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Charles Ammi Cutter

Charles Ammi Cutter (March 14, 1837 – September 6, 1903) was an American librarian. Cutter was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His aunt was an employee of the regional library in Boston. In 1856 Cutter was enrolled into Harvard Divinity School. He was appointed assistant librarian of the divinity school while still a student there and served in that capacity from 1857 to 1859. During that time, Cutter began designing a distinct cataloging schema for the library's outdated system. The catalog, dating from 1840, had a lack of order after the acquisition of 4,000 volumes from the collection of Professor Gottfried Christian Friedrich Lücke of University of Göttingen, which added much depth to the Divinity School Library's collection. During the 1857-58 school year, Cutter rearranged the library collection on the shelves into broad subject categories along with classmate Charles Noyes Forbes. During the winter break of 1858-59, they arranged the collection into a single listing alphabetically by author. This project was finished by the time Cutter graduated in 1859. By 1860 Cutter was already a seasoned staff member of the library and a full-time librarian. He became a journeyman to the chief cataloger and assistant librarian to Dr. Ezra Abbot. At Harvard College Cutter developed a new form of index catalog, using cards instead of published volumes, containing both an author index and a "classed catalog" or a rudimentary form of subject index. In 1868 the Boston Athenæum library elected Cutter as its head librarian. His first assignment was to organize and aggregate the inventory of the library and develop a catalog from that and to publish a complete dictionary catalog for their collection. The previous librarian and assistants had been working on this, but much of the work was sub par and, according to Cutter, needed to be redone. This did not sit well with the trustees who wanted to get a catalog published as soon as possible. However, the catalog was revised and published in five volumes known as the Athenæum Catalogue. Cutter was the librarian at the Boston Athenaeum for twenty-five years.

Video Title: Charles Ammi Cutter: A Significant Cataloguer

Creator: Anne Welsh (University College, London)

Original Published Date: Nov 26, 2013


The shared vision of information organization has been guided by principles. One of the most influential is Charles Cutter’s “Objects of the Catalogue,” first published in 1876 in his Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalogue. He discussed what we expect our retrieval tools to do. If we look closely, we can see that subject and genre/form access were considered by Cutter to be important functions of the catalog. 

1. To enable a person to find a book of which either:

 (a) the author is known
 (b) the title is known.
 (c) the subject is known

2. To show what the library has:

 (d) by a given author
 (e) on a given subject
 (f) in a given kind of literature

3. To assist in the choice of a book:

 (g) as to its edition (bibliographically)
 (h) as to its character (literary or topical)


  1. Wikipedia, "Charles Ammi Cutter," (accessed January 19, 2019).


Article Title
  • Charles Ammi Cutter
Website Name
  • Librarianship Studies & Information Technology
Last Updated
  • 2020-03-17
Original Published Date
  • 2019-02-01

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