LCC – Navigating the Free Schedules

On Tuesday, in a post for those learning the Library of Congress Classification scheme, we looked at how my copy of The Widening Stain has been classified in its original library.

Having looked at the Library of Congress’s free pdfs of their schedules, I left you with the challenge of unpacking the first two parts of the spine label. Let’s have a look at those together now.

We can use the file for PR, PS and PZ Text to find PS3503.

PS is “AMERICAN LITERATURE,” and within that, 3503 is within a very long section for “Individual authors, 1900-1960.”

So what is happening with the I796? There is a list of well-known authors and their specific number, but I796 is not listed there.

Wherever we see a listing in the format “3503.A-Z,” the “A-Z” tells us that we are going to have do do some number building of our own. One of the things that makes LCC flexible is this component – for certain numbers we have to do some work to create the number.

Looking closely at the description for 3503.A-Z we can see that 3503 is for names beginning “B” – so the book is still being classified under the author’s real name (Bishop), not his pseudonym (Johnson). Then there is the instruction “The author number is determined by the second letter of the name.” This makes sense, because everything in PS3503 is for authors with surnames starting B, so the next letter is where we can start to differentiate them. So now we know where the “I” comes from in the second part of the number. It is literally taken from the second letter in his surname.

Now, our “A-Z” should mean that we are creating a Cutter number, using the table in the free schedule. From the examples given, we can see that is largely what has happened. The instruction to use the second letter means that we follow the instruction in the table as if it started with that letter. Let’s look at the simplest example they give us – “Bjorkman, Edwin” is at 3503.J6. We can see that “J” is the second letter of “Bjorkman.” We know “J” is a consonant, and it not an “S” nor a “Q” so we go to the section in the table that tells us “after other initial consonants for the second letter” and look along to “o”, where we see a “6” in the row “use number.”

Following that pattern, “Bishop” at its simplest would be I8 from the section “after initial vowels” (because we have “I”) “for the second letter” at “s-t,” which is given as 8.

It Follows a General System … Until It Doesn’t

Here’s where Cutter numbers are localised. Most frequently they are localised to …. the Library of Congress shelf-list. That’s what G063 is talking about on its first page, where it says “Consult the class number in the shelflist. Find the proper location for the work being shelflisted. That is, determine where the work is to file according to standard shelflisting practices.” What does this mean? Well, it means, basically, file a book alphabetically by author surname. And then shuffle the Cutter number to make that happen: “After determining the filing position of the work, consider whether use of the following table to create the Cutter will achieve the proper position. If so, use the table. If not, complete the Cutter in order to fit in alphabetically with works already shelflisted.”

As many students have asked me over the years, “So the Library of Congress cataloguers manipulate the Cutter number to fit the book on the right place in the shelf?” YES.

And the follow-up question: “So why don’t we just use the author surname as part of the book number?” To which my only answer is, “Because the LCC scheme uses Cutter numbers.”

And the real, practical question: “So how would I know that Bishop is filed at I796?” 2 answers:

  1. The MARC display for the catalogue data tells you at 050 (where it gives the PZ number we looked at on Tuesday and then the PS number in the second |a).
  2. OCLC Classify which tells us at that it’s the most frequently used LCC number.


We can spend a lot of time worrying about Cutter Numbers, and admiring the ingenuity of cataloguing and classification theorists. In the end, we have to classify the book somewhere, and both the Library of Congress’s own catalogue and OCLC Classify will help us do that.

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