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Give Me an H!

In an earlier post I featured an April 1902 Washington Times article on how to get a book from the Library of Congress.  While reading the article, a section about the catalog division – “one of the most remarkable departments in the conduct of the library” – also caught my eye.

The function of a classifier in a library is, in brief, to arrange the books upon the shelves in orderly sequence. But in a library which is to be used, and which is to grow, the arrangement must be something more than orderly – it must be systematic; and it must be elastic; that is, “expansive.” It must bring together books on the same subject, and within that subject books by that same author, and it must give alphabetic, or, under certain subjects, chronological sequence to the authors. It must also designate each volume by a symbol, which will permanently identify its location, and yet permit of the insertion in the group of later additions with their appropriate symbols, each also self-explanatory and precisely locative.

The labor in cataloging and the difficulty vary extraordinarily with the character of the book.

It goes on to say:

The mere identification of the author, or the determination of the proper bibliographic statement, may involve references to various authorities; the determination of the subject entry may involve a detailed and careful examination of the contents. There is no limit to the knowledge useful to the cataloger.

Within the Library of Congress Classification System, the H Class for Social Sciences is where most “business” material is located. For example, accounting titles are found with call numbers beginning HF5601-HF5689 while books on imports and exports are found with call numbers beginning HF3000-HF4055. While the Library of Congress and many university libraries use this system, many public libraries use the Dewey Decimal System.  Someone looking for “business” material using Dewey would find economics titles in the 330s, accounting and bookkeeping in the 600s, and trade in the 380s.

That these systems “bring together books on the same subject” means that once someone finds the call number of a book they want, they can browse the shelves and find many more books on that topic.