5.1 Classifying materials

Classifying materials means identifying each material according to its subject, so that materials on similar subjects can be grouped together on the shelves. Classification schemes help to:

  • direct users to the material that they need
  • enable users to find related materials
  • enable staff to know where to put materials.

Materials in small resource centres are sometimes classified using different colours to represent different subjects - different coloured dots are stuck onto the materials to indicate the subject. More usually, materials are classified using a combination of numbers and letters. The numbers and letters represent the main subject areas and subsidiary (other) subjects covered by the material.

Whatever the size of the resource centre, materials need to be classified in some way. A very small resource centre only needs a simple classification scheme, using a few broad subject headings, and a separate section on the shelves for general reference materials.

5.1.1 Choosing a classification scheme

There are two main types of classification scheme: universal and specialised. Universal classification schemes cover all subject areas. They include Universal Decimal Classification (UDC), Dewey, and Library of Congress. Specialised classification schemes include the National Library of Medicine (NLM). This is designed for medical libraries. It covers very clinical issues, and therefore does not cover all the areas covered by resource centres focusing on health or disability issues.

Resource centres that specialise in a particular subject often develop their own specialised classification scheme, such as the Healthlink Worldwide Primary Health Care Classification Scheme, and the Southern African HIV/AIDS Classification Scheme of the Southern African Network of AIDS Service Organisations (SANASO).

A suitable classification scheme can usually be identified by contacting the national public library service, library association or a university library. If the resource centre specialises in primary health care or disability issues in developing countries, it would be worth contacting Healthlink Worldwide.

5.1.2 How to classify materials

To classify materials, ask yourself:

1. Is the material about a particular subject or subjects (for example, is it a book about health education or a video about counselling?) or is it more general (for example, is it a directory or atlas?) Find out by looking at the following:

  • for books and other print materials: the title page, list of contents and introduction, preface or foreword
  • for audiovisual materials: the title, description and any accompanying materials, and by watching a video, listening to an audio cassette, or looking at slides.

2. If the material is about a subject, does it deal with one subject or several subjects?

3. If the material deals with one subject, use that subject to classify it. Find the subject in the classification scheme and assign the corresponding classification number to the material.

4. If the material deals with several subjects, can all these subjects be regarded as part of one broad subject? If so, use the broad subject to classify the material.

5. If the material deals with several subjects that are not part of one broader subject, use the subject that is either most thoroughly covered by the material, or of main interest to users of the resource centre, to classify the material.

6. Check that you are classifying materials on similar subjects consistently, by looking at several materials to which you have assigned the same classification number. You can do this by going to the shelves and looking at the materials that are already there.

7. If the material is for general reference (such as a dictionary or atlas), you do not need to classify it. Place it in a section of the resource centre for general reference materials.

8. If you have a lot of materials with the same classification number, you can distinguish them by putting the first three letters of the author’s name after the classification number. If there is no author, use the first three letters of the title. For audiovisual materials, use the producer’s name.

If the resource centre collection expands into new subject areas (for example, emerging diseases such as hypertension), you may need to add new subjects to your classification scheme. Most classification schemes are designed to make it easy to add new subjects when necessary. Details of how to extend the classification scheme are included in Section 5.2.2.