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Classification Systems

Melvil Dewey was the first individual to devise a classification system used by most modern libraries. Here is what he has to say about his system:

"The primary objective of libraries is to give service. As an aid in achieving this end, most libraries organize their books and other materials by subject matter.

"Classification is one kind of organization. To classify a collection of objects is to place together in "classes" those objects which have certain characteristics in common and to separate thise which do not have these characteristics in common. For instance, one might classify a collection of postage stamps according to countries of issue, each of which would be a separate class, and the stamps of each country by monetary denomination, each of which would be a subclass. Or, one might classify them instead by size, by shape, by color, by subject illustrated, or by any other characteristic which has significance to the classifier...

"Libraries generally classify books using their subjects as the characteristics by which they are grouped" (Dewey 9).

Dewey divided all knowledge into ten major classes:

000 General Works
100 Philosophy
200 Religion
300 Social Sciences
400 Languages
500 Pure Sciences
600 Technology
700 The Arts
800 Literature
900 History

He then subdivided those areas of knowledge into divisions. For instance, he broke up the Arts as follows:

700 The Arts
   710    Landscape & civic art
   720    Architecture
   730    Sculpture
   740    Drawing & decorative arts
   750    Painting
   760    Prints & print making
   770    Photography
   780    Music
   790    Recreation

Dewey then divided the divisions into sections, as in the following example

780 Music
   781    Theory & technique of music
   782    Dramatic music
   783    Sacred music
   784    Vocal music
   785    Instrumental ensemble
   786    Keyboard instruments
   787    String instruments
   788    Wind instruments
   789    Percussion & mechanical

Dewey then divided the sections into smaller areas, based on decimals. These decimal areas were then subdivided, often ending in a letter indicating the first letter of the last name of the author.

786 Keyboard Instruments
   786.1    Keyboard string instruments
   786.2    Piano
   786.3    Piano instruction & study
   786.4    Piano music
   786.5    Keyboard wind instruments
   786.6    Organ
   786.7    Organ instruction & study
   786.8    Organi music
   786.9    Other keyboard instruments

There are real limits, as you can see, to the use of the Dewey Decimal system. If a library owns enough books, the decimals become so long as to be unusable. Another system, therefore, evolved: the Library of Congress Classification System.

NEXT: Library of Congress Classification System

Works Cited

Dewey, Melvil. Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index. 8th Abridged Edition. NY: Forest Press, 1894.

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Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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