January 28, 2022

Library History: Classification: The History of Harvard’s Library, One Spine at a Time

Interesting Library History From A Post On the Staff News Section Of The Harvard Library Web Site:

Today most Harvard libraries use the Library of Congress call number system, but before the adoption of today’s widely used standards, Harvard librarians invented their own. While many users see call numbers only as coordinates to zero in on their item of choice, Houghton reference librarian James Capobianco cracked the codes of the letters, numbers and dots in Harvard’s stacks and shared the results in a recent talk presented as part of the Library’s RTL Shares series.

While the topic might seem esoteric to the layperson, the subject presented a unique approach to delve deep into campus history and architecture, and the Library community seemed to agree. “I thought, oh man, we are such geeks. This says something about you too,” Cabot reference librarian Reed Lowrie joked to the packed crowd in his introduction. “Yes, we are all geeks.”

Early call numbers for the first library at Old Harvard Hall were simple, short and clear: just three numbers separated by periods. The first number indicated the bookcase, the second the shelf number as counted up from the floor, and a third gave the item’s location by numbering volumes on that shelf from the left. For collections in fixed locations, the system worked well. Referencing these call numbers, Capobianco was able to conjecture the floor plans of long-gone buildings, giving a glimpse into life at early Harvard.

Read the Complete Article

View the Slides From James Capobianco’s Presentation

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.