Classification and Cataloging

Did you realize how many different formats a library offers? Keeping track of everything can be difficult. We've just talked about how to organize the actual materials; we now need to discuss classification and cataloging. Like reference, more knowledgeable people than us have written plenty of books on the topic. Two common resources are Dewey Decimal Classification and Sears List of Subject Headings. This is just going to be a brief discussion of what cataloging is.

Fiction books are shelved in alphabetical order by the author's last name. That's straightforward enough, now on to nonfiction. Most public libraries use the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system for nonfiction items. Dewey is a classification system that uses numbers to indicate where a book should be shelved. Items with the same subject are shelved together. It's probably easiest to give you an example.

374.28 is the Dewey decimal number for adult education centers. All books about this topic will be assigned this number. So how do you distinguish one book about adult education centers from another? Cutters. What is that? Cutters vary depending upon the library, but most either use all letters or a combination of letters and numbers. Most libraries use the first three or four letters from the author's last name. It would take pages and pages of information to describe classification to you. It can get really complicated. The good news is that there are continuing education opportunities and books that talk about classification and cataloging.

Here is a list of what Dewey calls the ten classes of knowledge. It's where all nonfiction call numbers start.

Call numbers









Social Sciences




Pure science


Applied science (Technology)


The Arts




General Geography and history

There you have it: the ten major classes of knowledge. To understand how DDC works, think of it as going from general to specific. Dewey does this by using decimals. 300 is social sciences; 370 is education; 374 is Adult Education; 374.28 is community centers for adult education. Do you see how this works? Each time you add a number, you get more specific.

Still confused? Well the good news is that libraries don't have to classify and catalog all of their items. Companies, such as Baker & Taylor, offer cataloging services. The company catalogs the item and sends the library a catalog card or an electronic record that can be downloaded into an automation system. The problem is that these companies don't have the best cataloging skills. So what other option do you have?

OCLC, the Online Computer Library Center, maintains a WorldCat database of over sixty- million bibliographic records and offers two products to assist librarians with cataloging needs: Connexion and CatExpress. Libraries can subscribe to these products and receive electronic records to download into their automated library systems.

Connexion is primarily used by libraries with larger collections or those with lots of relatively unique items requiring cataloging. This type of work involves what is called "original cataloging" and can be done via a Web-based interface or by using a program downloaded directly to a library computer.

For libraries with smaller collections or those that possess more common items in the main, the cataloging tool of choice from OCLC is CatExpress. This Web-based program supports a simpler cataloging process called "copy cataloging." Library staff looks for the best records in the OCLC WorldCat database and downloads those records into an automation system. This saves time and increases cataloging accuracy. If you're not the best person at determining what an item is about and how it should be classified, you can benefit from the experience of people who specialize in cataloging.

Currently, Montana State Library offers libraries a chance to be part of a statewide contract and purchase a subscription to Connexion and/or CatExpress for a much lower price than they could receive on their own.

What if you would like to do your own cataloging? Keep in mind that original cataloging is time consuming. Here are the things you need to identify when cataloging an item:



Publisher, place of publication, data

Physical description (number of pages, height in centimeters, illustrations, maps, etc.)

Identifying numbers (ISBN, ISSN) and other information specific to an item (series, edition, etc.)

Content of the book - this is used to determine what the book is about and what subject headings are needed.

What does good cataloging provide?

A description of the item. Who is the author, illustrator, creator? Is the item part of a series? Is it illustrated? Does it have a map? Does it come with audio recordings or CD-ROMs? How many pages does it have? Is it part of a multi-volume set? What other characteristics make the book unique?

Entries. These are access points or how the patron finds the book. Traditional entries are:

Main entry (usually the first author listed)

Subject entry (what is the book about)

Title entry (title of the book)

Added entry (additional titles for the book, illustrator, second author, series, etc.)

Shelf list (the inventory record for the library, not available to the public)

Can you see why most libraries use copy cataloging? Classifying and cataloging items is an art that's best left to people who have learned how to do it and specialize in it. For the rest of us, there are products such as CatExpress.

Earlier we mentioned the Montana Shared Catalog. If your library is in a shared catalog, one of the advantages is that you can attach your library's copy of an item to an existing record in the catalog. Here's how this would work. Let's say you've just received John Grisham's  The Summons. Before looking at CatExpress, you should check the shared catalog to see if a record for  The Summons is already in there. If it is, you add your holding (a holding is the way you let people know that you own the item). Voila! You're finished and can move on to the next item. Some shared catalogs will transfer your records to the OCLC WorldCat database used by Connexion and CatExpress. Adding your holdings to WorldCat lets the world know that you have a particular item. This is very helpful in facilitating interlibrary loans of library materials.

Dewey Decimal Classification System


010 Bibliography

020 Library and Information Sciences

030 General Encyclopedic Works

040 Not assigned

050 General Serial Publications

060 General Organizations & Museology

070 News Media, Journalism, Publishing

080 General Collections

090 Manuscripts & Rare Books


110 Metaphysics

120 Epistemology, causation, humankind

130 Paranormal Phenomena

140 Specific Philosophical Schools

150 Psychology

160 Logic

170 Ethics (Moral Philosophy)

180 Ancient, Medieval, Oriental Phil.

190 Modern Western Philosophy


210 Philosophy & Theory of Religion

220 Bible

230 Christian Theology

240 Christian Moral & Devotional Theol.

250 Christian Orders & Local Church

260 Social & Ecclesiastical Theology

270 Hist. of Christianity & Chr. Church

280 Christian Denominations & Sects

290 Comp. Religion & Other Religion


310 Collections of General Statistics

320 Political Science

330 Economics

340 Law

350 Public Administration & Military Science

360 Social Problems & Services

370 Education

380 Commerce, Communications, Transport

390 Customs, Etiquette, Folklore


410 Linguistics

420 English & Old English

430 Germanic Languages German

440 Romance Languages French

450 Italian, Romanian, Rhaeto-Romanic

460 Spanish & Portuguese Languages

470 Italic Languages Latin

480 Hellenic Languages Classical Greek

490 Other Languages


510 Mathematics

520 Astronomy & Allied Sciences

530 Physics

540 Chemistry & Allied Sciences

550 Earth Sciences

560 Paleontology, Paleozoology

570 Life Sciences, Biology

580 Plants

590 Animals

600 TECHNOLOGY (Applied Sciences)

610 Medical Sciences, Medicine

620 Engineering & Allied Operations

630 Agriculture & Related Technology

640 Home Economics & Family Living

650 Management & Auxiliary Services

660 Chemical Engineering

670 Manufacturing

680 Manufacture for Specific Uses

690 Buildings

700 THE ARTS (Fine and Decorative)

710 Civic & Landscape Art

720 Architecture

730 Plastic Arts, Sculpture

740 Drawing & Decorative Arts

750 Painting and Paintings

760 Graphic Arts, Printmaking

770 Photography & Photographs

780 Music

790 Recreational & Performing Arts


810 American Literature in English

820 English & Old English Literatures

830 Literatures of Germanic Languages

840 Literatures of Romance Languages

850 Italian, Romanian, Phaeto-Romanic

860 Spanish & Portuguese Literatures

870 Italic Literatures Latin

880 Hellenic Literature, Classical Greek

890 Literatures of Other Languages


910 Geography & Travel

920 Biography, Genealogy, Insignia

930 History of Ancient World to ca. 499

940 General History of Europe

950 General History of Asia

960 General History of Africa

970 General History of North America

980 General History of South America

990 General History of Other Areas

ASPeN: The New Library Directory

Events Calendar