Where Does This Book Belong? Let the Patron Decide.

In this article, I propose a way we could apply a living, breathing, context-sensitive classification system to parts of our collection instead of basing the organization of physical items on the static, subjective and sometimes arbitrary classification system.

I was inspired by a book I read called The Dynamic Library: Organizing Knowledge at the Sitterwerk – Precedents and Possibilities.  The book is a collection of essays from a symposium held in Sitterwerk, Switzerland in 2011. At the symposium, participants explored classification systems and new orders of knowledge in the context of an art collection.

As they noted in the book, the primary purpose of classification systems is to assign a place for a book so that it can then be found. Most classification systems we are familiar with such as the Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC), LCC (Library of Congress Classification), UDC (Universal Classification System) and BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) support this primary purpose and also support serendipitous discovery by organizing related things together.  

However, the person browsing the physical shelves will only enjoy the serendipitous benefit from one of the subject headings associated with an item. So, for example, I might not find that book about scientific breakthroughs by lesbians because the book would have to be placed in either the 509.2 Dewey range (with science) or possibly somewhere in the 306.7663  (with lesbians) but it wouldn’t be in both places.   And if you were looking for a book about Islamic lesbian scientists, you’d really have a hard time because many of the classifications systems are still struggling with how to incorporate material about Islam.