Weekly Response Post #7 – Classification systems and schemes, Rachel Skinner-O’Neill

While our previous readings have firmly established the importance of cataloging and the centrality of classification to libraries, almost to the point of instilling a feeling of: if you don’t do it this way, an item will remain undiscovererd/lost forever, this week’s readings felt like a combination of a breath of fresh air and common sense – no wonder radical cataloging is a highlight of our course! Check any public library’s mission statement and you are likely to come up with phrasing along the lines of: we aim to be “a leader in traditional and innovative library services which reflect the diverse and dynamic spirit of the people of Brooklyn” (from Brooklyn Public Library) or to “inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities’ (NYPL). As public librarians a chief responsibility is to serve everyone, including the under-served and marginalized, and yet how can we ever claim to do so when our main tool for accessing our collections is so inherently tied to two classification systems, the Dewey Decimal System and Library of Congress Classification System, that were founded and shaped by the language, phrasing and thinking of one dominant culture.

As Furner concludes, Bibliographic classification schemes like the DDC occupy an ambiguous territory between description and prescription, in that they are at once reflective of literary and user warrant, and projective of distinctive worldviews.

 Being conscious of the classification systems we have in place, of the power these systems have to highlight, hide, obfuscate or completely ignore a subject, and how to go about rectifying this situation is heady stuff for the cataloging librarian to contemplate.

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