Competency G – Classification

Competency G – Classification

Competency G: demonstrate understanding of basic principles and standards involved in organizing information such as classification and controlled vocabulary systems, cataloging systems, metadata schemas or other systems for making information accessible to a particular clientele.

Meaning and Importance

There are many different ways that libraries can organize their materials, though the goal of any system is to make it easy for library staff and library patrons to find what they need. Libraries need to know what’s in the collection and patrons need to be able to locate information, and classification systems help with both. Humans in general like to organize items into sets of corresponding information, so it’s natural that a library should be organized as well. How a library’s materials are organized are the differences between the many classification systems used by libraries today.

A classification system is the way that materials are grouped together in a library. In the United States, the two most used classification systems are the Dewey Decimal System (DDC), developed by Melvil Dewey in 1876, and the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) system, developed by Herbert Putnam in the late 1800s. In general, public and school libraries use the DDC, while the LCC is used in academic and research libraries. Both systems organize information by general topic, and then further into more specific subject headings.

Patrons can use these subject headings to find the information they need, whether through searching a library’s online public access catalog (OPAC), or physically searching through the shelves. The upside of using an OPAC to store information about the materials in a library is that users can search through many different subject headings all at once. This is helpful when a book may actually belong in more than one section at a time– perhaps a book about American feminist writers, for instance, which could go in either the History section, the English Literature section, or the Biography section. Instead of buying three copies and putting them in each section, a librarian needs to decide where a patron would most likely look for this book, and then add in the correct subject headings/controlled vocabulary to the catalog in order to cross-reference it.

There are also different tools that librarians can use in order to create finding aides for patrons who need to find information in collections that don’t fall into a neat classification system. For instance, archival collections of ephemera, videos, audio recordings, etc. don’t always fit into a standard subject heading-style search. In this instance, librarians can sort the archive’s items themselves into groupings, and then create a finding aide which includes details of what’s in the collection.

I was completely unfamiliar with this topic before I started library school. I had some very basic cataloging knowledge, as I used to catalog for my job as an elementary library technician, but it was very basic. Taking INFO 256 Archives and Manuscripts, on the other hand, involved a much more in-depth look into organizing information.

One of my assignments for this class was to first arrange a small archival collection, and then use that collection to create a finding aide for researchers. This involved reading and arranging every single document, writing the scope and content note of the collection, and creating a container list. And I really did have to read every single piece of the collection, as I had to determine the topic, the author, and the date in order to create a comprehensive finding aide.

There were many different ways I could have arranged the collection, as there is no strict standard of how to best organize an archival collection. However, archival collections should be organized in a way that makes sense for the scope of the collection, and to make it easy for the researchers and library staff to look through and maintain it. Collections can be classified under type of documents, date created, person who created them, topics within the documents, or any other controlled vocabulary.

For this project, I decided that the best way to organize the archival collection was by overall topic, then by date. The archival collection I was working with was largely correspondence both personal and professional, and various ephemera. I ended up grouping the correspondence together in one Series, with subseries for personal correspondence TO the individual, personal correspondence FROM the individual, and then professional/official correspondence for the same. Within those subseries, each folder was given a short description of the sender and the date.

The second series was for non-correspondence ephemera, with a subseries for each major type. For this collection, that meant one for military ephemera, one for academic ephemera, and one for professional ephemera. Like the correspondence series, each subseries had a descriptive folder with the date included. My goal for the entire finding aide was to make it easy for researchers to focus in on a particular subseries or date. For instance, if the researcher wanted to look at all documents created in 1946, it would be easy to find them. The scope and content notes go over some of the topics included on the correspondence, though it doesn’t go into lots of detail for each item. This is standard for finding aides, which are not meant to be in-depth discussions about every single piece of an archival grouping.

I have always found it fun to organize and sort data (or documents), so I found that part of the project easy. However, I also learned a lot about the standards of organizing and classifying information for researchers. It’s not enough to just organize data and hope that people will be able to find something. Information professionals must use their expert knowledge of information organization to guide their patrons’ information searches.

Future Applications
Having studied at SJSU, I now have a more robust understanding of how to organize information. I can use this in my career, as I’ll be more knowledgeable about the best ways to organize materials, and how I can use those methods in helping my patrons find what they’re looking for. In particular, if I end up working at an archive or local history library, then having the experience of writing a finding aide will be immensely helpful.

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