Hodgepodge: Navigating the Library of Congress

For many students who use Lydia Olson Library as a resource (bless you all), navigating the third floor can be an emotionally treacherous undertaking. A student will spend precious minutes searching for Quentin Bell’s On Human Finery in the PR section where she previously found Bell’s biography of his aunt, Virginia Woolf, while the book is actually snug between Roland Barthes’ The Fashion System and J.C. Flugel’s The Psychology of Clothes in the distant GT section. Meanwhile, Bell’s Victorian Artists is located in the ND section. That the works of a single writer can be shelved in multiple separate sections might aggravate our young bibliophiles. Why, then, don’t we rearrange our books? Why aren’t the works of Nabokov on a single shelf in one neat little row?

The Library of Congress Classification (LCC) is used for the organization of Lydia Olson Library’s books, and is the source of the supposed mess. There is a reason for the resultant bedlam which will soon be apparent. First, an overview of the LCC is necessary. The LCC contains a set of 21 classes or subject areas. Each of these classes is attributed a letter for organizational purposes. The classes are as follows:

A: General Works
B: Philosophy, Psychology, Religion
C: Auxiliary Sciences of History (General)
D: World History (except American History)
E: American History
F:Local History of the United States and British, Dutch, French, and Latin America
G: Geography, Anthropology, Recreation
H: Social Sciences
J: Political Science
K: Law
L: Education
M: Music
N: Fine Arts
P: Language and Literature
Q: Science
R: Medicine
S: Agriculture
T: Technology
U: Military Science
V: Naval Science
Z: Bibliography, Library Science

These broad topics are sectioned into further subclasses. The N’s, a class with relatively few subclasses, is broken into no less than eight of these sections: N (Visual Arts), NA (Architecture), NB (Sculpture), NC (Drawing, Design, Illustration), ND (Painting), NE (Print media), NK (Decorative arts), and NX (Arts in general). The impossibility of keeping one author in one section should be a bit clearer now.

Authors will not necessarily write on a single subject; that is their privilege and our organizational handicap. Prolific writers spread themselves across library shelves. For example, C.S. Lewis can be found in three classes (B, L, and P) and nine subclasses (BJ – Ethics, BR – Christianity, BS – The Bible, BT – Doctrinal Theology, BV – Practical Theology, LB – Theory and practice of education, PE – English Language, PN – Literature (General), and PR – English Literature). It is the scholarly meandering of expansive minds that makes locating the whole of a writer’s works so fatiguing. So, next time you are looking for Tolstoy’s What is Art? in the P’s rather than the N’s, blame the dead man. Not us.

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