Is There a Method to the Library’s Madness?

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Is There a Method to the Library's Madness LISBDNET

Have you ever wondered how libraries, with their vast collections, manage to organize and categorize every book so systematically? Dive into the intricate world of the Library of Congress Classification system, a cornerstone in the realm of library science. Discover its rich history, detailed structure, and the pivotal role it plays in shaping our quest for knowledge in libraries across the globe.

Library of Congress Classification: An Overview

The Library of Congress Classification (LCC) system traces its roots back to the early 20th century. Initially developed to cater to the growing collection of the Library of Congress, it was designed to be a robust and flexible system that could accommodate the vast and diverse nature of knowledge. Over the years, the LCC has undergone numerous revisions and expansions, reflecting the ever-evolving landscape of human understanding and the continuous addition of new subjects and disciplines.

The primary objective of the LCC is twofold. Firstly, it serves as a tool to systematically organize knowledge, ensuring that related subjects are grouped together, making the vast collection of the Library of Congress (and other libraries that adopt the system) navigable and coherent. Secondly, by providing a structured framework, it facilitates efficient research and discovery, allowing scholars, researchers, and the general public to locate resources with precision and ease.

Structure of the Classification System

At its core, the LCC is divided into 21 main classes, each represented by a letter of the alphabet, with certain letters (I, O, W, X, and Y) excluded. These main classes cover major fields of knowledge, from Philosophy and Religion to Science and Technology. Each class is designed to encapsulate a broad domain of knowledge, providing a high-level categorization.

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Delving deeper into the system, each main class is further divided into subclasses, which offer a more granular breakdown of topics within the broader domain. For instance, within the main class “Q” for Science, there are subclasses for specific scientific disciplines like QD for Chemistry or QH for Natural History. These subclasses allow for a more detailed categorization, ensuring that resources on closely related topics are grouped together.

Further refining the classification, within subclasses, there are additional divisions and subdivisions that represent specific subjects and topics. This is where the combination of letters and numbers comes into play, providing a detailed classification that pinpoints the exact nature and focus of a resource. For example, within the subclass QD for Chemistry, there might be a specific number range dedicated to Organic Chemistry.

Using the Library of Congress Classification

In practical terms, the LCC plays a pivotal role in the day-to-day operations of libraries. It guides the cataloging and shelving of books and resources, ensuring that items are placed in logical and consistent locations. This systematic arrangement not only aids librarians in managing collections but also empowers users, enabling them to find resources efficiently.

When comparing the LCC to other classification systems, two notable ones come to mind: the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) and the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC). While the DDC is more prevalent in public libraries and employs a numeric system, the UDC, an extension of the DDC, is used worldwide and incorporates both numbers and punctuation. Each system has its merits, but the LCC stands out for its detailed and expansive coverage of subjects, especially suited for large academic and research libraries.

The LCC, like any system, has its strengths and weaknesses. Its comprehensive nature and adaptability to encompass new areas of knowledge are among its major strengths. However, critics often point out its complexity and the steep learning curve for those unfamiliar with its intricacies. Additionally, as a system developed in the U.S., there are concerns about its Western-centric perspective, although efforts have been made to make it more inclusive.


The Library of Congress Classification system, with its rich history and detailed structure, remains a cornerstone in the world of library science. Its enduring relevance is a testament to its ability to adapt and cater to the ever-expanding realm of human knowledge. As libraries continue to evolve in the digital age, the legacy of the LCC serves as a reminder of the importance of systematic organization and the quest for knowledge. Looking ahead, the LCC’s foundational principles will undoubtedly influence future classification endeavors, ensuring its continued significance in the annals of library history.

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