Long before Batman vs. Superman or Alien vs. Predator, a far more intense battle between library classification systems was waged – and it continues to this day.
Perhaps it’s a bit of an exaggeration to dub the differences between the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) system and the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system as a battle. By and large, many would argue simply that LCC is suited for large collections such as academic libraries while DDC is more suitable for smaller collections such as those found in public schools and local branch systems.
However, when one hones in on academic libraries in particular, this claim may not be as well founded as initially supposed. According to my Organization of Information professor this semester, approximately 60% of libraries with holdings of over 500,000 use LCC, which still leaves 40% of those institutions as active users of DDC – still nearly half.
The above image summarizes the main differences between the two systems and adds its own summation as to which sorts of libraries each is better suited for. Those who work in academic libraries are more than likely familiar with LCC, while your average public library patron has probably only experienced the DDC in their regular library visit.
As librarians, we’re meant to hold strong opinions over which classification system is superior. There’s the oft-used adages regarding Dewey’s outdated worldview having colored his broad class divisions, DDC being inhospitable in array, and its call numbers often being overly long. On the other hand, LCC holds its own national biases, lacks a comprehensive index, and often prioritizes alphabetization over logical hierarchy.
And this is all without even taking into account the Colon Classification (CC) system, which is a whole trip of its own:
Before we as librarians dive into the pros and cons of each classification system, however, there may be a simpler question to answer – does it really matter?
Phrasing it that way might seem blasé, but to clarify, I mean this in the context of each individual institution. Is the current system working? Then maybe – just maybe – it’s fine as it is.
Libraries are by and large strapped for cash on their best days. Staff, particularly those working in public libraries, often have strong emotional stresses to deal with on top of the organizational and technological ones. Do they truly need to have the conversion of their institutions’ classification system to deal with on top of that?
Now, I’m not arguing against the fact that many of the subject divisions inherent to Dewey’s system are extremely out of date in the context of 21st century librarianship. Nor am I saying that converting classification systems at many institutions would be only minimally beneficial. The fact is that many libraries ARE converting their systems from DDC to LCC, doing it well, and reaping vast benefits for doing so.
I think my point is more to the idea that as librarians – and this is certainly a generalization based on my own personal experiences – well, we do sometimes tend to overthink and overcomplicate things. This is part of the reason we are so good at cataloging and sorting a huge amount of information in a logical and consistent manner. We find the patterns, we analyze them, and we turn the collection into something entirely digestible to the average patron.
But sometimes, a system is a system – and it’s working just fine.
My same Organization of Information professor mentioned in his lecture on classification systems last week that Emporia State University’s academic library is one of the minority academic libraries still utilizing DDC for its collections. While he thinks it’s completely adequate for their uses, he’s still in favor of the conversion. Not because he foresees vast improvements in doing so, but because the reclassification would result in the materials he uses the most often being closer to his office on the fourth floor.
So, perhaps sometimes the answer is a lot simpler than it seems.
Delanie Rio is currently pursuing her MLS remotely through Emporia State University with a concentration in informatics. She received her undergraduate degree in liberal arts with a minor in legal studies from Colorado State University in 2016, and has worked as a paralegal, a government administrator, and a transcriptionist in the years since. Her academic interests include older adult/nontraditional students, distance learning, information literacy, and self-led education. After completing her degree, she hopes to pursue academic librarianship. She currently resides in her home state of Colorado with her dog, Luka, and bunny, Ollie, and enjoys camping, painting, and writing when she’s not curled up with a good book.
Featured image credit: Delanie Rio
Post image 1 credit: www.PEDIAA.com
Post image 2 credit: Delanie Rio