Cutter Expansive Classification

From Academic Kids

The Cutter Expansive Classification system is a library classification system devised by Charles Ammi Cutter. It uses all letters rather than digits (such as Dewey Decimal Classification) or a mixture of digits (such as Library of Congress classification), and 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, 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.

The second line usually represents the author's name by a capital letter plus one or more numbers arranged decimally. This may be followed by the first letter or letters of the title in lower-case, and/or sometimes the letters a,b,c indicating other printings of the same title. When appropriate, the second line may begin with a 'form' number—e.g., 1 stands for history and criticism of a subject, 2 for a bibliography, 5 for a dictionary, 6 for an atlas or maps, 7 for a periodical, 8 for a society or university publication, 9 for a collection of works by different authors.

On the third line a capital Y indicates a work about the author or book represented by the first two lines, and a capital E (for English—other letters are used for other languages) indicates a translation into English. If both criticism and translation apply to a single title, the number expands into four lines.


  • Bliss, Henry Evelyn. The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries: and the Subject-Approach to Books, 2nd ed. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1939.
  • Cutter, Charles A. Rules for a Dictionary Catalog. W. P. Cutter, ed. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904. London: The Library Association, 1962.
  • Cutter, William Parker. Charles Ammi Cutter. Chicago: American Library Association, 1931. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1969.
  • Foster, William E. "Charles Ammi Cutter: A Memorial Sketch". Library Journal 28 (1903): 697-704.
  • Hufford, Jon R. "The Pragmatic Basis of Catalog Codes: Has the User Been Ignored?". Cataloging and Classification Quarterly 14 (1991): 27-38.
  • Immroth, John Philip. "Cutter, Charles Ammi". Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. Allen Kent and Harold Lancour, ed. 47 vols. New York, M. Dekker [1968- ]
  • Slavis, Dobrica. "CUTT-x: An Expert System for Automatic Assignment of Cutter Numbers". Cataloging and Classification Quarterly. Vol 22, no. 2, 1996.
  • Tauber, Maurice F., and Edith Wise. "Classification Systems". Ralph R. Shaw, ed.. The State of the Library Art. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers U. Graduate School of Library Service, 1961. 1-528.

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