Books, Collection Development, Collection Revamp, School Libraries

The art of “yes… but no”

One of the big project we’ve undertaken has been to go shelf by shelf, moving books to better fitting DDC numbers so our students can find what they need more easily.  Sometimes the error was a simple transposition of the numbers, with something belonging in 973 ending up with 937 on the spine label.  Some, well… let’s just say there’s been a lot of “yes… but no” regarding the decisions either in house or at LoC.

If you don’t know how DDC numbers get assigned, here’s the short version: publishers provide the Library of Congress with information about an upcoming book, including a brief summary and subject headings.  The LoC staff then translates that into a DDC number.

Yes, that’s the very short version.  The problem comes when either the publisher or the LoC staff don’t quite know what to do with a book.  For example, years ago I found The President’s Position series split between 320 and 973 (per LoC) which meant I had to figure out which place was better for my students.

This collection is no different:

  • A heart for freedom : the remarkable journey of a young dissident, her daring escape, and her quest to free China’s daughters was, as expected, in religion (248) but our students would find the author’s time during the Tiananmen uprising more interesting so we moved it to China (951).
  • Another book,  Who will shout if not us? : student activists and the Tiananmen Square protest, China, 1989 was moved from education (378) to 951 for the same reason.


It’s the head scratchers that keep us amused, though. For example:

  • One humorous in-house shelving oops was finding The Rape of Nanking with the other books on sexual assault.  Yes… but no.
  • A book on the Holocaust had a LoC assigned number that placed it in population control.  Yes… but no.
  • A book on slavery had an LoC assigned number that would put it on the same shelf as books on Wal-Mart and other retail institutions.  Yes… but no.
  • The award for What Are They Thinking went to the book Ties that Bound; three of the four First Ladies owned slaves, and there was a subject heading for each that went Washington, Martha — 1731–1802 — Employees.  Not even close to a “yes”, just  really no.  We changed that “employees” to “slaves”.

We think we’ve found all of those surprising cataloging decisions.  We hope.  It has made us much more conscious of new books and how they’ve been cataloged, however.



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