Friday, March 5, 2010

Charles Martel's Classification System

Charles Martel (1860-1945) was the architect of the Library of Congress Classification System. He was born on March 5, 1860 making today the 150th anniversary of his birth. Martel began his career at the Library of Congress on December 1, 1897 shortly after the opening of the magnificent new building now known as the Thomas Jefferson Building. Martel worked under J. C. M. Hanson, head of the newly created Catalog Division of LC. The sequence of events leading to the creation of the Library of Congress Classification System is well documented in the Martel entry in the Dictionary of American Library Biography which was written by James Bennett Childs and John Y. Cole. Herbert Putnam was appointed Librarian of Congress in 1899. There was little doubt at that time that the classification system used by LC was inadequate, but Putnam felt that it was desirable to use an existing classification system as its replacement. Melvil Dewey was approached about expanding his decimal system but he was not interested in adapting it for a large library like the Library of Congress. Martel and Hanson convinced Putnam that a new classification system was needed. The system they developed was influenced to a certain extent by the classification system of Charles Ammi Cutter. The LC Classification System is widely used by college and university libraries. Martel later served as chief of LC's Catalog Division and assisted the Vatican in developing its cataloging code. He died on May 1, 1945.

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