The New York Public Library is changing classification systems for their reference collection. Over the years they have used a unique system developed by their first library director, Dr. John Shaw Billings, appropriately named the Billings System. It hasn’t been updated since the 1950′s, however, and many books have been shelved according to size.
They are switching to the Library of Congress system, which ought to be quite a task, depending on the size of the collection.
This has me thinking about classification systems again, which I seem to delve into every few years. I have this not-so-secret desire to create a new classification system, but haven’t been able to come up with one that is a clear improvement over existing systems without creating new problems.
In one sense, classification systems are becoming less critical. With Integrated Library Systems and Online Public Access Catalogs becoming nearly ubiquitous, all one truly needs is a shelving order that allows one to locate a book quickly once you have the locator information.
This opens the possibility for organizing a library based on size, or color (as the Adobe Bookshop did a couple of years ago), which is an ongoing thought among library staff when patrons recall a book only for its size and color. Color wouldn’t be a very efficient (or accessible) system, however.
Size could work very well, though. If you created a system based on a library’s shelving units, and had the largest books on the lower shelves, and mass-market paperbacks on the top shelves, you could assign shelving locations based solely on the height and thickness of the item. You could very efficiently use all of your shelf space, replacing discarded items with items of a like size. All one would need was software that would track the available space and place books accordingly (sort of like defragmenting a hard drive). It would impede shelf browsing; and a mis-shelved item is lost until the next inventory (unless it is is visually out of place). Perhaps this would work well for closed stacks libraries.
Currently, the two dominant systems, at least in the U.S., are the Library of Congress System (LC), and the Dewey Decimal System (DDC). Each has, in my opinion, significant shortcomings, but have been continually updated.
There are many other library classification systems in existence; I wonder if we are approaching the time when an open source, collaborative classification system will make sense? There are a lot of pie-in-the-sky issues surrounding this, the largest being the fact that is is a massive undertaking for even a smaller library to completely change their classification. This would involve updating each electronic record, as well as re-labeling and re-locating every item covered by the classification change. I would have to be strongly convinced of the long-term benefits before starting down that road.
As a theoretical project, however, it is an interesting idea. The system could be created and worked on without involving any physical libraries, perhaps as simply as creating a Wiki and recruiting volunteers. Now all I need is the basic idea of what the classification will be built upon….
thought process started by BiblioTech Web