Wednesday, March 27, 2013

LC Classification Tables

Just as fair warning: this blog entry is probably only interesting to catalogers. And maybe not even every one of them, but I really need to process my emotions about the Library of Congress Classification today.

I’m sure that all catalogers have had this happen to them: you’re assigning a call number using the Library of Congress classification, no big deal, flipping through (or scrolling through) the call numbers, you come to what you want and then BAM! “see Table XYZ.”

That’s usually when I say under my breath “Please shoot me now.”

I am not a fan of the tables in the LC classification.

Now, it’s not that the tables are hard, per se, when you get the hang of them. It’s that they are all different, and they are used in strange ways, and when you’re cataloging a lot of different kinds of materials, you don’t use the same tables over and over again. Therefore you don’t ever gain a lot of facility with any of the tables, and they are always slightly terrifying.

If you are not a person who is familiar with the tables, but have still read this far:  there are lots of tables. There are tables for assigning cutter numbers to a translation, tables for fiction, tables for art, and even internal tables for every schedule, interspersed throughout the scheme. They are little matrices for making a complex call number even more complex and unique.

I’m not against the tables; they actually serve a very important function which is to make space within the classification scheme for all the various materials that might be cataloged and classified using it. But they’re really confusing and they make me feel stupid every time I have to dive into one. I don’t know if there is a solution to the problem of the tables, and I don’t know that I would want to be the one to fix it, anyway.  But I really wish that learning the tables didn’t require 20 minutes of internet searching and re-learning every time I need to use one, either.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I have two quotes printed out and hanging at my desk:

"When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong." --R. Buckminster Fuller

"God is in the details." --Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

I look at them every time I am exasperated, or bored, or feeling antsy. Cataloging is actually really taxing: it can be pedantic and uninspiring, which can lead to errors born of boredom or apathy. Even when we're working on something that should be "sooo interesting!" we can lose perspective. A fellow cataloger commented the other day (after spending way too long working with incunabula): “This week is dedicated to my appreciation of the invention of the goddamn title page.” Even the most rare and interesting works get tedious after awhile. 

So I keep these words in front of me all the time. The details are important; beauty and simplicity in our solutions is important. The basic tenets of cataloging.

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