Charles A. Cutter

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Charles Ammi Cutter (1837 — 1903), American librarian responsible for Cutter numbers
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See also Henry Evelyn Bliss | Melvil Dewey | Important librarians in history | History of librarianship degree programs | Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan

"...our library is not a mere cemetery of dead books, but a living power, which supplies amusement for dull times, recreation for the tired, information for the curious, inspires the love of research in youth, and furnishes the materials for it in mature age, enables and induces the scholar not to let his study end with his school days." — Charles A. Cutter, 1903

Charles Ammi Cutter (1837 — 1903), American librarian and classificationist, was a founding member of the American Library Association (ALA). His major contribution is classification specifically the development of his Expansive Classification system, and his rules for cuttering or "Cutter numbers". Obviously inspired by the Dewey Decimal Classification Cutter worked to extend its principles in his own work. The Expansive Classification System is a flexible but specific system that enables classification of diverse library collections regardless of size. Cutter prepared for the clergy but, upon graduating from Harvard's School of Divinity, was not ordained. Instead he worked as a librarian at Harvard where he was the first librarian to use small cards instead of published volumes to build the library catalogue. Today, his Cutter Expansive Classification system of alphabetic tables is used to abbreviate authors' names and generate unique call numbers in libraries around the world. Cutter was inducted into the Library Hall of Fame in 1950.

Boston Athenaeum & Forbes Library

In 1868, Cutter accepted a position at the Boston Athenaeum whose goal was to publish a dictionary catalogue for its library collection. In 1876, he was hired by the Bureau of Education to write a report about the state of libraries for the American centennial. Part two of his report included his Rules for a Dictionary Catalog. From 1891-1893, he assumed the editorship of the Library Journal. Among the many influential articles he wrote during that time, one was an article entitled "The Buffalo Public Library in 1983" where he wrote what libraries might look like in a hundred years. Cutter died before he could finish his own classification system. He got as far as developing seven levels of classification, each with increasing specificity. Small libraries that did not want to generate long class numbers could use lower levels of his system. On the other hand, larger libraries could use the specific tables to keep subjects separate. While the Expansive Classification System was incomplete, it later became the basis of the Library of Congress classification system and included the "Z Class: Bibliography and Library Science".

Cutter's other contributions at the Forbes Library included the art and music departments and encouraging children to exhibit art. He established branch libraries and a travelling book system that was similar to bookmobiles. Cutter might be surprised to see his portrait hanging over the reference librarians' desk in the Forbes Library in Northampton. His roll top desk is also in the office currently occupied by the library director.

Cutter Expansive Classification outline

Similar to the LC classification system, texts are organized by major subjects:

  • 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


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