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Classification – Better Access, Better Service

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The following is a guest blog by Betty Lupinacci.  It is based on a presentation she gave to the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress.

While the Library of Congress’ subject-driven classification system was developed in the late 19th, early 20th centuries, Law’s Class K portion of that schedule was not started until the mid-1960s.  It was not implemented until 1967 for US material, and did not start until 1970 for foreign jurisdictions.  A final draft of the latest “K” schedule, “KI” for Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, was just completed earlier this year.

At the time the K class was implemented, the Law Library already had over one million volumes in its collection.  Due to budgetary constraints the decision was made to focus on classifying newly acquired titles; we would slowly chip away at previously acquired titles as funding became available.  Some 40 years later, we are still chipping.

Over the years this project has been worked on by Collection Services Division staff (we miss you Marie), contractors, non-Law catalogers (with foreign language skills) from LCs Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Directorate, and of course, the “Law Team” (a section of the Library that is responsible for cataloging new legal titles).  Since 2004, approximately 310,000 volumes in our collection have been moved from LAW to Class K.

So why do we still consider this project a high priority?  There are a number of issues with having titles arranged in the pre-K system.  Older books have sometimes proved difficult to identify in the catalog, harder to find on the shelves and therefore take longer to get to patrons.  From the Collection Service Division’s point of view it’s all about access — being able to provide the greatest number of titles to patrons in the shortest amount of time, whether it be a member of Congress or a legal scholar.

While awaiting the K class schedule the Law Library created a rudimentary call numbering system to keep its growing collection organized.  Each call number generally consisted of the word LAW, followed by the jurisdiction, then assigned a number from 1 thru 9, and finally the first 4 letters of author’s last name.

The 1 thru 9 numbering level divided law material into very broad areas, for example 1=gazettes/session laws/slip laws; 2=codified laws; 5=court reports; 7=treatises, etc.

By way of example, from our LAW ITALY 7 shelves we have the volumes pictured here.  These items comprise six separate titles written by four different authors, spanning 125 years of publishing.  All have identical call numbers.


If a staffer retrieving books for a patron receives a request that simply reads LAW ITALY 7 Tara she/he will either need to consult the patron for more information or send up all possible volumes.  In either case, service to the patron will be delayed and with the latter option will require additional staff time to reshelve unwanted books.

Classifying older titles into the K class also allows us identify materials not yet cataloged, add titles to our online system left out in previous transfers of information, and inventory all volumes with scannable barcodes for easy identification.

Legend has it the initial inputting for the Library’s first computer catalog database was done by Scottish housewives who were paid 25 cents per card catalog card they keyed into the system.  Since then there have been several migrations of this database into new computer systems at LC.  Needless to say, some of the information input was incorrect, some records have been lost or corrupted during transfer and some never made into the newer systems at all.

Classing “LAW” volumes into “K” has uncovered titles we didn’t know we had and provided us with additional information about other titles with which we update existing bibliographic records.  All of which enhances our patrons’ experience when searching our collection by providing them better information and more options to choose from.

As titles are reclassed, we add barcodes to each volume which allows us to quickly identify any book.  An important facet of classing old titles into the “new” system is the added ease in finding additional information on similar topics.

Among the six Italian titles pictured above are books on Bankruptcy, Contracts, Railroad laws and Trials.  Wanting to find additional material on any one of these subjects by browsing the shelves would require knowing the names of any and every author who wrote on the subject and then searching through perhaps dozens of titles over hundreds of shelves to locate first, the alphabetic areas and then the specific name(s) of each author.

Whereas classing these six titles in the subject-driven class K will put each of them on a shelf with other books on the same legal topic.

In short, by completing the classification of our collection into the K Schedule we are ultimately improving service by identifying previously uncataloged items, arranging all titles by subject matter and having the ability to track items electronically through the use of barcodes.  All of which has already greatly decreased our “Not on shelf” (or item not found) rate and provided greater access to more of our collection for our readers.

In the Collection Services Division we’re all about providing the best service possible to each of our patrons.

Over the years this project has been worked on by both Collection Services Division staff (we miss you Marie and contractors, non-Law catalogers (with language-specific skills) from the Library Services Division’s, Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Directorate and, of course, the “Law Team”, a section of the Library’s U.S. and Publisher Liaison Division that is responsible for cataloging new legal titles (


  1. This is such an enormous undertaking, but it sounds like you must be stumbling across otherwise hidden treasures. So exciting!

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