Cat. & Reference: Oops!
One of the hardest parts of my job is assigning Dewey call numbers to the books I catalog. Since LC is the preferred classification system for academic libraries, many of the records I come across have suggested LC numbers but not Dewey numbers. Some don’t even have that. At least I’ve always got subject headings to work with, because if a record doesn’t even have subject headings, I’m supposed to send the book over to original cataloging. (Assigning subject headings would apparently blow the minds of us mere copy catalogers.)
Even if the record does have a Dewey call number, I have to double check the number in the Dewey schedules. Sometimes the number is too long (we’re limited to 11 digits), so I have to figure out where to cut it off. Sometimes the number comes from an older edition of Dewey, and it’s been discontinued or a more specific number has since been established. We have local classification systems for some subjects, so we can’t use number suggested by other cataloging agencies for books on those topics. For biographies, we’ll use the suggested number if we don’t already have a number established; otherwise, we’d prefer to class all biographies of a specific person together, even if the focus of each is somewhat different. Sometimes the number is OK, but I just think that another one would be better. And sometimes the suggested number is just plain wrong.
I had a book the other day called “Insane passions : lesbianism and psychosis in literature and film,” with a primary subject heading of “Lesbianism in literature,” and a suggested Dewey class number 809.93526643. I opened up WebDewey, and started to go through the schedules.
80- ... Literature, rhetoric & criticism
809 ... History, description, critical appraisal of more than two literatures
809.9 ... Literature displaying specific features
809.93 ... Literature displaying other aspects [than the options listed in 809.91-2]
809.935 ... Literature emphasizing subjects
So far, so good. At this point, the schedules direct me to go back to the main classes to select the subject that this literature is supposed to emphasize.
[809.935]2-- ... [Literature emphasizing] Religion
Hmm. Odd. I’m not exactly clear on where “lesbianism” is normally to be found in the schedules, but this top level category surprises me. Is Sappho supposed to have started her own religion, perhaps? Going along, I find . . .
[809.935]26- ... [Literature emphasizing] Christian organization, social work & worship
Wait – was there some religious aspect to this book that I missed? A secondary subject heading that the cataloging agency has chosen to bring out? I check the record again, but no . . .
[809.935]266 ... [Literature emphasizing] Missions
At this point, it’s clear that the number is just plain wrong, but I’m curious to know where this train wreck will lead me.
[809.935]266.4 ... [Literature emphasizing] Missions of protestant denominations of Continental origin and related bodies
[809.935]266.43 ... [Literature emphasizing] Missions of Hussite and Anabaptist churches
That’s right. The suggested number is for literature about Anabaptist and Hussite missionaries (also including Lollards and Wycliffites, naturally).
Now, I grant you that there could be an overlap. I’m not really up on my Anabaptist missionaries, but there may be whole passels of them who are lesbians, and mine is to catalog, not to judge. However, the suggested class number for this book doesn’t really seem to “approximate the whole of the subject matter,” so to speak.
The weird thing about the number was that I couldn’t figure out where it had come from. Often it’s pretty easy to see a missed digit or a repeated digit or a ten-key error, but this seemed awfully far from the beaten path. I finally found the mysterious “3526643” string hidden in Table 3C where it was labeled “lesbians—arts.” A note at the top of the table informed the user that Table 3C was “Notation to Be Added Where Instructed in Table 3B, 700.4, 791.4, 808-809,” and when I went back to the 809 section of the schedules, I saw a note directing the user to that table. However, the note specified that only subjects beginning with “1” or “2” could be added to 809.9, not subjects beginning with “3” or any number thereafter. Do you see what happens when you don’t read the schedules closely? You end up with Lollards and Wycliffites in all sorts of unexpected places.