Types of organization
Here we discuss several options for generic approaches to the organization of supplementary materials for your vertical files. The easiest ways to organize information are based on the basic concepts of arranging materials either alphabetically, numerically in sequence, or a combination of the two in an alpha-numeric system.
An example of a simple alphabetical arrangement of material would be to arrange by some obvious element of the work such as name or title. This is the arrangement used for most indexes and directories. Organization by numerical sequence can be a simple 1, 2, 3 arrangement or 00001, 00002, 00003. A variation of numerical arrangement is chronological, such as 1991, 1992, 1993; or 92-0001, 92-0002.
When organization is by subject, materials can be arranged alphabetically by subject or classified by subject using one of the standard classification systems. Most libraries use either the Dewey Decimal Classification system or the Library of Congress (LC) Classification system. Dewey has a numerical system for subject classification, and LC uses a combination of letters and numbers in its alphanumeric system.
Special collections of materials often have unique characteristics that provide logical ways to organize them. It is likely that you will have one or more special collections. Particular problems related to specific types of materials will be addressed later. The important thing to remember in the decision for the arrangement of materials is to select the system of organization that works best for your collection. Use the system that you think will be best for your users but keep it as simple as possible.
Alphabetical by subject – the dictionary arrangement
The widely used system of organization that employs an alphabetical arrangement of subject headings is sometimes called a dictionary arrangement. This arrangement is an efficient, economical way to cope with supplementary materials and is probably the most popular approach. This approach has a number of advantages. First, it is direct. There is no need to translate verbal ideas into an artificial code. Second, it is simple. The alphabetical arrangement is easy to understand and to manipulate. Patrons can be more independent in their use of the files. Third, it is detailed. A dictionary approach allows for the use of individualized and definitive terms, which speeds access to materials. Fourth, it is adjustable. New subjects are easily added to a dictionary arrangement. Refinements of old subjects are easy to incorporate. Fifth, it is easy to spot weaknesses because materials on the same subject (but not related subjects) are filed together. An empty file indicates a lack of materials. However, the dictionary arrangement has several disadvantages: related materials are not filed in proximity to each other, for example, lions and tigers; additional cross-references are necessary to ensure that materials are found; and outdated material is harder to weed than in a sequential system because you must look at each item in every file.
Classified by subject – Dewey or Library of Congress (LC) arrangement
The concept of classifying pamphlet material appears in the early literature of the profession, written when the few pamphlets permitted inside a library were given legitimacy by being classified and placed on the shelves with their more respectable cousins. Sometimes single pamphlets were allowed in this distinction, but more often related pamphlets were bound together into what were called pamphlet volumes or into groups of associated pamphlets in boxes on the shelves with the books.
If you decide on classification for your supplementary materials, you will most likely use the same classification system used for your book collection. In theory, using Dewey or Library of Congress classification numbers for all library resources simplifies and correlates their use. (Full cataloguing of supplementary material is a luxury not possible (or desirable) except for exceptional materials. The advantages of full cataloguing are tighter control over the material, fuller indexing, and greater likelihood of permanency. Disadvantages of full cataloguing include increased cost in time for processing, delays in availability of materials because of increased processing time, and reduced likelihood of materials being weeded when they are outdated. Permanency can be either an advantage or disadvantage and in many cases will be the most important factor in your decision regarding full cataloging.)
The classification of pamphlets and other supplementary materials without full cataloguing is done in some collections. Some librarians shelve pamphlet boxes with related books in the traditional manner; others set aside small rooms or areas where boxes of pamphlets stand in general classification order. Classified pamphlets and clippings are frequently housed in vertical filing cabinets.
A few attempts have been made at constructing special classifications schemes for general vertical files. If the decision is made to classify materials, then the advantages and disadvantages should be considered carefully. Special collections are often organized by a specialized system for the particular discipline or material. Advantages in using Dewey or LC systems include:
Ease of use of a ready-made scheme like Dewey or LC. Unless there is a special scheme that can be easily used for special types of materials such as the Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs) number or the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) system, then you have a good reason to invent your own system.
Logic of applying the same finding code to all library resources on the same subject. This concept of unifying all library resources is particularly appealing to school librarians who are eager to present a quick overview of all library holdings on a particular subject to teachers and students.
Helpfulness of having related subjects in close physical proximity. For example, the patron who is interested in pets may find it useful to have all pamphlets on dogs, cats, and hamsters within easy eye range rather than scattered through the file under widely separated headings. Physical closeness, made possible by the classified system, makes it more convenient to work one’s way back to broader classes if information is not found under the specific topic.
Ease in surveying the library’s holdings in the basic areas of knowledge in a classified system. Strengths and weaknesses in relation to the collection as a whole are readily apparent.
Some of the problems related to using a classified system include the following:
Generalized classification blurs the emphasis on specifics. The classification of supplementary materials does not work as well in practice as in theory because of an important characteristic of supplementary materials: Most of them concentrate on small areas of emphasis with very specific subjects. The result is use of a long, complex classification number or the burial of the item in a general class number that will not give a precise clue to its contents.
Generalized shelving also blurs the emphasis on specifics. Shelving pamphlets with related books presents the same problem of weakening the specific approach, though the addition of full cataloguing helps somewhat.
Using Dewey or LC may not be expedient. One of the arguments for collecting supplementary materials is the availability of very current materials. When librarians are forced to make decisions regarding classification in addition to assigning subject headings, the processing of materials is likely to be slowed to the point of losing the edge of currency.
There is a lack of flexibility. New concepts are slow to appear in revisions and updates of classification tables.
Classification involves dependence on an index to the collection. The artificial symbol creates an additional barrier between the user and the information.
Sequential by number – accession number arrangement Some libraries do not attempt to physically group their materials by subject; rather they simply arrange them by order of receipt. Materials are marked with a sequential code consisting usually of an accession number, e.g., 91-0001, 91-0002, 91-0003, but sometimes a combination of letters and numbers, e.g. P-0001, P-0002, P-0003, for pictures is used. Access is achieved through an index. The index can be a card file, a part of the card catalog, or a computer file. The code number is recorded under the appropriate subject or subjects. If author and title cards are used, the code number is recorded there also.
A sequence of bar codes can be assigned to the vertical files or to special collections of materials. If items are organized by bar-code number, it serves as an aid to both organization and circulation. Other options for the use of bar codes will be discussed in chapter 10, “Circulation”.
Dale E. Shaffer incorporated a modified form of serial arrangement in his Sha-Frame system. His plan called for arranging pamphlets by size as well as by acquisition or der. This system is no longer for sale, but there may be remnants of the system in some libraries, and the booklet is available on interlibrary loan.
The flaw of using a sequence or accession system is in retrieval. Retrieving only one pamphlet is no problem, but this system discourages the use of multiple pamphlets on the same subject. Browsing is not possible and the system depends upon materials being kept in precise order.
The use of a computer simplifies the record-keeping part of a sequential system. Difficulty in retrieval is still a concern; however, filing by accession number does facilitate the weeding process based on date. The system has been used successfully in personal information files for librarians and teachers.
Subject heading alternatives You have several alternatives in your choice of an authority list for subject headings. You can use a subject-headings list written for vertical files; you can use the standard subject-headings list used for the book collection; you can select headings from various indexes and other guides; or you can make up your own authority list by consulting a combination of available resources and using the headings most appropriate for your users.
Subject-headings lists written for vertical files There have been some lists of subject headings written specifically for vertical files, but they are soon out-of-date because of the nature of the materials that belong in information files. Subject-headings lists used in the past include the following out-of-print resources:
Ball, Miriam Ogden. Subject Headings for the Information File. 8th ed. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1956. This list was based on headings used in the Newark (New Jersey) Public Library.
Ireland, Norma Olin. The Pamphlet File in School, College, and Public Libraries. Rev. ed. Boston: F. W. Faxon Co., 1954.
Subject Headings for Vertical Files. 2d ed. Toronto, Canada: Toronto Public Libraries, 1971. Based on Sears List of Subject Headings. Canadian emphasis.
Standard subject headings for the book collection The use of standard subject-headings lists for the book collection, i.e. Sears Lists of Subject Headings (see figure 6.1) and Library of Congress Subject Headings (see figure 6.2), can be used for many topics. Adopting one of these standard lists has both advantages and disadvantages. (HCL Authority File is a subject-headings list designed by the Hennepin County Library System (Minnetonka, Minnesota: Hennepin County Library. Quarterly microfiche for $7.50/year). The authority file is updated regularly by the HCL Cataloguing Bulletin (Hennepin County Library. Bimonthly for $12/year). It is user oriented and provides an alternative authority list for subject headings.
The advantages of the Sears system are that (1) subjects can be coordinated with book and media subject headings; (2) it is easy to use as a subject authority by simply checking entries; (3) Dewey Decimal numbers are given that correlate with the collection; and (4) cross-references are given. The disadvantages of this system are that (1) it contains general subject headings; (2) it is designed for small collections; and (3) it is not widely used as a subject authority in databases.
The advantages of the Library of Congress system are as follows: (1) subjects are easily coordinated with book headings; (2) it can be used as a subject authority by checking entries; (3) cross-references are given; (4) it is widely accepted as a standard subject authority; and (5) generally, entries are more specific than Sears. The disadvantages are that most new topics will not be entered and many awkward terms are used that are inappropriate for vertical files.
Subject headings from indexes and guides Some libraries use the headings from Vertical File Index, which provides a good source for the latest terms. The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature is another standby resource giving detailed current headings that change with the times. Large libraries and special libraries can easily make use of the subject headings from specialized indexes in their collections.
There are many specialized periodical indexes in subject areas (for example, Education Index for education topics, Art Index for art topics, and Index Medicus or Index to Nursing & Allied Health Literature for medical and health subjects). A number of indexing services publish their list of subject headings sometime during the year as part of the subscription. For example, subscribers to Index Medicus receive an updated copy of Medical Subject Headings in January each year, but the list can also be purchased separately. Index to Nursing & Allied Health Literature lists all headings in the annual cumulation and can also be purchased separately. Another index that offers a subject-headings list as a separate publication is the Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS Subject Headings, 2d ed.).
Other guides such as printed thesauruses for on-line searching of the various specific databases may be helpful (for example, Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors [12th ed. Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx Press, 1990] for education terms and Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms [6th ed. Arlington, Virginia: American Psychological Association, 1991] for psychology).
Establishing your own subject-headings list The best solution for providing subject headings is to choose an authority list for a guide but adapt it to meet your needs. You will always need a provision for assigning your own headings for the topics that are not covered in your authority list. Give the responsibility for assigning subject headings to one person if possible. Others should certainly have input and be consulted and informed of decisions, but one person can keep a better view of the entire collection. A few principles may help you with this challenging task:
Make subject headings specific. To make the file most useful for your patrons, try to imagine how they will be looking for something (for example: AIDS [Disease] rather than Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Usually they will want a specific subject.
Make subject headings simple and direct. Use the terminology your patrons will be using. For example, House Plans is better than Architecture, Domestic if what you actually have is house plans. Information on pen pals in other countries is much more likely to be found under Pen Pals than under International Correspondence, and Money would be more useful than Currency.
Avoid inverted subject headings if possible. People do not think in terms of inverted concepts, so the most
Use subdivisions carefully. You will need to use subdivisions, but be careful that you do not lose your browsers with too many subdivisions:user-friendly approach is simple and direct (for example, Jazz Music rather than Music, Jazz).
Change headings as necessary. For example, government agencies are renamed, women marry, and new terminology emerges – or you may find a better heading and want to change your mind. Your system should allow for easy modification instead of relying on cross-references to new terms. If you have written or typed directly on the material, then you can just use a new label to reflect the change. For example, Blacks – South Africa – Segregation might just be changed to Apartheid – South Africa.
Establish some scope notes. Clarify confusing topics by preparing scope notes to go with your subject heading. For example:
Victims of child abuse. Works on adults who
were abused as children are entered under:
Adult Child Abuse Victims.
Be generous in your use of cross-references. Use “see” references from terms that are not used and “see also” references from under related terms. Beware of blind references, which refer the user to a topic where there is nothing filed. Cross-references are particularly important in a dictionary file. For example: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. See AIDS (Diesease); A.I.D.S. See AIDS (Disease).
Your subject-headings list should change to reflect new topics for which you are receiving information. You will find the use of a computer very helpful, if for nothing more than to record your headings so that you can print a current copy frequently.
An index or guide is essential. The index provides access to files with scope notes and “see” and “see also” references. Ideally, entries for your information files will be included in your card catalog or on-line catalog. If that is not possible, your collections may have a separate index or may be self-indexed. Self-indexing simply means that the files themselves will serve as guides with scope notes and references written on the folders.
Catalog entry. You can have entries in your library catalog ounder the main subject with cross-references to related subjects (“see also”) and terms that are not used as subject headings (“see”). It is sufficient to use a generic note like the following: “For information on this subject consult the Vertical File.” Sample “See” and “see also” cross-reference cards or entries may read “For additional information on this subject consult the Vertical File: [give the subject or name of the file].” Sample reference cards may be found in figure 6.3. Give enough information to be helpful to the patron but keep it simple enough to be easy for you to manage. In some case you may want to adapt the scope notes included in the LC and Sears subject-heading guides to provide additional information for your patron.
In addition to references to your vertical files and supplementary collections in your library catalog, a printout of headings and cross-references near the files will be helpful. (You should be able to input data once for your index and labels.) Some libraries also keep a shelf list for files. Shelf-list information kept on a personal computer would simply be a print-out of filees in the order in which they are filed (alphabetical, classified, or sequential) without scope notes or cross-references. You can use this as an inventory of files.
Computer index printout. A computer index is easy to update, and you can provide frequent updates near the files and at the reference desk. Copies can be duplicated for individuals or departments. Your index will be more helpful with numerous cross-references (see figure 6.4).
Card index. This type of index (3”x5” cards in a tray or rotary card file) is easy to update, and references can be listed on the back of the cards. It is time-consuming to prepare.
Typed list. A separate index or printed guide has the advantage of being compact, portable, easy to photocopy for duplication, and easy to use. The disadvantages are that it is difficult to change and that it can easily get lost.
Self-indexing has the advantage of confining everything to the file cabinet. Extra folders are used for “see” references and “see also” references are written directly on the subject folders. It is very easy and it may save time. Some of the problems with self-indexing are that files must be kept in perfect order, every file must stay in the cabinet to maintain the index, and it is cumbersome to check in the cabinet instead of checking an authority list.
Decisions regarding organization, subject headings, and indexing must be made by each library. There is no correct answer for everyone.It is important to address each of these three elements in organization.
- Choose a plan for organization that is appropriate for your collection.
- Select an authority for subject headings with provision for modification.
- Provide an index for your users.
Sitter, Clara L. The Vertical file and its alternative: a handbook. Englewood, Colorado. Libraries Unlimited, 1992 pp. 37-48.