On the Classification of Books and Text Files, Particularly Fiction

(c) 1992 by Jim Henry III

   .The purpose of this essay
   .Some personal experiences
   .Classification of text files
   .Libraries' Removal from Reality
   .Sampling method used


This essay is about how publishers, bookstores and libraries go about classifying books, how bulletin-board services (BBS's) classify textfiles, how readers with more than a few books classify their collections, and what merits there are in their respective systems. It also considers whether bookstores, librarians, and BBS sysops can learn anything from one another in the way they sort books and text files.

Some Personal Experiences

A couple of years ago I decided to spend some of my spare time sorting, arranging, and cataloging all the books our family owns. I began with my own books, which I had been sorting by different arrangements since I was eight or nine years old. At different times, I had my books arranged by publisher, by author, by title, by genre or type, and not sorted at all. At last I settled upon sorting all the fiction strictly by author, not separating science fiction from miscellaneous fiction, and putting my nonfiction together in shelf categories based roughly on the Dewey Decimal system. Eventually I got the idea of arranging all our family's books by subject and author in just this way, and cataloging them all by title, author, and subject in a database file. I received some encouragement, though no help (not that I asked for any) from my parents and sister. I traversed the house, toting large stacks of books to the computer to be cataloged, and then putting them back where I found them. When I had seen what all sorts of books we had in the house, I began devising a system to arrange them all rationally. At that time, there was some fiction in every room of the house, and the nonfiction was similarly scattered. So I started by taking all the fiction from all over the house (except for each of our personal favorites, which stayed in the bedrooms), sorting it by author, and putting it all on just two bookcases. The nonfiction I sorted out, roughly, into the Dewey Decimal categories; the more books we had in a given area, the deeper I went in sorting them. I had science and mathematics in my room; economics, politics, language, literature, biography, health, all in their own places in the computer room; devotional and theological books and bibles (other than our personal bibles) all together in the living room, and so on. When I had been at this for several days, my mother inquired how things were going with it, and I showed her how I had arranged things. She expressed pleasure, but had a few nits to pick: to wit, several books with beautiful bindings (the Gustave Dore edition of Dante's Divine Comedy and the New York Times Book of Money among others) had been placed with other books of the same sort (epic poems and economics respectively) instead of in prominent view of guests in the living room; and a number of tattered old paperbacks, which happened to be of a theological or devotional persuasion, *were* in prominent view of guests in the living room. This situation had to be remedied. I argued as much as I could without dishonoring my parents, and perhaps more; but to no avail.

On another occasion my sister Ynza hired me to sort out her books, and told me how she would like them sorted. She wanted most of the fiction sorted by the author's name, but with a couple of exceptions: books of cartoons and comics (Peanuts, Archie, etc.) were to be separate, as were decision novels (Time Machine, Choose Your Own Adventure, Grailquest, etc.). I sorted them thus and they have been shelved that way most of the time since.

During my first visit to a friend's apartment, I looked over his shelves of books and inquired by what method he had sorted them. He asked if I could figure it out by inspecting the shelves for myself; so I went to the job. Parts of it were easy to see. Books by G.K. Chesterton on all subjects were shelved together, and books by C.S. Lewis were all together on another shelf. Below this were two or three shelves of miscellaneous Christian books, followed by a shelf of different Bible translations. On another bookcase there were books on economics and political science; below this were non-Christian philosophers. There was a shelf of science fiction and non-fiction about science fiction, which did not seem to be sorted by author. Then there was a shelf of books of all sorts -- philosophy, government, fiction, theology, devotion, and several other matters. In another room was another shelf of miscellaneous books, most but not all fiction.

I spoke to him again and asked if my observations were correct, and asked particularly about the two shelves which seemed to be a hodgepodge of unrelated books. He affirmed most of my observations, adding that he sorted the Christian books into theology and devotion; with the devotional books shelved more handy to his reading chair, as he had been neglecting them of late. As for the two hodgepodge shelves, he said that the one was all books which he had bought recently and hadn't read yet; the other was old and rare books.


   .Fiction and Literature
   .Forms and Genres
   .Marketing Categories
   .Bookstores' and libraries' shelving convenience policies
   .Should science fiction and fantasy be shelved separately?
   .Myths and legends
   ."Classics and Literature"
   .Series by more than one author
   .Anthologies of several authors
   .Sorting by genre: difficulties
   .Ways libraries sort fiction
   .Should essays, letters and diaries be placed with fiction?
   .Problems about sorting by nationality of author
   .Literary criticism

One of the main shelving classifications used by libraries is "Literature." It is supposed to include books of essays (but not if the essays are all on the same subject), letters and diaries, poetry, satire, drama, novels, short stories, and jokes.

I have tried to figure out what essays have in common with fiction, what letters and diaries have in common with fiction, and why nonfiction written in verse should be placed with fiction written in verse. My sister suggested it might be that essays are subjective, so they should go with fiction. But all books are subjective to some degree. Man can't write something completely objective no matter how hard he tries. I have seen some relatively objective essays placed with Literature while some very subjective essays, which were all on the same subject, were shelved with that subject. Perhaps the generalities would be a better place for miscellaneous essays, rather than "Literature."

Diaries and letters are more like autobiography than fiction. So whether they should be placed with fiction depends on how the library shelves biography. See the section on Biography under Nonfiction, below.

It seems that fiction (i.e., narrative) poems should probably go near prose fiction. Whether nonfiction poems (lyric poetry) should be placed near prose fiction is less clear. Maybe we can consider them as essays written in verse? If so, perhaps they should be placed next to the miscellaneous essays in the generalities. Or, perhaps, within the "Literature" shelves we could have separate shelvings for nonfiction poems and narrative poems.

It will first be good to note two ways of separating fiction: by forms, and by genres.

Forms are such as Joke, Parable, Poetry (Epic, Lyric, Comic), Novel, Short story, Drama (Plays, whether for stage, radio, or television), and Satire. Other forms include Decision novels [1], Role-playing game scenarios [2], Computer adventure games [3], and Hypernovels [4]. These latter forms have been invented but lately and have not yet been recognised in classification systems by libraries. However, many bookstores recognise them as distinct forms and shelve them separately.

Genres, on the other hand, include Historical (Gothic, Western), Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Genres are similar to Marketing Categories, which are used by publishers and bookstores. However, sorting by genre means placing books of a similar nature together, while sorting by Marketing Category means placing books likely to be bought by the same readers together. For example, when sorting by Marketing Category one would place non-fiction about science fiction together with science fiction, and some non-fiction by authors known for their science fiction would be placed with science fiction, such as Robert Heinlein's book about his travels around the world, Tramp Royale.

Some Marketing Categories used by publishers and bookstores include Horror, Gothic, Western, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Romance, War, Mystery, and Historical. Children's Fiction is usually shelved separately; but it is not as often subdivided by genre as grown-up books are. Rather, it is subdivided by age group or reading level. Young-Adult fiction for young teenagers and older children is often shelved separately as well. Remarkable things I see here are that Horror, which deals as often as not with the supernatural, is not always classed with other fantasy; and Westerns and Gothics are numerous enough to often be in a separate shelf from other Historical Novels.

Both bookstores and libraries usually shelve new books in a special place, often up front in a prominent spot, until they are displaced by still newer books. Bookstores often place books which are on sale in a prominent spot, unsorted by category. It may be said that new books and reduced-price books are considered separate marketing categories in their own right.

To conserve shelf and floor space, bookstores usually place hardbacks and trade paperbacks of a particular genre on a top shelf above standard-sized paperbacks of the same subject or genre. Both retail and used book stores do this. Libraries, on the other hand, usually have shelves tall enough for all but the very tallest books, and if a book is too tall even for this shelf it may be shelved lying on its back to avoid placing it in an oversized books section. However, some libraries have oversized book sections and indicate in a book's card catalog entry that it is shelved in the oversized book section.

The question has been raised whether science fiction and fantasy should be shelved separately from one another, rather than together as they are in most bookstores and many libraries. The usual objection, which seems to me very strong, is that many books treat traditional fantasy plot elements scientifically, many more books treat traditional science fiction plot elements unscientifically, and many more deliberately mix science fiction and fantasy plot elements, sometimes using the concept of alternate worlds which is common to both fantasy and science fiction; and all these trends tend to make it difficult for readers (much less bookstore managers and librarians, who have not time to read every book through) to say whether some books are fantasy, or science fiction. In addition, many readers enjoy both science fiction and fantasy. However, with this reason we are treating "science fiction and fantasy" as a marketing category rather than one or two genres.

Books of myths and legends also pose a sort of problem. These fall into at least two main categories: those treating them as ancient religions, and those treating them as collections of stories. Books of the latter sort should, it seems to me, be placed with fantasy and science fiction, or with children's fiction, and not with books on religion (as libraries do) or "Classics and Literature" (as most bookstores do). Of course, there is a fair amount of overlap between the two categories, and perhaps all books on mythology should be shelved together, since it is sometimes difficult to tell which class a book falls into without reading the whole thing, which librarians and bookstore managers scarcely have time for.

One category used by bookstores is "Classics and Literature". It commonly includes most of the oldest fiction, most of the poetry, recent fiction praised by literary critics, and sometimes old books on history, philosophy and miscellaneous subjects. A more appropriate unifying title might be "Books Likely to be Assigned for School Reading," though that might be a bit unwieldy. Perhaps old books which are not fiction should not be placed here.

Publishers have an advantage in that they can place an entry for a book under several headings in the catalog when there is some uncertainty about which category it fits best in. Libraries have a similar advantage with their card catalog, in which a book has at least three entries (for author, title, and subject) and sometimes more (if by multiple authors or on multiple subjects).

A characteristic difference of libraries and bookstores may be seen in the way they shelve series of books by more than one author. Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Dragonlance novels; Oz, The Three Investigators, and Horatio Hornblower; all were or are written by several authors. Most bookstores place all the books in these series together, sometimes according to the author who began the series, sometimes according to the series title. Libraries, on the other hand, treat these books as works of the author who wrote each particular book, and not (as bookstores may be said to do) as collaborations with the authors of other books in the series, particularly with the author who began the series. In this way Star Trek novels are shelved in two dozen different places, Oz in two places, the Three Investigators in three or four, and so on. In addition, the fact that few libraries have subject information on fiction means that one cannot search in the card catalog for "Star Trek" and find all the authors whose Star Trek novels are in this library: one must browse carefully through all the shelves of science fiction, or, worse still, all the shelves of fiction.

Some of the reasons for this are plain. Bookstores depend more immediately and directly on their customers' satisfaction, and shelve the books where their readers expect to find them. Libraries, on the other hand, as many are operated by the government, are only indirectly affected by their customers' wants, and many may not have given this problem the thought it deserves; also, many of the series I have mentioned are considered "vulgar" or "popular" fiction, and are seen as less a reason for the library's existence than the "serious" fiction and the non-fiction.

In all the libraries I have observed personally, fiction books are arranged by author without any exception being made for series which are written by more than one author. However, I have heard that some libraries do make an exception for them.

Whether libraries should try to imitate bookstores more in this matter is open to some question. It may be argued that it is too difficult and time-consuming difficult to keep track of all the series written by more than one author, and to decide whether to shelve each one according to the series' creator's name or according to the series title. I may modestly comment that the bookstore managers, whose livelihood is at stake, don't think it is too much trouble.

With some (Oz and the Three Investigators) I would favour using the series's creator's name (L. Frank Baum and Robert Arthur respectively), but with those such as Star Trek (Gene Roddenberry, who created the series, only wrote one of the novels) I am not sure that this is the best course. Some bookstores shelve Star Trek by its series title among the authors in the science fiction section. Others place Star Trek at the end of the science fiction section. These observations apply also to Doctor Who, Dragonlance, and some other series.

How should anthologies of fiction by several authors be shelved? Most libraries and bookstores shelve them with the fiction, by the editor's name. Libraries place some anthologies in the 800's and some in the popular fiction. A few place all such anthologies at the head of the fiction, and sort them there by title or by the editor's name. It seems that this last method is perhaps best. Perhaps it might be better to subdivide them according to their themes, whether general (Best Short Stories of the Year), more specific (Best Science Fiction of the Year), or more specific still (12 Classic Time-Travel Stories); but to do this consistently and systematically would require an extensive analysis of the actual and possible themes, perhaps as extensive as the analyses of all knowledge found in the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal Systems.

If we decide that all multi-author anthologies are to be placed together, then we still have to decide how they are to be sorted within this grouping -- whether by the editor's name, or by the title. Sorting by the title has this merit: that it places all anthologies in a single series together, even if the different anthologies in the series have been edited by different people. For example, the Nebula Awards anthologies have been edited by several different authors, but when multi-author anthologies are sorted by title all the Nebula Awards stories are placed together.

There is also some merit in placing an entry in the card catalog for every author represented in the anthology, as well as for the editor. (I hear some librarians shudder as they think of "100 Short Short Science Fiction Stories".) However, there would need to be a way to show that the anthology is shelved with anthologies under the title or editor's name, whichever the library uses, and not with the author's fiction.

Bookstores (and the publishers, and most readers) place J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, David Eddings's Belgariad, and Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle with fantasy. However, many libraries place them with the general fiction. Dover Books places G.K. Chesterton's The Club of Queer Trades and The Man Who Was Thursday with other mysteries in their mail-order catalog; however, some libraries place them with general fiction. There is also some confusion about such novels as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain, Time and Again by Jack Finney, and Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp. They are time travel stories, but also historical novels; should they be shelved with science fiction or with historical novels or general fiction? Hal Clement's Needle and Larry Niven's The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton are usually shelved with science fiction but there is some reason to shelve them with mysteries. Disagreements and confusions such as these are the main reason in favour of placing all fiction together, and not separating science fiction and fantasy, mystery, and so on from the general fiction.

Next we shall consider the several systems libraries use to sort fiction. The Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal systems each have two provisions, one for "serious fiction" and one for "popular fiction." The Library of Congress system sorts first by the nationality or language of the author [5], then by the author's last name. Books of all forms (poetry, novels, etc.) by a single author are shelved together, sorted by title. For popular fiction, the Library of Congress system sorts first into authors who began writing before 1950, and authors who began writing after that date. Within each group it sorts by author's name and then by title. The Dewey Decimal system sorts first by the nationality or language of the author [5], then into several forms: poetry, drama, novels and stories, humour and satire, letters, diaries, and essays [6]. Within each form classification, it sorts books by the author's name.

Both the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems place essays, diaries, and collections of letters together with the different kinds of fiction, which seems a bit odd. Essays are nonfiction, and letters and diaries are much more like autobiography than they are like fiction. It seems more logical that books of essays on several subjects should go with the "generalities" or miscellanies, and letters and diaries should go with biography and autobiography.

It seems that sorting by form is much easier than sorting by genre, considering the disagreements and confusions above noted. However, which meets readers' needs better is less clear. There is something to be said for having, say, science fiction poetry placed with science fiction short stories.

Sorting fiction by language is a fairly straightforward matter, and it is a minor question whether to place translations with the language of the original or the language into which translated. (Most libraries place translations with the language of the original.) Sorting by nationality is somewhat more difficult. J.R.R. Tolkien lived in England most of his life but was born in South Africa. Isaac Asimov lived in America most of his life but was born in Russia. W.H. Auden was born in England and began writing there; he moved to America and continued writing until he died. Rudyard Kipling was born in India, lived in England awhile, lived in India again and began writing there, lived in England again, then in America, then in England again, and lived in South Africa for awhile too, besides extensive travels in other places, writing all the way.

Besides, sorting fiction by the nationality of the author does not seem to me so useful to the reader as dividing genres from the general fiction, despite the problems of when to distinguish mystery or science fiction from general fiction and when to leave it there. Isaac Asimov (an American Jew) has more in common with Arthur C. Clarke (an Englishman living in Sri Lanka) than he has with, say, Chaim Potok (another American Jew); at least their fiction has more in common.

Considering these difficulties regarding sorting by nationality, and the previously mentioned difficulties in sorting by genre, it is no wonder that many libraries think it is best to put all fiction together. (The Stockbridge library has recently decided to place all fiction together, where formerly it was divided by genre.)

Where should nonfiction about fiction (also known as literary criticism) be placed? In its own place beside the fiction but not mixed in with it, or mixed in with it? And, if mixed in with it, how should they be sorted together?

The Library of Congress system places specific literary criticism (books about a particular author's books) immediately after the author's books. For instance, first come all G.K. Chesterton's fiction and essays, then all nonfiction books about Chesterton's books. The Dewey Decimal system has a less fortunate way of shelving literary criticism. As books are shelved within each classification number (such as 823 for English novels and stories), they are sorted by the author's name. Thus, a book by Lin Carter about J.R.R. Tolkien's stories would not be shelved with Tolkien's books, but with Carter's other books about English novels and stories.

Bookstores sometimes use a similar system to the Library of Congress method. For example, nonfiction books about Star Trek are usually shelved with the Star Trek novels.


   .Computer programming, telecommunications, computer applications
   .Essays, Letters, Diaries
   .Biography and Autobiography

In the Dewey Decimal system the 000's are "Generalities;" books about broad subjects like the nature of knowledge, books about many different subjects (such as encyclopaedias), and books of library science. As cybernetics is considered to be a branch of the study of knowledge, and is shelved with the "Generalities," *computer programming* has been considered a branch of cybernetics, and shelved with the generalities. (001.64) This is not right. Computer programming is an applied science, a useful art. It should go with the 600's, which includes agriculture, mechanics, and manufacturing. With it should go, perhaps, books on telecommunications and on various computer operating systems and application software. This should be taken into account in the next edition of the Dewey Decimal system. The Library of Congress systems puts computer programming in QA, near mathematics. I don't know where the Library of Congress system puts all books on application software; some of it (desktop publishing) goes in Z, library science.

Both the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems place essays, letters, and diaries with fiction and poetry. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Are essays fiction? Are letters and diaries? Is a man ever more honest and truthful than when he writes in his diary which he hopes will never be published until he is too dead to be embarrassed by it? But libraries place diaries with fiction. How about if we start placing them (and letters as well) with autobiography? And as for books of essays, which often treat of many different subjects, and in an informal way, even so they are not fiction. Perhaps they should be placed with generalities such as books of trivia and encyclopaedic works, instead.

Bookstores sometimes place books of essays with "classics and literature," and sometimes in a place of their own.

Biography and autobiography are usually treated similarly, whether by bookstores or by libraries. From here on I shall call them both "biography."

If all biographies are placed together (and they are not always), they are usually sorted by the name of the subject. Some bookstores do this.

The Dewey Decimal system advises placing biography with the subject or discipline the person is associated with. Some libraries using the Library of Congress system do the same thing. In the Library of Congress system biographies of fiction authors are placed with fiction written by the author.

Should biographies be divided according the kinds of men they are about, scientists, preachers, politicians, writers, etc.? Probably not, since so many men are difficult to pigeonhole like that. Is Albert Schweitzer a missionary or a philosopher? Is Benjamin Franklin a scientist, an entrepreneur, a humourist, or a statesman? Yet the Dewey Decimal system asks librarians to pigeonhole men every time they shelve a new biography. Shelving all biography together, sorted by the subject's name, is more sensible and less presumptuous.

Classification of Text Files

   .How BBS's do it now
   .How general-purpose BBS's ought to do it
   .How text-file BBS's ought to do it
   .Hypertext books and hypertext software
   .Text files in bookstores and libraries

How should bulletin-board services (BBS's) classify and sort the text files which they offer for download by their users?

Many BBS's have a single directory for text files, and sometimes one more for text files relating to the BBS's focus: for example, general text files and role-playing game text files. Some have no text file directory at all, which is a major oversight.

Probably the exact method of classification should depend on the number of text files a BBS offers. If more than about 5 or 10 text files fall into a single classification category, a new file directory should be added for them; assuming that the BBS software allows enough file directories to do this.

I would recommend that general-purpose BBS's use at least three directories for text files: one for computer-related nonfiction, one for other nonfiction, and one for fiction and humour. If a BBS has a particular focus or specialty, of course one or more directories should be added for text files relating to the focus. And if the sysop of a BBS wishes to specialise in textfiles and hypertext, he would do well to have many directories containing different nonfiction subjects and fiction genres. Probably he will want to go deeper in classifying computer-related nonfiction than general bookstores or most libraries do. For example, he may wish to have several sets of directories with technical text files about different operating systems. In general, the problems of a BBS sysop who wishes to specialise in text files (may his tribe increase!) are very like those of a bookstore manager or librarian, with a few added difficulties: as, how to sort by author, when the BBS software is designed to sort by filename or by upload date. Perhaps he can encourage uploaders to include the name of the file's author in the description, so that other users can do a text search for the author's name and find the file.

Hypertext books should probably be placed in the same directories as text files. Hypertext reader software should perhaps go in the same directory with text file utilities, or perhaps (if there are many of them) in a separate directory for hypertext software. Of course, each file requiring a particular hypertext reader should say so in its file description.

Since hypertext books are limited to a single operating system, and potential readers who use a different operating system or a different kind of computer than the author cannot read such hypertext books, probably sysops should encourage uploaders to upload books in plain text as well as in hypertext format, out of consideration for users of other operating systems.

Bookstores and libraries should take advantage of the large amounts of reading matter available as textfiles on BBS's and online services, and take an active role in making some of these textfiles available for printout to their customers and patrons. Or they may want to make many text files available on a hard disk and allow their customers to come in with blank disks and copy off text files to take home.

Libraries' Removal from Reality

A curious thing about libraries in our society today is that nearly all of them, whether they are run by governments, non-profit organisations, or even businesses, are not directly accountable to their readers. Government-run libraries can listen to patrons' suggestions if they like, but they are under little incentive to do so, since the tax money will continue coming in regardless of how well they serve their patrons. Non-profit organisations are accountable to those who donate to them, who may not be the same persons as those who patronise their libraries. And most libraries run by businesses are part of private schools and colleges, and, thus, select books with a view to their customers' educations. Their customers have paid for education, not for reading pleasure, and the librarians use the expert judgement they have been paid for to decide which books are most useful to their customers' education.

It doesn't seem that this is a necessary property of organisations lending rather than selling books. Consider the numerous videotape stores which both rent and sell all sorts of videotapes. It is possible for a store to both rent and sell books, though whether it would be profitable in the presence of so many government-subsidised libraries is unknown and probably varies from one area to another. Whether such library stores would find it most expedient to sell an annual membership which allows customers to check out so many books for so many weeks, or charge a separate rental fee for every book checked out, or some combination of the two, can only be found out by experiment. Also, they may wish to allow customers to pay all or part of the membership or rental fees by trading in used books. They may wish to offer additional incentives, such as: older books may be checked out longer (perhaps four weeks rather than the traditional two); five or six years' membership fees up front will buy a lifetime subscription; library members may buy books in the store at a discount; and so on.

Another possibility is that of privatising the public libraries: that is, selling this branch of the state or county government to one or more private persons or companies, who will then run the libraries as they see fit. These private persons and companies will have to serve their customers well, or they will lose money. Under this system, those paying for the library's services are the same people who benefit from the services. Such is not the case in most counties of America today. The taxpayers of the county (mostly the land-owners, and to a lesser degree the people who spend money in retail stores in the county) pay for the library; but the bookworms of the county are the main ones who benefit from its services.

Sampling Method Used

Libraries which I have observed mainly: Dekalb, Henry, and Clayton counties; Clayton State College and Emory University; Fernbank Elementary and Stockbridge Jr. High School.

Bookstores which I have observed mainly: The Book End, B. Dalton, Zondervan's, Waldenbooks, Cole's, Oxford and Oxford Too, the Book Nook, Wall's Paperback Exchange (special thanks to Ganelle Wall), Kendall's Books, Read Once, Fischer's, and the Moth's Wing.

BBS's whose text file directories I have observed: Disktop Publishing Association, Faster-than-Light, Pallas Athena, Poorly Sick World (special thanks to Jeffrey Scott).

When I use the words "all," "most," "some," "a few," and so forth with respect to libraries and bookstores, I speak with regard to several years of wandering and browsing in the libraries and bookstores above mentioned, and often thinking of their systems and comparing them. In a few places I have been able to supplement this experience with information from people in other areas of the country about their hometown's library.

Appendix A

Dewey Decimal System Overview

000 -- Generalities and Library Science
100 -- Philosophy and psychology
200 -- Religion and mythology [7]
300 -- Sociology, politics, economics, law, education, etc.
400 -- Languages
500 -- Pure sciences: mathematics, physics, astronomy, etc.
600 -- Applied sciences: mechanics, management, agriculture.
700 -- Fine arts: painting, sculpture, music, drama.
800 -- Literature: anthologies, poems, jokes, novels and short
       stories, essays, satires, jokes, speeches, letters, diaries.
900 -- History [8], geography, biography [9].

Appendix B

Library of Congress System Overview [10]

A -- Generalities
B -- Philosophy, psychology, theology, mythology
C-F -- History
G -- Geography, anthropology, recreation [11]
H -- Economics, sociology, etc.
J -- Political science
K -- Law
L -- Education
M -- Music
N -- Fine arts
P -- Literature and Fiction
Q -- Sciences, including mathematics and computer programming
R -- Medical science
S -- Agriculture
T -- Technology
U -- Military science
V -- Naval science
Z -- Library Science and Bibliographies

Appendix C

Suggested file directories for text-file BBS's [12]

--- Software ---
Text file utilities (such as Vernon Buerg's LIST)
Hypertext software (such as Iris, LookBook, etc.)

--- Computer nonfiction ---
DOS information (also Macintosh and Amiga)
Information on various applications (including shareware reviews)
Security (The Hack Report, virus information, etc.)
Telecommunications information (includes guides for new BBSers, info
     on online services, emoticon dictionaries, etc.)
BBS lists
Programming (perhaps subdivided by language)
Hardware (perhaps subdivided by IBM, Macintosh, Amiga)
Game hints

--- Other Nonfiction ---
Miscellaneous and General nonfiction
Religion (perhaps subdivided by Christian, Jewish, Hindu, etc.)  See
     also Myths and Legends under Fiction.  A Christian BBS may wish
     to sort deeper here, e.g. Bible commentary, theology, devotion,
     evangelism, church organisation, etc.
Mathematics and Logic (mathematical games and logic puzzles might
     should go with Games)
Pure science
Applied sciences (other than computer programming)
Medicine & Health information
Psychology and Sociology
Politics and Law
Games (other than computer games)
Music (information, not programs)
Art (text about art, not actual .GIF's and graphics software)
Biography, autobiography, letters, and diaries

--- Fiction ---
Myths and Legends
Miscellaneous Fiction
Fantasy and Science Fiction
Mystery and Espionage
Historical Fiction
Romantic Fiction
Jokes, Satire, Parody
Decision Novels


(Denoted in the text by numbers in brackets: [2].)

1. Decision novels include "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure," "Fighting Fantasy," and other stories in which the reader is the main character; stories which are told in the second person (speaking of the reader as "you"); and in which the reader is periodically asked to make decisions which will affect the course of the story, as, "If you wish to try to defuse the bomb, turn to section 17; if you wish to flee the area, turn to section 42."

2. Role-playing game scenarios are something like story frameworks, which give guidelines for a storyteller to help him guide players through an interactive story. The life of the scenario is in the real-time improvisation of the players and storyteller or game-master. If a library has them at all it may place them with nonfiction about games, rather than with fiction. Bookstores usually place them near the fantasy and science fiction.

3. Computer adventure games are distinguished from other computer games by the addition of a greater element of storytelling, and from decision novels by the way that decisions by the reader or player are made continuously, and not at specific junctures as in decision novels. In addition, computerised graphics and music are sometimes used to help tell the story, making some such games more like interactive motion pictures than interactive stories or novels. Few bookstores or libraries stock computer adventure games at all.

4. Hypernovels are the newest of these forms and the exact definition and nature of them is still being experimented with. However, it can be said that they are stories told with the help of specially designed computer software, in which the reader is not necessarily the main character, and in which the reader does not so much determine the outcome of the story, as determine the path by which he will read it. For instance, in a story with many groups of characters having different adventures simultaneously, a paper book would be limited to telling about one group for awhile, then switching scenes to another and another. A hypernovel could give the reader more choice regarding which group of characters to follow, and when to skip to another. There are other possibilities, which are too numerous to explore here and are beyond the scope of this essay.

5. As to nationality an language of the authors, both the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal systems are somewhat inconsistent. They sort mainly by the language of the book, except when they make an exception in separating English, Scotch and Irish authors from Americans. Another curious thing: the Dewey Decimal system has the 870's for Latin authors and 879 for modern Italian, and the 880's for Classical Greek and 889 for modern Greek.

6. See the sections on "Fiction and Literature" and "Nonfiction" for arguments that essays, letters and diaries should not be placed with fiction.

7. The 200's, religion and mythology, includes story books based on religions, such as retellings of myths.

8. Histories of particular subjects may be placed with the subject. For example, Steven Levy's Hackers is placed with books on computer programming in some libraries.

9. Remember that many libraries place biographies with the discipline or subject the man is supposed to be mostly associated with, as biographies of preachers in the 200's, etc. See arguments in the section on Nonfiction.

10. Note only 21 letters of the alphabet are used.

11. Quite a hodgepodge, that G classification.

12. These suggested file areas are, I say again, *suggestions*. I am not trying (not now, anyway) to set up an alternative system to compete with the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal systems. However, that might be a good idea.


This section defines the way certain terms are used in this essay. Terms like "sysop", "BBS", "text file" etc. should be familiar to those who downloaded this as a text file.

decision novel - see footnote 1.

fiction - Any narrative of events made up out of the author's head, in whatever form whether verse, prose, drama, or hypertext. Includes not only stories, plays, narrative poems, and jokes, made for entertainment, but fables, parables, allegory, koans, and satire: narratives of made-up events made to teach a moral, illustrate a point, or ridicule an idea or practice. I use the word "fiction" rather than "literature" because determining whether a work is fiction is a more objective process than determining whether it is "literature."

form - One of several ways to write, including poetry, drama, novel, short story, hypernovel, role-playing game scenario, decision novel, satire, and joke.

genre - One of several kinds of fiction, including science fiction, fantasy, mystery, historical novel, and horror. Books of a single genre generally have a set of plots, backgrounds, and ideas in common.

hypernovel - see footnote 4.

marketing category - A group of books which publishers and bookstores expect to be bought by a particular kind of reader. Overlaps considerably with genre classification, but for different reasons.

romance, romantic - used in its modern sense, meaning an erotic love story, not in the sense used by the Romantic movement of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

This essay is copyright 1992 by Jim Henry III. It may be *freely* distributed as long as it is ENTIRELY unmodified. It may not be abridged, modified, or sold for any consideration including but not limited to a disk copying fee, without the author's permission.


The Web edition is basically my BBS edition of 1992 with out-of-date contact info removed, footnote hyperlinks and paragraph marks added. I welcome feedback as always. I may or may not revise it for the Web era later on; in my opinion there has been no substantial change in the deep issues. There are many more online text archives in the Internet of 1999 than in the BBS world of 1992, but people still have not given enough attention to the problem of classifying and organizing such works, and especially to the opportunity of correcting the mistakes made when the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems were designed.

January 1999

(more links added and some formatting fixed, early 2003)

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