Three types of library classification

Three types of library classification

Libraries are vast treasuries of knowledge collected over the centuries from all over the world. In order to find the necessary information in this sea of words, we need a library management system. However, there is not only one, but three types of classification schemes in library. Learn more about each of them in this article.

Three types of library classification

Library classification scheme

library classification scheme

As libraries grew bigger in size, it became necessary to classify all the books that were in their possession. Classification made it easier for both book readers and librarians to find their way among the myriads of books.

Every library has a system that arranges the library resources according to subject. There are specific types of library catalogue inherent to each particular library. However, most, if not all of them, use the same classification systems.

Types of library classification

types of library classification

Now, there are three classification systems based on their functionality:

✑ enumerative, where headings are listed in the alphabetical order, and each heading has its own number;

✑ hierarchical, where the classification is based on the hierarchy of the subjects, going from the general themes to specific topics;

✑ faceted, where one subject can be assigned several different mutually exclusive classifications.

But wait, there is more:

There is another way to categorise the library classification schemes. According to it, there are also three types of classification systems based on how they are used. We are going to take a closer look at each one.

Universal classification schemes


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Universal classification schemes are called that because they encompass all sorts of knowledge and categorise it. Most of them are enumerative, but some of the schemes incorporate the faceted and hierarchical systems as well. Some of the advantages of the universal system include:

✔ Its ability to cover all subject areas;

✔ Global support and recognition (many nations are using and improving it);

✔ Multilingual access to all materials.

Nevertheless, universal system is not without its faults. Some claim that it creates the false order of knowledge, assigning subjective characteristics to each sphere just to express it in numeric form. It also suffers from slow integration of new spheres of interest. Updating the universal system takes a lot of time and effort, so it cannot catch up quickly to the emerging trends.

English-speaking countries mostly use such universal schemes as the Library of Congress Classification, Dewey Decimal Classification, Universal Decimal Classification and Colon Classification.


We will not go into detail about each of these, but we will highlight one of them. Dewey Decimal Classification Scheme is one of the most popular universal schemes in the world. It divides all existing knowledge into 10 groups and assigns 100 numbers to each group.

General works receive numbers from 000 to 099, philosophy and psychology get 100-199, religion — 200-299, social sciences — 300-399, languages — 400-499, natural sciences (including mathematics) — 500-599, technology — 600-699, arts — 700-799, literature — 800-899, and the rest, which is biography, history and geography get 900-999. Each number can be broken down further, as subjects get more specific.

This system was introduced in 1873 by Melvil Dewey, who was an American librarian. Since then, it has become one of the most widely used classification systems in the libraries of the world.

National general schemes


National schemes are created with specific countries in mind. Examples of the national schemes are the Swedish system called Sveriges Allmänna Biblioteksförening, or the Nederlandse Basisclassificatie from the Netherlands.

National schemes are very similar to universal schemes. Nevertheless, there are some important differences, which also make them less convenient.

Each national scheme usually exists within a single country. This means that the system is often in the country’s national language, which makes it harder for foreigners to understand. National schemes can also have a geographic bias, when the knowledge can be made to fit a certain nationalistic narrative.

Some countries are more reliant on their system rather than on the universal one. This complicates the communication between libraries in different countries.

Subject specific schemes


These schemes are created to deal with specific areas of interest. For example, there is an Engineering Information scheme, which encompasses the materials on engineering. Other examples include the British Catalogue of Music Classification and the National Library of Medicine Classification.

One of the main advantages of the subject specific system is that it is much closer to each separate discipline than, for example, the universal system. This also allows it to stay up-to-date.

However, it also has its disadvantages. Cooperation between different subject services is more difficult than in other classification systems. Each subject specific scheme has its own particular structure, which can be hard to understand for the ‘outsiders’. Which is why many libraries that use subject specific schemes usually combine them with a universal system.

Now you know a little bit more about types of library classification schemes. Thank you for reading our article. Never stop learning!

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