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Library of Congress Classification (LCC) History and Development


The Library of Congress was established in 1800 when the American legislatures were preparing to move from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington, D.C. Its earliest classification system was by size and, within each size group, by accession number. First recorded change in the arrangement of the collection appeared in the library’s third catalog, issued in 1808, which showed added categories for special bibliographic forms such as legal documents and executive papers².

On the night of August 24, 1814, during the war of 1812, British soldiers set fire to the Capitol, and most of the Library of Congress’s collections were destroyed. Sometimes after, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell to Congress his personal library; subsequently, in 1815, the Congress purchased Jefferson’s personal library of 6,487 books. The books arrived already classified by Jefferson’s own system. The library adopted this system and used it with some modifications until the end of the nineteenth century³.

The Library of Congress moved to a new building in 1897. By this time, the Library’s collection had grown to one and a half million volumes and it was decided that Jefferson’s classification system was no longer adequate for the collection. A more detailed classification scheme was required for such a huge and rapidly growing collection of documents. The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), Cutter’s Expansive Classification and the German Halle Schema were studied, but none was considered suitable. It was decided to construct a new system to be called the Library of Congress Classification (LCC). James C.M. Hanson, Head of the Catalog Division, and Charles Martel, Chief Classifier, were made responsible for developing the new scheme. Hanson and Martel concluded that the new classification should be based on Cutter’s Expansive Classification⁴ as a guide for the order of classes, but with a considerably modified notation. Work on the new classification began in 1901.  The first outline of the Library of Congress Classification was published in 1904 by Charles Martel and J.C.M. Hanson – the two fathers of Library of Congress Classification. Class Z (Bibliography and Library Science) was chosen to be the first schedule to be developed. The next schedules, E-F (American history and geography), were developed. But E-F were the first schedules to be published, in 1901, followed by Z in 1902. Other schedules were progressively developed. Each schedule of LCC contains an entire class, a subclass, or a group of subclasses. The separate schedules were published in print volumes, as they were completed. All schedules were published by 1948, except the Class K (Law). The first Law schedule—the Law of United States, was published in 1969, and the last of the Law schedules to publish was KB—Religious law, which appeared in 2004.

From the beginning, individual schedules of LCC have been developed and maintained by subject experts. Such experts continue to be responsible for additions and changes in LCC. The separate development of individual schedules meant that, unlike other classification systems, LCC was not the product of one mastermind; indeed, LCC has been called “a coordinated series of special classes”⁵.

Until the early 1990s, LCC schedules existed mainly as a print product. The conversion of LCC to machine-readable form began in 1993 and was completed in 1996. The conversion to electronic form was done using USMARC (now called MARC21) Classification Format. This was a very important development for LCC, as it enabled LCC to be consulted online and much more efficient production of the print schedules.

In the year 2013, the Library of Congress announced a transition to online-only publication of its cataloging documentation, including the Library of Congress Classification. It was decided, the Library’s Cataloging Distribution Service (CDS) will no longer print new editions of its subject headings, classification schedules, and other cataloging publications. The Library decided to provide free downloadable PDF versions of LCC schedules. For users desiring enhanced functionality, the Library’s two web-based subscription services, Cataloger’s Desktop and Classification Web will continue as products from CDS. Classification Web is a web-based tool for LCC and LCSH. It supports searching and browsing of the LCC schedules and provides links to the respective tables to build the class numbers for library resources. LC has also developed training materials on the principles and practices of LCC and made those available for free on its website.

Library of Congress Classification (LCC)