by Clare Playforth
Classification is a big part of my job and certainly the part that I find most enjoyable and challenging. The other day I was looking in vain for a resource that would provide me with a table of ‘date letters’ that are sometimes used when classifying collected works. After a couple of discussions about this it became clear to me that there are many practices in cataloguing and classification that might seem like they are needlessly complicated and opaque. I want to explain that there is a reason for things to be done this way.
Every time we make a decision about how to classify something we are doing it with the collection and ultimately the user in mind. When someone has looked up a book on the catalogue we want them to be able to find it easily on the shelf, but when they get to that shelf we also want them to find a load of other books that are relevant on either side i.e. we want to enable browsing. We want them to arrive at the shelf and first find the general books about a topic and then to be able to walk down that stack seeing how the subject narrows and becomes more specific as the classifications are expanded. In an ideal world we would want each classmark to represent only one book – this is part of the reason for doing the reclassification projects which you can read about here.