The Classification System: A Brief History

  • Adelaide R. Hasse
    Adelaide R. Hasse
  • The Superintendent of Documents Classification System was developed in GPO’s Public Documents Library between 1895 and 1903. William Leander Post, head of the Library, described it in the preface to the List of Publications of the Agriculture Department 1862-1902 issued by the Superintendent of Documents in 1904. Post credited Adelaide R. Hasse, a librarian working in the library from 1895-1897, for the concept of classification by Government author. Hasse had previously used Government organization authorship to assign classification numbers to the List of Publications of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1841 to June 30, 1895, Inclusive while working as assistant librarian in the Los Angeles Public Library. It was published by the Department of Agriculture in 1896 as its Library Bulletin No. 9.

    Hasse and Post determined that the best descriptor for Government publications was their origin or authorship, generally expressed not as a personal author but as an agency, bureau, or office. In the scheme, each department or agency in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches, and each independent agency, is assigned an alphabetic symbol, generally although not strictly, mnemonic; thus, A is used for Agriculture Department, C for Commerce, S for State Department, and so on. Two-letter and three-letter symbols have been used as necessary: FS for Federal Security Agency (in the 1930s); HE for Health, Education, and Welfare, later transferred to Health and Human Services; NAS for NASA; and HS for Homeland Security. Congress, as well as Congressional committees and commissions, are designated X and Y.

    Basing the classification on current Federal Government organization can be challenging. New federal agencies are created, older agencies cease operation, bureaus can be newly created or merged, or functions transferred to another agency. When the Department of Homeland Security was established in 2002, it took bureaus and subordinate offices from Treasury, Defense, Justice, and several others, as well as incorporating the formerly independent agency, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).

    The Superintendent of Documents classification system continues to classify by Government author. It has been used for over 100 years to identify Government documents distributed to depository libraries and described in the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications. The system is also used by the National Archives and many libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program to organize their collections.

    Superintendent of Documents Classification Guidelines

    Introduction to the Classification Guidelines
    The Classification System: A Brief History
    Structure of the Classification Number
    Sorting in SuDocs Order
    Example of a SuDocs Sort
    Class Stems
    Letter Author Symbols
    New Agency Classes
    Joint Publications from Different Agencies
    Publications Prepared by One Agency for Another
    Serials with Changing Publishers
    Joint Publications Issued in Series
    Subordinate Offices
    First and Second Levels
    Assignment of Classes
    Third and Fourth Levels
    Joint Publications from Different Subagencies
    Name Changes and Reorganizations
    Category Classes
    Most Frequently Used Category Classes
    .1 - Annual reports
    .2 - General publications
    .8 - Handbooks, manuals, and guides
    .11 - Maps and Charts
    .12 - Posters
    Less Frequent Category Classes
    .3 - Bulletins
    .4 - Circulars
    .5 - Laws
    .6 - Regulations, rules, and instructions
    .7 - Press releases
    .9 - Bibliographies and Lists of Publications
    .10 - Directories
    .13 - Forms
    .14 - Addresses
    Cutter Numbers
    Cutter Table and Its Use
    Filing Order for Cutter Numbers
    Slash Numbers
    Selecting Cutter Words
    Words to Avoid when Cuttering
    Sets With a Collective Title
    Foreign Language Editions
    Numbers in Titles
    Cuttering Acronyms and Initialisms
    Cuttering: Geographic Topics
    Cuttering Related Documents Covering the Same Subject but Different
    General Subjects and Geographic Terms
    Cuttering Geographic Terms Using Personal Names
    Cuttering Multi-Part Geographic Names
    State Cutter Numbers
    State Cutter Numbers Table
    Additions to Book Numbers
    Year Format
    Dates for Revised Editions
    Punctuation in Dates or Date Ranges
    Volume, Part, Chapter, and Section Numbers
    Volume Number and Date: Which Comes First?
    Volume Number Followed by Date
    Date Followed by Volume Number
    Words and Abbreviations
    Foreign-language Publications
    Multiple Word Phrases in a Suffix
    Multiple Versions of a Publication
    Corrected Copies of Numbered Volumes
    Standard Abbreviations and Words
    State Abbreviations
    Classes by Publication Type
    Preliminary, Initial, Draft, and Final Reports
    Preprints and Separates
    Summaries and Executive Summaries
    Electronic Products
    Sets with Multiple Publication Types
    Monographic Series
    Identifying a Monographic Series
    Assigning New Series Classes
    Series Related to Existing Classes by Subject
    Structure of the Series Class
    Departmental Series vs. Bureau Series
    Series Book Numbers
    Series Numbering
    Unusual Series Numbering
    Series Numbering and Revised Editions
    Numbering system changes
    Two series on one publication
    Series number vs. Agency control number
    Letters and Phrases Appearing on Publications
    Volumes, Parts, or Sections
    Publications Which Are Not Serials or Series
    Multipart Monographs versus Series
    Other Situations
    Continuing Resources
    Identifying a Continuing Resource
    Integrating Resources
    Assigning New Continuing Resource Classes
    Works Related to Category Classes
    Works Related to Existing Classes by Subject
    New Classes to Reflect Changes for Existing Serials
    Serials within Series: Separate Class Approach
    Serials with a Constant Series Number
    Cuttering a Serial or, When Not to Establish a New Class Stem for a Serial
    Serials within Series: Cuttering Approach
    Publications of Short Duration
    Other cases for Cuttering
    Serials Designation
    Number 1 for First Month Appears Annually
    Date incorporated in Series Number
    Volume and Number
    Annual Publications
    Semiannual Publications
    Publications Issued Three or More Times a Year
    Variations in Publication Cycles
    Release Date vs. Coverage Date
    Special Issues of Serials
    Frequently Revised Monographs Cataloged as Serials
    Presidential Publications
    Presidential Committees and Commissions
    Presidential Commissions vs Presidential Initiatives
    Permanent Agencies Reporting to the President
    Vice President of the United States
    Congressional and Legislative Branch Publications
    Y 4. - Congressional Committee Publications
    Constructing the Committee Designation
    Reorganized Committees and Name Changes
    Y 4. Committee Print or Y 1. Report?
    Joint Hearings
    Publications Prepared by One Committee for the Use of Another
    Individual Book Numbers
    House Book Numbers
    Numbered and Unnumbered Documents in One Class
    Senate Book Numbers
    Cutter Numbers
    Multipart Works
    Errors in Numbering on Publications
    Y 1.-: - Congress as a Whole, House and Senate as a Whole
    Individual Book Numbers
    House and Senate Documents and Reports
    Y 1.1/2: - U. S. Congressional Serial Set
    Y 1.2/5: - United States Code
    Boards, Commissions, and Independent or Temporary Committees Established by Congress
    Boards, Commissions, and Committees Established within the Executive Branch
    Executive Branch Independent Agencies with Limited Duration or Publishing Output
    Y 3. - Boards, Commissions, and Independent or Temporary Committees
    Agency Designations
    Category and Series Designations
    Related Series or Subjects
    Individual Book Numbers
    Y 3.2: - Limited Boards, Commissions, and Independent Committees
    Y 4.2: and Y 4.3: - Select and Special Committees (As Appointed)
    Y 7.1: - Memorial Addresses
    Y 9. - Speeches
    Y 10: and Y 11: - Subordinate Offices
    X 1.1: - Congressional Record
    XJH: and XJS: - House and Senate Journals
    Y and X General Issues
    Serial Publications
    Star Prints
    U.S. Participation in International Organizations
    Cartographic Resources
    Category Classes for Maps and Charts
    General Rules
    U.S. Geological Survey Maps
    Map Reference Numbers
    Northwest (NW) Quadrant
    Northeast (NE) Quadrant
    Southwest (SW) Quadrant
    Southeast (SE) Quadrant
    Edition Date
    Bureau of Land Management Maps
    U.S. Forest Service Maps
    Revision Dates
    National Ocean Service Nautical Charts
    Map Types
    Classification Guidelines for Digital Reproductions
    Classification by Type of Digital Reproduction

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    Please submit your questions about the Superintendent of Documents Classification Guidelines via askGPO by choosing the “Federal Depository Library Program” tile and selecting the category “Cataloging/Metadata (Policy and Records).