With open shelves and subject browsing, a lack of browsing and searching time, issues with technology access, and youth’s lack of familiarity with the technology, the catalog is often the last place patrons go to find something. School librarians frequently rely on their own memories and knowledge of the collection and patrons rely on browsing within subject areas. If a book is cataloged to one of these “black holes” of Dewey, it usually gets missed. I find that the literature— the 800s— is a prime example of a Dewey black hole.
Most literature call numbers in an American school library fall between 800-829 which encompass general and collected works regardless of origin (800-809), American and Canadian literature in English (810-819), and English and Commonwealth literature originally written in English (820-829). All other European literatures are broken down by language family in 830-880 and other “world” literatures in 890-899. Within those ranges literature is broken down by genre and then by century. “Collections” are further designated by .08 or .008 depending on the rules in the manual. The genre breakdown is this:
8X0 – general and collected works
8X1 – poetry and its history and criticism
8X2 – drama and its history and criticism
8X3 or, usually, [Fic] – fiction and its history and criticism
8X4 – essays
8X5 – speeches
8X6 – letters
8X7 – humor and satire
8X8 – miscellaneous
8X9 – specific local
Seems simple enough, but in most school libraries your shelflist looks something like this:
808 – “how to write books”, and collections and short stories
808.008 – collections and short stories
808.8 – collections and short stories
810 – collections and short stories
810.008 – collections and short stories
810.8 – collections and short stories
811 – poetry
811.008 – poetry collections
811.08 – poetry collections
811.5-811.6 – poetry
812 – 812.6 – plays
813-813.6 – random books about famous books or authors; maybe a classic novel or two; short stories
818 – joke and riddle books
819 – random, weird stuff (that should probably be weeded!)
The 820s breaks down pretty much the same way, only less numerous and with a bunch of Shakespeare related things at 822. The rest of the range, 830-899 holds a few tales from Homer and other writers, a few bilingual or foreign language titles, some translations from China or Japan, and one or two titles written by Native Americans. Basically, it may be a mess. Below are some simple suggestions to bring some order to the chaos.
All titles that end up [Fic] do have a Dewey number. It’s generally 813 with a sprinkling of the other 8X3’s thrown in here and there depending on what language and/or where the text was originally written. For ease of understanding at this point almost all novel-length fiction written in English is universally cataloged as [Fic] when Library of Congress catalogers are assigning Dewey classes. You may get exceptions for very old titles that were originally cataloged with the Dewey number and some translations or adaptations of plays into novels may show up in another 8X3 number.
My Recommendation: For any 8X3 title that is just a prose story or novel in verse written in English, and is not history or criticism, catalog to Fiction. In a K-8 library, move a book of history or criticism to 809. At the high school level leave history and criticism as cataloged.
A note on non-English fiction collections: If it’s bilingual, put it in Fiction, otherwise, leave it in the 8X3. If you have a large non-English collection of fiction, especially if you are serving a bilingual or immersion program you may want to establish a separate “Fiction” collection in that language rather than using a Dewey number. In Cambridge we have Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese sublocations in our bilingual immersion schools with FIC as the fiction call number.
Lately I’ve been recommending to librarians that they just move any English-language poetry categorized in 8X1 to 811 (.008 if it’s a collection of multiple authors). It’s up to you what you want to do with any bilingual or non-English language titles. In Cambridge bilingual titles go into 811 and we leave non-English titles in their Dewey classes. The decimal within poetry (roughly 8X1.3-8X1.6) denotes the century the author wrote most of their works in, in American and English literature classes. For American poetry the breakdown you may see is:
.4 – 19th century
.5 - 20th century
.52 - early 20th century
.54 - late 20th century
.6 - 21st century
My Recommendation: in K-8 schools catalog to 811. In high schools it’s up to you. I catalog to the second decimal place. I don’t think the librarians are happy about that, but I used to be an English major so I can’t help it. I promise I’ll come around eventually.
SHORT STORIES and OTHER COLLECTIONS
My god, what a chaotic incomprehensible mess! It seems like squirrels have cataloged this stuff, am I right? It’s all over the place, that’s because cataloging collections depends on language, geographical and/or historical origins of the pieces, genre, author or authors, theme or survey of the overall collection, skill and depth of subject knowledge of the cataloger, and local practices. Actually, ALL cataloging depends on those things and more, but literature collections seem to never get cataloged the same title the same way.
My Recommendation: just pick a number or a scheme for however you want to break it down and stick with it. In Cambridge K-8 libraries, our breakdown is roughly this:
808 – books on “how to write”
808.8 – short story collections by more than one author
[Fic] – short story collections or collected works by the same author (if known primarily for prose)
810.8 – collections of more than one type of literary genre by more than one author
811.008 – poetry collections by more than one author
811 – poetry by one author in English
Our high school collection is more complex and, admittedly, not very coherent. It’s a project we haven’t the energy to tackle right now. If a Cambridge school serves a bilingual or immersion population, literature in that language runs roughly the same way within that language’s literature number. I tend to leave out the decimal designators, .8 or .008, in non-English collections because they aren’t big enough to be worth the parsing and, as stated before, we use FIC rather than an 8X3 number. “SC” or “Story” instead of or in addition to a Dewey number is fine. Go with what works for short stories.
OTHER 82X-89X NUMBERS
My Recommendation: For plays, jokes and other things in English that end up outside of 800-819 I recommend just moving them into [Fic] if it’s a novel or the corresponding 81X number. For criticism and history move to 809.
As I said at the beginning, these are just my personal recommendations for how to make an overly complicated system more accessible to students and teachers alike without reinventing the wheel or going completely rogue. How you handle literatures and genres in any given library depends on collection and population. If you’ve figured out a good way to handle literature in your library, let me know. Leave a comment.