I haven’t done a proper cataloging post in a while, so I think I ought to make up for some lost time. Let’s look at the making (OK inventing) of a call number.
The Book: A dictionary of Scottish emigrants to the U.S.A. compiled by Donald Whyte
The Problem: How to shelve our books of passenger lists together as a special collection and subdivide it geographically in a meaningful way.
LH: All items in are local history receive this prefix to designate the department.
PASSL: We have quite a few special collections within our local history department that receive an extra prefix to denote their location (PER for periodicals, VITAL for our vital records, OWH for our Oliver Wendel Holmes collection). To be honest I don’t like many of them and don’t understand the need for a few of them, but the staff their insist these are useful distinctions for researchers and I don’t really have the expertise to argue the point. From the examples I listed many of these help to define the items using them in ways that call #’s don’t quite capture. But in this instance it’s purely to allow us to break the natural shelf order to call attention to these items. Now they exist in a prominent physical space and not stuffed amongst our rather vast collection of genealogy items.
929.3: This number in Dewey is for specific sources of genealogical information.
9411: If we were constructing this number properly the next part of the number would designate this as being a passenger list. However, we can ignore that as we’re using the prefix instead for that and skip straight to the geographic portion.
There are two ways in which we could solve the geographic division problem. The first is to put in the name of the place after the number, making this LH PASSL 929.3 SCOTLAND. But there are two problems with this that made us decide against it. First of all there’s a limited amount of space available on our spine labels, names take up much more space than extending the call number.
Second and more important is the alphabetical shelving of these items. For example, the shelf could read England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Scotland…dividing the books on the UK that would make more sense shelved together. This problem is compounded by those items that don’t focus on a single nationality, and which would thus be shelved by the author’s name. This sort of confusion would essentially make the whole purpose of sorting this portion of the collection meaningless.
So extending the call number is the way to go. Normally to subdivide something geographically you add on 0[number for the history of the location in question]. We chose to cut the 0 out of the number as we do not have anything in 929.39 and it cuts down on the length slightly.
Whyte: So now we have all the Scottish passenger lists together in a useful location (wedged between the English and Irish ones) but we still need a way to distinguish the books on that rather narrow subject from one another. The author is usually sufficient for this purpose, and when it isn’t it at least narrows the collection down to so few items that finding an exact title is only a mild inconvenience at this point. Some libraries will include the publication year to make each call number fully unique, but my library isn’t quite at the scale where that’s necessary, plus our spine labels can only fit 5 lines of text, which we’ve now reached.