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Reclassification was a popular trend during the 1960s and 1970s for many academic libraries wanting to change from Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) to Library of Congress (LC) Classification. In 2002, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale's Morris Library changed from DDC to LC. If one academic library recently converted, might other DDC academic libraries consider switching, too? Conversely, for those academic libraries that remain with DDC, what are the reasons they continue with it? A survey of thirty-four DDC academic libraries in the United States and Canada determined what factors influence these libraries to continue using DDC, and if reclassification is something they have considered or are considering. The survey also investigated whether patrons of these DDC libraries prefer LC and if their preference influences the library's decision to reclassify. Results from the survey indicate that the issue of reclassification is being considered by some of these libraries even though, overall, they are satisfied with DDC. The study was unable to determine if patrons' preference for a classification scheme influenced a library's decision to reclassify.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, reclassification of library collections from the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) to the Library of Congress (LC) Classification was a major trend in academic libraries, primarily for the economic reasons of improving efficiency in cataloging and reducing processing costs. Many of the libraries that did convert to LC were left with split collections when reclassification projects were ended because of decreased budgets. As the trend to reclassify faded, new trends took its place, beginning with automating library functions and later providing electronic access of information via the Internet. Reclassification appeared to be as passe as Melvil Dewey's spelling improvements.
However, is reclassification really obsolete? In 2002, the Morris Library of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale changed from DDC to LC. (1) If one academic library recently converted from DDC to LC, might other DDC academic libraries be considering switching, too? Conversely, for those academic libraries that remain with DDC, what are the reasons that they continue to do so?
At Oklahoma State University (OSU) Library, a DDC institution and the home of two of the authors of this article, users' awareness of the different classification systems is apparent when faculty and graduate students raise the question, "Why do you continue to use DDC?" That DDC query often results in the library administrators having to explain OSU's choice of remaining a DDC library. Do others academic DDC libraries receive similar comments, and do patron preferences for a classification scheme influence a library's decision to reclassify? This paper examines why DDC libraries remain with DDC, the status of reclassification at these institutions in the United States and Canada, and whether libraries consider the patron in reclassification decisions.
The majority of publications on reclassification appeared during the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1990s, the number of articles on the topic dropped considerably, indicating a loss of interest. The call to reclassify was most often expressed in terms of LC advantages over DDC disadvantages. Downey and Taylor both note the efficiency and economy of using LC-produced catalog cards with an LC classification number already assigned. In contrast, only a minority of cards was produced with DDC numbers. (2)
LC was considered more flexible and expandable, and had shorter numbers than DDC, thus the claim that LC is better suited for academic libraries. Other reasons cited were the numerous revisions in the DDC schedules with each new edition and the local practices that were instituted to compensate for those changes. Without reclassification of the library's existing collection, the new material on the same subject would be scattered.
Later, the influence of the bibliographic utility OCLC aided the cause of switching to LC. Chressanthis notes, "Many libraries thought it a good idea to 'join the bandwagon' and start using LC when joining OCLC." (3) She adds that the bibliographic utility provided easier access to LC cataloging and classification numbers than previously available, as well as assistance in retrospective cataloging. (4) Doughtery stresses the cost factor of reclassification. He notes that the factors influencing a library's decision were size, age, and the organization of the collection, type of library, nature of the building, political environment, and financial support. (5) Gaines and Chressanthis both emphasize the decisions and planning needed by a library that has already decided to reclassify. (6)
Most of the reclassification literature was written in the context of the card catalog environment. However, Dean compares the steps taken to reclassify in a manual and an automated environment. She concludes that utilizing an automated system to help with a reclassification project would make it more feasible, and thus rekindle an interest in reclassification. (7)
Some libraries did take advantage of the automated environment for reclassification projects. Pattie reports her institution, the University of Kentucky, used the NOTIS System for their reclassification project. (8) Other libraries, Pattie notes, such as the Australian National University Law Library, the University of Oregon, and Occidental College, hired vendors for their reclassification projects. (9) Talmadge notes the decision by the University of Illinois against reclassification to LC was in part a matter of the high cost of converting to LC and not wanting to risk jeopardizing the library's relationship with its faculty by having a split collection, which would be more difficult to use. (10)
In addition, LC is not without its own problems. Chressanthis found several reasons: lack of a comprehensive guide to interpret the LC schedules and tables, lack of Cutter numbers in PZ3 and PZ4, the relocation of different class numbers resulting in having to review the number that appeared on the LC printed card in the updated LC schedules, obsolete call numbers reprinted on LC cards, and disagreements with LC's Cuttering and arrangement of translations and other editions to the original work. (11) The impact of the user on reclassification was only briefly mentioned, mostly to address the problem of users having to learn two classification schemes for a split collection. However, the issue of the user was raised early by Moriarty, when he observed:
Don't we classify any more to help the reader get books? In reading Thelma Easton's recent survey of the classification situation in our libraries, I was struck by her comment that apparently so few of us professionals today talk about classification to help the reader; we mainly talk about rapid or cheap classification, that is practical reclassification. (12)
Users do seem to show an interest in reclassification. Pattie reports that during the planning of a new library building at the University of Kentucky, the issue of reclassification arose through discussion with faculty and students, much to the surprise of the administration. (13) Woolf mentions also the support of faculty at Southern Illinois University for their library's switch to LC, but they also raised concerns about having a split collection. (14)
A survey consisting of 24 questions with a cover letter was sent out via e-mail to 126 libraries in fall 2003 (see appendix). These libraries were junior, community, private, and technical colleges, with a few major academic research libraries. The survey sample was relatively small, with only 121 United States and 5 Canadian libraries identified. The survey response rate was 26 percent (34 returned responses) with 33 American libraries and 1 Canadian library participating.
The Statistical Abstract of the United States reports that in 2000, the total number of academic libraries in the United States and Canada was 4,777, a number that includes junior colleges, colleges, and universities. (15) Attempting to compile a list of DDC libraries to sample from such numerous academic libraries proved to be problematic, as no comprehensive list of DDC academic libraries was found; furthermore, these libraries are in the minority, according to OCLC. In an internal research project several years ago, OCLC reported that only 25 percent of colleges and universities in the United States use DDC, while 95 percent of all public and K-12 schools in the United States use it. (16) Therefore, to help ensure an adequate sample size, a broad, working definition of academic library was used for the survey. An academic library was defined as any library serving a post-secondary education campus.
A starting point for compiling a list of DDC academic libraries was OCLC's DDC Online Catalogs Web site, in which numerous academic libraries in the United States, along with their Web addresses, were listed. (17) OCLC'S policy for including these DDC libraries on its Web site is based on a voluntary request on …