In the Widener classification system, books are classified by how close they are to the Hub

Your Humble Blogger has taken part-time employment at a library. Have I mentioned this before? Is it part of the image now? I don’t want to repeat myself to the extent that I take the patience of Gentle Readers all, but then I do like to repeat myself. I do. It’s a rhythm thing.

Anyway, I was shelving the other day and, as often happens when I shelve books, I was musing on the impermanence of knowledge and the shape of the noetic field. Does this happen to you?

For instance, the Library of Congress classification system. It was set up a hundred years ago or more, and the classes of All World Knowledge have changed somewhat. Oh, it’s still a perfectly serviceable system for a large library, but it seems awkward now that books about History are in the Ds, where books about political science are in the Js. Q is science but technology is T. And R is medicine. So books about, oh, the use of robotics in surgery are under R. Right?

And photography is part of technology, or seemed that way a hundred years ago, so books of Diane Arbus or Cecil Beaton photographs will be in TR. You might have expected such books to be with art in the Ns, but you would be wrong. Still photography, TR. Films are literature, so they are in PN1993 to PN1999. And animation? Of course animation is in NC1766 with cartoons. Right?

It’s not that the categorization is strange. Any system for classifying All World Knowledge will have strange aspects, particularly when the classification is for shelving actual physical books on shelves, so any book can be in only one class. The thing that strikes me as interesting is that at one time it was obvious that photography was not a fine art, that cinema is more like plays than paintings, that animation is more like cartoons than plays or photographs. What classes of things are obvious to us that will, to people a hundred years from now, seem like bizarre idiosyncrasies? What aspects of education will seem like they should be in medicine? What aspects of military science should be in agriculture?

The wonderful thing about LC is that it is infinitely expandable. You can always shove another few subheadings in, when it turns out that algorithms are not an obscure branch of mathematics, but the basis for all commerce. So you go to Q (science), and you go to QA mathematics, and you go to QA76 calculating machines, and you go to QA76.76software for electronic calculating machines, and you go to QA76.76.H94 HTML software for electronic calculating machines, and then you put all the books about HTML there, however many there are, with the extension for the name of the author and the year of the book, etc, etc. And if you have 18 books in the QA76.76.H94 area, and no books at all for UF157 through UF302, artillery tactics, maneuvers and drill organizations, well, that’s just which shelves your books are on.

Another shelving note—I noticed that under RA643-645 (public health and disease) I was shelving books about leprosy on the same shelf with books about AIDS and smallpox. It makes me think about how the moment I’m in is not the only moment; Since they set up the system leprosy has become treatable, and then untreatable, and then treatable again; smallpox has been eradicated and weaponized, and AIDS is AIDS. They’re all on the same shelf here, I assume because there’s no medical school; there are plenty of libraries that will have whole ranges of RA643-645. But here, in this library, there’s just the one shelf, with its lesson on … humility? fear? policy? Well, there are always lots of lessons, right?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

1 thought on “In the Widener classification system, books are classified by how close they are to the Hub

  1. Matt

    I think it’s a lesson on shelving, myself, but maybe that’s just me. Or your post. Or something.

    I’ll start over.

    That’s odd, I was just thinking about the impermanence of knowledge, myself. Hermano!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.