the university. I would just email them, tell them what I was doing, and ask if they had any special requests for the subjects of their books. First, it generated a ton of good will from the faculty, but it also helped me, because we had a lot of philosophy faculty and no matter how good of a cataloger you are, it's hard to figure out what they're talking about sometimes. 

Anyway, these schemes are something interesting and useful and different.

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.