No large academic library with significant holdings of open access
material would today ever invent its own classification scheme. Cambridge University Library’s individual and eccentric classification scheme, invented in the 1920s, has come to be viewed as a burden by the present generation of librarians. The British Library and the Bodleian, where most material is on closed access, don’t have to worry about classification at all. Most open access libraries in Britain and America will use either Dewey or Library of Congress. This means that just as they share cataloguing data, they can also share classification information. In the UL every time a title is added to the open shelves, we have to reinvent the wheel and classify from scratch, which limits our ability to streamline our processing of material.
Whilst a team of professional librarians revise and develop Library of Congress classification as new concepts and date divisions are needed, to the benefit of the whole academic community, Cambridge has to go it alone. This means that very little in our classification scheme is ever revised and expanded. When the scheme was devised, theatre and stage, cinema, television and radio, dance and even circus were mixed together at 415. In January 2000 we did separate out these topics to some extent, so that all cinema is now grouped together in a single number at 415:3. However, Library of Congress uses a much more subtle and complex scheme for cinema books in order to group like subjects and geographical areas together.
The individuality of the UL scheme does give us one advantage over other libraries. When some 10-15 years ago we started to remove 19th century publications from the open shelves for reasons of conservation and sometimes because of the great value of the material, it was relatively straightforward to identify the material given the decade/half century number which constitutes an integral part of the Cambridge classmark.
Relatively straightforward, but not entirely so, given the individual nature of German publishing. Centuries and wars may come and go, but publication of the collected works of some authors just keeps pressing forward – or perhaps more accurately keeps limping forward. Take the case of Martin Luther. The Kritische Gesamtausgabe of Martin Luther started publication in 1883, and stands at 61:23.b.85.1- The most recent volume, the 121st, was published in 2009. Whilst we were very happy to remove most material with a middle number 85 to closed access, Martin Luther exceptionally had to stay, or we would have had to face some very dissatisfied users of our collections. Which in turn made for complications when updating finding information on the Library catalogue.