Thursday, March 27, 2008

I Have Issues

OK, this is a really nerdy cataloger/librarian post. If any nerdy catalogers (like me) read this and have answers, I'm all ears! And if you're not a nerdy cataloger, I welcome your opinions too - if you can slog thru my jargon, which I'll try to keep to a minimum. I have two issues with assigning call numbers in the Library of Congress classification scheme. (That's the scheme most college and university libraries use.) I probably have way more issues than just two, but two is all I will talk about tonight.

First Issue: The LC scheme typically cutters a fiction series by author then title, not by author then volume number. Which means the books end up on the shelves in alphabetical order, not in the order the series should be read. If you're familiar with the way a call number looks, you have the first letters and numbers (before the decimal) which sends you to the correct subject. The second part (the first group after the decimal) is usually the cutter number for the author (it's based on a table, and allows a cataloger to assign a set number for every author's name). Then, for fiction, the last group is the cutter for the title. The first set of numbers below are ones I created. The second set are existing numbers for a different series of books. Now, as a patron, would you know which book to read first if you were interested in the two series below???

PZ7 .R79835 Har v. 1
PZ7 .R79835 Har v. 2

PS3562 .A315 A56
PS3562 .A315 L44

I rest my case. Though I should admit that there is a lot of disparity in the way fiction series are done - I've just shelved a lot recently that have numbers like the second set above and it drives me to distraction. (Yes, I know. Short trip!)

Second Issue: This one's more complicated. As far as I can tell, books written in foreign languages are ???!!!?? classed in the general area where texts about that language go. And oftentimes if that book is TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH, that English translation keeps the same call number. So a diary written in German about life in Germany during WWII is shelved with language books. HUH???????? In a mostly-English library (where we don't have many foreign language titles) that is just kooky (for many, many reasons). I think the translation - at the very least - should be reclassed where it goes as a subject.

Here's my example:
PC2064.K5 A3213 2003 This is the call number (ascribed by a national cataloging entity) for a book called The Lesser Evil, a diary of Victor Klemperer who was a Jew in Nazi Germany. If you look up on the "official" Library of Congress classification guide, that range of numbers (PC2001 to PC2600) is listed as Romanic Languages: French OK. The original book was written in GERMAN. There are three volumes in the diary series, and they're ALL listed in that class. Hello? Does anyone else think this is nuts? In fact, if you browse PC2064 by call number in the LoC catalog, you'll find books in several different languages... French (at least that makes sense!), Japanese, and German. I. Just. Don't. Get. It.

So, why wouldn't you:
a) if you're going to class the book by the original language, at least class it with the CORRECT language? (Germanic languages go under PD) and,
b) when it's translated into English, place it with the subject; in this case DS135, European History: Germany.

So, any catalogers out there have an answer for me? Any armchair librarians out there have an opinion? As a side note, I have two friends who are catalogers at the Library of Congress. I've emailed them to see what they think, and if they respond I'll let you know what they say.

So, here's the update. The book should go in History! It's only LITERATURE books that are classed with the original language. So books of or about literature originally written in French stay classed in the same place when they are translated into other languages. Which at least makes more sense than my initial supposition. The Library of Congress has the three volume set of Klemperer's book (as a single record, rather than the three separate records I listed above) classed in DS. Though apparently it's still a mystery how the separate volumes got stuck in the PCs. Another update will be forthcoming if a solution is ever presented!


AvocadoDiva said...

Hmmm. I definitely think you're right on on the first issue. As a patron, I'd be pretty confused if the titles within a series were out of order or mixed in with a second series. In fact, I'd probably (erronously) assume the librarian or someone else misshelved the titles! And that was if I was looking carefully. If I was just browsing, I might assume the library didn't have all the books in the series in their holdings if there weren't right next to each other. We patrons can be soooo lazy and not look a couple books further to see if it was "misshelved" further down on the shelf. LOL.

As for the second issue, I really don't know. I can see both ways. It makes sense to have the foreign language book in the "foreign language section" (even if it means shelving Japanese or Hebrew under the "French" section). But I can also see having multiple translations shelved together. If Eliot's class taught me anything about the architecture of ideas, it was that things should be categorized in the simplest, most intuitive classification structure possible, and frankly, the LoC isn't all the time. Oh well. :-) Glad you have the patience to deal with it so the rest of us can usually find the books we need. Otherwise, we know how to find our friendly neighborhood librarian!

Zana said...

Hi, Avocadodiva!

I would agree with your second comment if there each language did not have its own class number. But they do. So German and Japanese and Hebrew all have their own special sections. {sigh} I'm still waiting to here what's up, though the initial comment from my LoC friends is that the book should DEFINITELY be in history. The only books that should remain in the "original language" section are works of literature. So I'm still baffled and confused, even more so because this confusion is coming from the "holy of holies" for American catalogers, the Library of Congress. To quote Treebeard "a wizard should know better!" 8-) (So, do you have a countdown date in place yet for Wolf's return??)