Cutter Expansive Classification

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The Cutter Expansive Classification system is a library classification system devised by Charles Ammi Cutter. It uses all letters to designate the top categories of books. This is in contrast to the Dewey Decimal Classification, which uses only numbers, and the Library of Congress classification, which uses a mixture of letters and numbers. The system was the basis for the top categories of the Library of Congress classification.

"No one, perhaps, can remember it all; it cannot be learned, even in part, very quickly; but those who use the library much will find that they become familiar in time unconsciously with all that they have much occasion to use." from How to Get Books by C. A. Cutter, 1882


History of the Cutter classification

Charles Ammi Cutter (1837–1903), inspired by the decimal classification of his contemporary Melvil Dewey, originally developed his own classification scheme for the collections of the Boston Athenaeum, at which he served as librarian for two dozen years. He began work on it about 1880 and published the first schedules in the early 1890s. His five-volume catalogue of the Athenaeum collection is a classic in bibliographic history.

The Cutter classification, although adopted by comparatively few libraries, mostly in New England, has been called one of the most logical and scholarly of American classifications. Its outline served as a basis for the Library of Congress classification, which also took over some of its features. It did not catch on as did Dewey's system because Cutter died before it was completely finished, making no provision for the kind of development necessary as the bounds of knowledge expanded and scholarly emphases changed throughout the 20th century.

Outline of the Cutter classification

Like the LC classification system, texts are organized by subject. Users of Cutter, however, will find the subject headings more general than those of the LC system.

  • A General works (encyclopedias, periodicals, society publications)
  • B–D Philosophy, Psychology, Religion
  • E, F, G Biography, History, Geography and travels
  • H–J, K Social sciences, Law
  • L–T Science and technology
  • U–VS Military, Sports, Recreation
  • VT, VV, W Theatre, Music, Fine arts
  • X Philology (expanded by language)
  • Y Literature (expanded by language, and in English form—e.g., YY is English and American literature, YYP is poetry in English)
  • Z Book arts, Bibliography

How Cutter call numbers are constructed

Most call numbers in the Cutter classification follow conventions offering clues to the book's subject. The first line represents the subject, the second the author (and perhaps title), the third and fourth dates of editions, indications of translations, and critical works on particular books or authors. All numbers in the Cutter system are (or should be) shelved as if in decimal order.

Size of volumes is indicated by points (.), pluses (+), or slashes (/ or //).

For some subjects a numerical geographical subdivision follows the classification letters on the first line. The number 83 stands for the United States—hence, F83 is U.S. history, G83 U.S. travel, JU83 U.S. politics, WP83 U.S. painting. Geographical numbers are often further expanded decimally to represent more specific areas, sometimes followed by a capital letter indicating a particular city.

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