Open Journal Systems

World Libraries | Volume 5 | Number 1 Book Reviews

Dewey Decimal Classification: a Practical Guide. By Lois Mai Chan, John P. Comaromi, and Mohinder P. Satija. Albany, N.Y.: Forest Press, 1994. xiv, 211 p. ISBN 0–90608–49–0. $40.00.

The writing of this book began as a collaborative endeavor between Mohinder P. Satija and John P. Comaromi. In 1991, when Comaromi died, Lois Mai Chan, recently retired from the Dewey Editorial Policy Committee after 18 years of service, took on the task of completing the last four chapters of the book and performed the final rewriting and editing of the whole. The product is a well–organized and easily read document.

The preface describes the contents as a “practical guide and textbook” that introduces the reader to the methods of classifying and arranging a library collection according to the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), 20th ed. This preface is an excellent introduction to the text, as it outlines it in concise detail and emphasizes the main intent: of delineating the best methods of utilizing the DDC schedules, of finding and assigning the correct class numbers, and of “synthesizing” a class number by applying schedule notations and the auxiliary tables.

A Practical Guide is not only an instructional tool, but also a brief history of the DDC and a critique of the 20th ed. The Guide could successfully be employed as a classroom text or as an on–the–job guide for teaching of the DDC, but not as a tool for self–instruction. This review will identify the text’s strong points and some of its failings as an instructional vehicle.

A Practical Guide is impressive for its detail: of its preface, its table of contents, the introduction to each chapter, and of the text. Two chapters are devoted to outlining the Schedules; two more thoroughly analyze the Tables; the Relative Index is given one chapter of description. The outline structure of the text is patterned after that of Anglo–American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd ed. For example, each chapter is divided decimally, e.g., 2.1,2.1.1,2.1.2, 2.1.3 (an introduction to section one of chapter two, with three related sub–sections following). One of the most impressively written chapters of the book is chapter four, which delineates, in detail, the suggested process of subject analysis and the subsequent appropriate assigning of a class number to a title. The reader/student is presented with a variety of ways to determine the subjects of a title. The analyzing of simple titles is discussed, as well as the approach to multitopical and interdisciplinary works.

Classifying from the Schedules is also given a great deal of detailed attention. We are told how to “enter the Schedules” in one of two ways: through the Relative Index or by tracing the class number by using the hierarchical ladder of the Schedules. “Number building” is a topic that is logically given many pages of consideration, in two chapters. The many varieties of notes and instructions that appear throughout the Schedules are also outlined and defined with great care. These are described as vehicles for making class numbers more explicit and specific.

A Practical Guide is to be praised, also, for the many definitions of terms interspersed throughout the text, and for its glossary. Also of note is the inclusion of the many well selected examples, which illustrate the detailed instruction of the text. The examples in chapter three (notes and instructions) and in chapter six (number building) are especially noteworthy, each presented clearly and with step–by–step labeling. Also of note are the “exercises” which follow each instructional chapter of the book, beginning with chapter four. Answers to the exercises are found following chapter twelve.

A few criticisms are in order. While it was no doubt meant to be an aid to the reader to number/outline the text as in AACR2, with topics within chapters broken down decimally (see above), this format might be confusing to a new cataloger. This outlining scheme should have been explained in the Preface, as the reader needs to be able to decipher the numbering of chapters in order to master the contents of the book. At times, the authors have made misleading statements and omissions that might confuse rather than instruct the student. One example of this is on p. 46 (, example 3), where we are told that one “can safely assume that the book is about....If not, would be found in the title or subtitle.” This is not a sound guideline! The cataloger should be told to always move beyond the title and subtitle of a work in order to determine subject headings.

An instance of an omission occurs in the use of the term “standard subdivision.” Up until p. 94, the phrase is spelled out; from p. 94 through p. 158, it is abbreviated as “ss,” without any explanation. On p. 159, the authors resume using “standard subdivision” in its spelled out form. This was bothersome to this reviewer; it might be very confusing to a new cataloger.

Finally, the Manual, in volume four of DDC, is given very little attention in A Practical Guide. Only on pages 17 and 120–121 is it mentioned or described. This is a great lack of the book, as the Manual can serve as an extremely valuable guide in and of itself, especially for newcomers to the world of cataloging. Encouragement should have been given regarding reference to the Manual when there is a choice between two or more class numbers, and some examples should have been offered on how to interpret its instructions.

In conclusion, The Practical Guide is recommended as a very detailed an well–constructed educative tool for the first year cataloging student. It could be best used as a workbook. The criticisms voiced above can be remedied if the text is employed along with the DDC, 20th ed., under the guidance of an experienced cataloger/teacher who can help to interpret and explain points made and examples given.

Mary Brady is a cataloger of Africana at Northwestern University. After taking her M.L.S. at the State University of New York, Buffalo, she served as Head of Serials at South Dakota State University, and Head of Serials at Illinois Institute of Technology. She joined Northwestern University library as Assistant Head of Acquisitions before moving to her present position.


Brady, Mary, Review of Dewey Decimal Classification: a Practical Guide.. By Lois Mai Chan, John P. Comaromi, and Mohinder P. Satija. Third World Libraries, Volume 5, Number 1 (Fall 1994).

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