By the beginning of this fall semester, Salt Lake Community College’s library will switch from the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), a 10-class numerical system, to the Library of Congress Classification (LCC), a 21-class numerical and alphabetical system.
SLCC had until recently found itself in the minority of libraries that do not use LCC. According to a 2019 Technical Service Quarterly study, approximately 81% of academic libraries in the United States use LCC. Among them is the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah, a school in which SLCC students make up about 40-45% of all incoming transfer students, per data from the university.
Angela Beatie, assistant director of library public services at SLCC, said it does not make sense to teach students DDC when they are likely to transfer to universities that use LCC, like the U of U.
“It is a barrier if we want our students to be successful in higher ed and on, so having a familiarity with the system that they’re going to see would be really beneficial to them,” Beatie said.
Ann Richins, assistant director of content services at SLCC, said they have learned from feedback that the transition from one system to another can be jarring for students.
“It’s like learning a new language,” she said. “We’re suddenly like, ‘Yeah, you’re a new student up there, good luck finding what you need in their collection.’ So, we’re trying to better support all students.”
Jon Glenn, director of library services, has been in library management and administration at SLCC since 2002. He said the switch to LCC had been debated at the college for as long as he can remember.
“While every library director has leaned towards reclassifying to LCC, none could commit to the change,” he said. “The cost-benefit analysis involved looking at a combination of funding, staffing, time, and the level of disruption it [would] have on students.”
Initially, the library did not obtain sufficient funds through the college’s Informed Budget Process to shift to LCC. But following a gradual funding increase starting in 2018 from the Utah Academic Library Consortium — which SLCC is a member of — and help from the Donohue Group Inc. (DGI), the library could finally proceed with the change.
DGI, which provides cataloging services to libraries, updated bibliographic records — which include titles, summaries, subject headings, publishers, years published, International Standard Book Numbers, and recommended call numbers. Without DGI, Richins said, the switch to LCC would have taken several years to complete since only one librarian at the college knows how to reclassify the call numbers.
Amy Scheelke, a librarian at the Markosian Library on the Taylorsville Redwood Campus who used to work at Utah Valley University’s library where LCC is used, expressed excitement for the change.
“I think it will be a really good thing for our students,” she said. “It organizes certain topics in a way that is easier to find.”
Glenn said smaller academic libraries still struggle with the idea of switching from DDC to LCC because it’s a complicated, expensive, and time-consuming effort.
However, in addition to matching surrounding schools, Glenn said the library made the change nonetheless to offer a more inclusive space and system.
“The expansiveness of LCC is probably not necessary for the size of our library,” Glenn said, “but we … wanted to make our system more equitable and inclusive, which isn’t really a question of which system was originally more biased, but rather which system … can be more easily improved upon.”
Glenn said any classification system is rooted in and biased by its creator and the time under which it was created. Glenn added that this applies to DDC and LCC, which were both developed in the United States during the 19th century by academic scholars who were white, male, and Christian.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the American Library Association approved a resolution in 2019 to remove Melvil Dewey’s name from one of the organization’s top awards for librarians, citing his known history as a racist, anti-Semite and sexual predator.
“DDC was created with well-defined categories and hierarchies, which somewhat locked in the worldview of its creator and gave it less flexibility,” Glenn said. “LCC was built for a very large and exponentially growing collection [and] has unrestricted subclasses, which gives it the expandability to grow and adapt.”
Glenn said the library is consulting with individuals traditionally marginalized by both systems to help improve terminology.
The library is also using the classification change as an opportunity to no longer use the very top or bottom shelves, increasing accessibility of the collection for anyone with mobility issues and improving browsability for all patrons.
As a result of the decision, the library had to pare down its collection by about 5% annually from about 2016 to 2021 according to Richins. The library currently contains approximately 43,435 items.
“We have been doing some thoughtful and conscientious efforts to get the collection to an appropriate size because we wanted to make sure we still have the content for students, but that it was at the size that we could actually shift it and make it much more browsable,” Richins said.
Noting that the transition to LCC will be difficult for staff because most have never used LCC, Beatie has begun to hold special trainings.
“It will be a challenge because many of our staff work part-time, so dividing [their] workload in a way that makes sense in terms of things that physically need to get done and learning a new system,” Beatie said.
However, Beatie explained that this change can be a beneficial learning opportunity for the staff.
“It’s a good opportunity for them to learn something new and to learn the history of the way we arrange books [and] the problems that are inherent in these sorts of systems,” she said.
Beatie said the library provides an online training module for staff to practice shelving books in LCC, which takes 20-30 minutes to complete. The library also hosted seminars where library staff were quizzed on different categories.
“My plan for next steps is to gamify training and have staff practice shelving books in the correct order, but as a race,” she said. “This will take 2-3 hours at each of the four campus libraries.”
Beatie said once the project is at some form of completion, the next challenge will be to educate and help students find the items they need. This will involve staff taking on more of a teaching role and the library performing more outreach with their patrons to ease everybody into the new collection.
Richins explained that certain subjects are moving to entirely different sections of the library. For example, history in DDC is found in the 900s, whereas in LCC it is found in the “D” section — exact opposite ends of the collection.
Beatie also said the library is planning to utilize their website to make announcements and quick guides on how to find items in the new system, with major online catalogue improvements coming in the fall.