Library Classification Systems


As you all search for a poem to use for Project 1, it will be helpful to recall our class discussion about library classification systems. Our library, like most research libraries in the United States, uses the Library of Congress classification system for most of its collections. You can find a more detailed outline of that system at the Library of Congress webpage. Note that language and literature falls under section P. Within P, you’ll see that collections get grouped according to national tradition, so that PR holds the English (that is, British) literature, while PS holds the American literature. There are other nations represented, but the works in those sections may not be in English. You’ll find the Ps in Holland Library on the third floor.

Our library also has an older collection of books organized by the Dewey Decimal system of classification. That collection is housed in the basement of Terrell library. Like the LC system, the Dewey system organizes literature into different national traditions. However, it does not use letters. See the 800s for literature. American poetry falls under 811, while English (again, British) poetry falls under 821. You can follow the pattern for German (831), French (841), Italian (851), and Spanish (861) poetry.

At this point you’ve probably realized that both the Dewey and the LC classification systems prioritize European traditions. Contemporary librarians work hard to update classification systems to correct against old biases. Unfortunately, this particular bias is entrenched at the level of the system itself, making it impossible to correct without overhauling the entire library—and all other libraries that use the same classification system. Plenty of people argue that it’d be worth the effort to make the library more inclusive and easier to use. After you find your poem, you’ll have some basis for weighing in on those debates, which we can discuss in class. For more on the pros and cons of each classification system, check out this post from


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