BISAC Basics

Note: As part of a marketing campaign for my proposed classification textbook, I prepared this introduction to BISAC for cataloging students. The original plan was to give it out as a freebie at ALA in Las Vegas to promote the book. Sadly, neither Las Vegas nor the book happened. I am posting it here for the greater public good.


Confession: I love DDC. Before I started to research BISAC I wasn’t very impressed with it. Now I have a healthy respect for it. It’s a good scheme for what it does, but I’m afraid that many people who are promoting it are doing so for commercial purposes.

At the end of this section you will be asked to answer the key question: evaluate BISAC as a classification using the process in this chapter. [note: not included in this excerpt]  That’s what the professional should do.

General Background on BISAC

Ditch Dewey! Undo Dewey! Again and again you will read news reports about librarians who are replacing Dewey Decimal Classification in their collections, all the while making awful rhymes and puns as they do (do-ey!) it. At conferences anti-Dewey advocates will sometimes pitch their alternate systems. More often they will promote a system called BISAC. BISAC stands for “Book Industry Standards and Communications.” It is the subject category system used in bookstores. Because BISAC has become more mainstream in the past decade, you might someday work at a library that will debate whether to use it or not.

BISAC is a list of subject headings that are used to express the topical content of books. In a formal information science context, you would call them “descriptors.” There are over 3000 BISAC subject headings available, and they are arranged under fifty-one major headings. Only the major headings have scope notes and usage information.

The BISAC subject headings are hierarchical strings. Here is an example: PETS/Dogs/Breeds. PETS is the major heading, and it is the hierarchical relationship in the string that classifies the concept. The hierarchy is limited to two or three subdivisions below the major heading. PETS/Dogs/Breeds is the most specific level for Dogs. There are no subject headings for particular dog breeds.

Take a look at all the subject headings under the major heading PETS.

Continue reading

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Cuttering Webinar Materials

It was gratifying to have a thousand people register for my free webinar on cuttering, and then to see over five hundred of them log in when I was presenting.  It shows the continuing need for continuing education in traditional cataloging knowledge. Or maybe it shows that lots of people attend when free webinars are offered. No matter.

Here’s a summary of what I covered:

Are you curious about Cutters? Maybe a little confused? This free webinar will reveal how Cutter’s alphanumeric book numbering systems work. You will learn how to recognize different types of cutter numbers and how to construct them for yourself.

  • Principles of alphanumeric numbering systems
  • Types of Cuttering
    • Cutter Two-Figure, Three-Figure and Cutter-Sanborn
    • Cutters for Library of Congress Classification
  • How to Use the Cutter-Sanborn Table
  • Different Uses for Cuttering in Library of Congress Classification
  • Basic Use of the LC Cutter Table

If you weren’t able to attend the webinar, here’s a link to the session recording. The slides are available at SlideShare. And here’s the resource sheet with all the links that I refer to in the presentation.

Thanks to ALA Editions for hosting it.Slide17

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Three Upcoming eCourses for 2014


OCLC has given its blessing, so get ready for a fourth round of Using WebDewey and Understanding Dewey Decimal Classification! It begins on July 7th. Click here to learn more and register.

In September I will also be hosting a free webinar on Cuttering. Give me two hours, and I will show you book numbers in all their dazzling beauty!

And that’s not all! The Cuttering webinar gives you a sample of important material you can learn my new eCourse Using and Understanding Library of Congress Classification, which launches on October 6th.

Images in the collage are from NASA.

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Round Three: Using WebDewey and Understanding Dewey Decimal Classification

The third round of my WebDewey DDC eCourse will be starting in the first days of November. If you’re interested in joining me to learn all about DDC over four weeks, please check out the registration form at the ALA Editions website. If you don’t want to think about DDC over Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., no worries–we’re taking that week off and finishing the course in the first week of December.

I’m excited about the improvements I’m making to the course materials for this round. All the exercises, instructions, and readings are being thoroughly reviewed and revised as necessary.

For the any of you out there taking time to read this blog, I thought I’d share the pdf of my newest course handout: Searching for Dewey Numbers in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.   This instruction sheet is either evidence of the sad little world of technical expertise I inhabit, or it boldly waves the flag of Fully Unabashed Cataloger Geekery. At any rate, it’s better instruction on the 082 searching functions than the Library of Congress itself provides. Enjoy.

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Universal Classification of the Internet

Note: I wrote this post as background research for the current chapter (“Applied Classification”) of HumanCrafted Metadata. It is not an excerpt from the textbook itself (in case you’re wondering if my goal is to bore students to death).


In developing the background chapter on classification I went on a quest to look for vestiges of “universal internet classifications” in order to find the main classes of organized knowledge in the online universe.

Those of us who traffic in Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress Classification have Baconian systems of knowledge branded onto the brain. Even a brief, elementary-school exposure to the DDC frying pan has seared the main classes into LIS student brains to such an extent that they can’t easily consider alternatives. I’ve routinely asked students over the years, “If not using DDC, what would you use as the basis for main classes in a hierarchical system?” It’s not an easy question for anyone to answer because Dewey remains a cultural touchstone. During the birthing years of the Internet I happily browsed nascent efforts to use DDC or LCC or DDC to create collections of links. But I was there in the 1990s at San José’s SLIS when we all cheered the Bay Area grad who found herself on the Yahoo! classification team. Classifying all the things! on the Internet was sizzling back then. Not any more.

My quest was discouraging from the first, because Google’s abandonment of its Directory project in 2011 pointed to the complete collapse of internet classification efforts: “With search now dominating our web navigation, directories are seen primarily for their link juice value.” I was hard-pressed to find the venerable Yahoo! Directory from the Yahoo! home page filled with aggregated headlines. (Try and find it! I dare you.) (If you can’t, here’s the direct link.) When I finally discovered its location, I was pleased to see it still was an active site with new links, but there is no denying that it relies on revenue from paid links. It is more of a “yellow pages” for advertisers than a map of the open Internet. The high annual price Yahoo! commands highlights its position as the oldest and most well-known of the many directories that are now mostly vehicles for search engine optimization.

Not only is Yahoo! the most successful of the paid directories, its classification system is the model followed by every Internet directory. When you click through to see these other directories, you will certainly see 14-16 main classes presented in alphabetical order. The class names will be either single words or two concepts joined with &. While the classes are nearly identical to Yahoo!’s, some directories choose a few different ones that elevate commercial concepts to the top level: travel, automotive, real estate, free stuff, law. The two major not-for-profit directory projects still being curated are built on the Yahoo! model. Dmoz, the “largest human-edited directory of the web,” has one-word main classes that separate out “Home” and “Sports,” and “Shopping.” (The founders of its predecessor NewHoo decided to derive their classes from Usenet newsgroups, which would suggest there was a similar inspiration in the Yahoo! founders’ minds, though it is hard to see the Usenet hierarchy as a clear predecessor.) IPL2, “information you can trust,” has fewer classes (& they are full of ampersands). It echoes Dewey’s academic focus ever so subtly: “political science,” “technology,” “economics.” I think the answer to my question about the basis for main classes outside of DDC is clear: Yahoo’s categories, stable since its launch in 1995, show the contours of knowledge (things worth classifying) in the Internet Age.


dmoz (ODP)


Arts & Humanities


Arts & Humanities

Business & Economy


Business & Economics

Computer & Internet


Computers & Internet






Entertainment & Leisure



Health & Medical Sciences


Kids and Teens

Law, Government & Political Science

News & Media



Recreation & Sports


Regional & Country Information



Science & Technology



Social Sciences



Special Collections

Social Science


Society & Culture




While the top level categories in Internet directories are stable, the subcategories churn around unpredictably and proliferate madly. Clicking on “Arts” in any of the three major directories is an adventure because the concept is defined differently in each. In Yahoo! we find Photography, History, Literature … (in 1999 the subcategories were Literature, Photography …); in dmoz we are led to Movies, Television, Music …; and in IPL2 we choose amongstFine Arts, History, Literature, Philosophy, more>>. The “Business” class shows more clearly the different emphases of the directories. B2B, Finance, Shopping, Jobs for Yahoo! looks like the Yellow Pages again. Jobs, Real Estate, Investing in dmoz are beckoning to people who want to improve their economic standing, but really the bulk of the links in the class are for company sites—nearly 20,000 in “Industrial Goods and Services” (aka B2B). For IPL2, the reference function is obvious: Accounting, Economics, Employment, Tax. IPL2 has good information about job seeking, but no links to the major job listing sites like There are thousands of LIS research papers waiting to be written about these subcategories, the types of links chosen, and what that means for users of these three directories.

Because the Yahoo-like classifications are not published outside of the directory sites themselves, it is hard to fully understand the hierarchy below the class level. Understanding the hierarchy is made more difficult because of cross-reference links (preceded by the @ sign) mixed into the list of subcategories (always alphabetical). One thing is for sure: the editors of these directories do not shy away from creating close classification. On the dmoz home page, the project brags—“5,114,083 sites … over 1,014,849 categories.” One million categories for only five million sites! A lesser paid directory with fourteen main classes boasts 7832 subcategories, but only 1945 links! This suggests that the editors of these schemes had a grand time developing a close, universal classification scheme, but do not have the resources (either human or content) with which to fill it. In Yahoo! a significant percentage of its innumerable subcategories are those that refer to a single person or television character. Hierarchies such as Entertainment > Actors > Forbes, Michelle and Entertainment > Television Shows > Science Fiction and Fantasy > Star Trek > Star Trek: The Next Generation > Characters > Ro Laren are not based on the model of generic topics that have governed classification of library collections with DDC. Again, bring on the researchers to provide some understanding of the conceptual underpinnings of these systems!

As a final point, Internet classification systems for kids deserve a mention, though I won’t compare them in detail. I would rate the dmoz “Kids and Teens” all-text subcategories (14 of them) as not being very in tune with children’s browsing needs—would a child know to look for “Pets” under “Your Family”? The dmoz categories seem more like they are set up for adults browsing for resources to share with children—a search for “dinosaurs” leads to forty-five deep (six- or seven-level) hierarchies that are pretty intimidating chunks of text. So I don’t think that dmoz has made a kid-centered Internet knowledge organization that could be transferred to other web applications. Yahoo! Kids Directory has only six main classes—compacted from the eight in the original Yahooligans!, and it seems welcoming to a browsing kid, even though the subcategories are as numerous and unpredictable as those in the adult hierarchy. The resources themselves—mostly interesting, high quality, and non-commercial—are not being scrupulously maintained (about half of the dinosaur links were broken or redirects), which indicates that the subcategories must also date from long ago—their history could be traced in the Wayback Machine. The nine classes of kids’ knowledge at IPL2 are enhanced by a sidebar with direct links to homework-helping categories about Presidents, States, Science Fair, with “Resources for Parents and Teachers” broken out so they don’t interfere with kids’ browsing. What is most interesting about it is that the subcategories displayed on the main page seem chosen because of their importance to kids. “Football” and “Dance” under Sports & Recreation, or “Animals” as the first under “Math & Science.” (The dinosaur links all work.) The only other currently-maintained kids’ classification that I found in my research was Awesome Library, which emphasizes school subjects and homework help.

While Internet directories and their classification systems are mature tools, their situation in 2013 is not flourishing. Except for the IPL2 directory that is curated by LIS students, the directories are a marginal enterprise in the organization of knowledge of today’s Internet. That has implications for those of you who are evaluating them for use in library settings, but for me the continuing question is how well the Yahoo!-like classification structures reflect knowledge as we experience it online. These few survivors of the Internet directory era continue to provide rich food for thought with regard to applied classification.

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Using WebDewey and Understanding Dewey Decimal Classification 23

I know that no one reading this blog entry will be swayed by advertising copy like “Do the Dewey, Dudes!” So here’s a simple announcement about the upcoming DDC course:

If you want a thorough grounding in DDC 23, please sign up for my ALA Editions eCourse It begins on February 4th and lasts four weeks; the cost is $175. The course has been updated to include new material about WebDewey’s “Create built number” tool.

Here’s a sample from one of the instructional videos in Week 3 of the course–number ten of the sixteen included. Former students will note that I still haven’t conquered my addiction to PowerPoint clipart, but rest assured that the remainder of this video and the others have plenty of serious screenshots and useful examples from DDC itself. (I can’t show any of that because of our license agreement with OCLC.)

Syllabus of the Course

At the end of the course, you will understand the structure of DDC notation and be able to parse DDC number patterns, as well as use the DDC schedule and tables to understand the meaning of long DDC numbers. You will know how to use WebDewey 2.0 to search for and assign appropriate numbers for simple and complex subjects. You will also learn how to apply standard subdivisions from DDC Table 1 and how to build numbers from within the main schedules and the other DDC Tables. Using these skills as building blocks, you will learn how to construct fully synthetic numbers in the 400 and 800 classes.

Participants must have access to WebDewey 2.0 to take this course. You may use an existing WebDewey account from your library. If you do not have access to WebDewey, you can sign up for a 30-day free trial from OCLC at the WebDewey login page. Please put “participating in ALA online e-course” in the comments box. This will allow OCLC to set the starting date to February 4th.

Week 1 Learning Objectives At the end of Week 1 you will be able to
• Identify the parts of the DDC and become familiar with the main classes, divisions and sections
• “Read” the patterns in existing DDC numbers and express the meaning of numbers in hierarchy
• Understand how DDC can be applied to make library collections browsable
• Assign appropriate DDC numbers to simple concepts
• Login to WebDewey and
o Navigate the hierarchy of the Main Schedules and Tables
o Search and browse for concepts that are in the Relative Index

Week 2 Learning Objectives At the end of Week 2 you will be able to
• Choose appropriate DDC numbers from the main schedules for subjects with multiple facets that may require a table of preference or consultation of the Manual
• Use Table 1 to add standard subdivisions with the correct number of zeroes
• Apply major patterns from the tables for geography and groups of people
• Apply the concept of “approximate the whole” and its exceptions

Week 3 Learning Objectives At the end of Week 3 you will be able to
• Do complex number-building with base numbers and pieces of other numbers
• Follow number-building instructions through multiple steps in the main schedules and tables
• Truncate DDC numbers correctly to preserve meaning • Make decisions about appropriate length of DDC numbers for different
collections within your library

Week 4 Learning Objectives At the end of Week 4 you will be able to
• Build synthetic numbers for specific languages in the 400 class using Tables 6 and 4
• Read the meaning of numbers in the 800 class that you find in library collections
• Build synthetic numbers for literature in the 800 class using Tables 3A, 3B, and 3C
• Use WebDewey’s new number-building tool to construct and save your built numbers

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The Feral Cataloger in 2013

It occurs to me that only the Feral Cataloger staff has full access to my schedule and they are just sitting on the information, so it’s up to me to share with you domesticated catalogers what’s in the works for 2013.

I write on HumanCrafted Metadata (“a cataloging textbook with helpful electronic resources for students and educators”) daily, and in 2013 it will be ready to publish. For now my priority is sitting here and writing and revising and rewriting, so I don’t get out much. I will be at Midwinter in Seattle with some demo materials on my iPad, if you run into me and want to hear about the book.

In February 2013, I will teach Using WebDewey™ and Understanding Dewey Decimal Classification™ for ALA Editions eLearning. This is my second time teaching the workshop, and it will be updated from last year’s version to reflect the changes in WebDewey that OCLC has just announced. The course lasts for four weeks and it takes participants from no previous knowledge of Dewey all the way through the complexity of built numbers in the 800s. (There is no link for sign-up yet, because ALA and OCLC are concluding the license agreement*)

I’m hoping to teach one or two workshops in late 2013 based on other chapters of the textbook.

*As in: The 23rd Edition of the Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index is ©2011-2012 OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. (“OCLC”). All copyright rights in all previous editions of the Dewey Decimal Classification are owned by OCLC. WebDewey screen shots are ©2012 OCLC. Mr. Dewey and His Dot are ©1992 OCLC. Dewey, DDC, Dewey Decimal Classification, OCLC and WebDewey are registered trademarks/service marks of OCLC. Used with permission.

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