KF Modified: A Law Classification for the Small American Law Library?*

In the June issue of Technical Services Law Librarian Karen Wahl talks about Kristen M. Hallows‘ article called “It’s All Enumerative: Reconsidering Library of Congress Classification in U.S. Law Libraries” published in the Winter issue of the Law Library Journal.

In her review Wahl says:

The major thesis is that a subject classification scheme, rather than a jurisdictional classification scheme, may better support the needs of users because it will collocate related materials better, leading to better browsability for the patrons. It implies that the hyper-specificity of LCC makes this more difficult for a smaller law library.

The remainder of Wahl‘s comments provide support for her self proclaimed bias for the jurisdictional approach to law classification found in the Library of Congress Classification (LCC).

This reminds me of Philip Wesley‘s comment writing in the Law Library Journal in 1968:

the decision is not which is the best classification, but which is the best system for a given library. Scholars have argued for years about the relative merits of one classification vis-a-vis another; and I think it is safe to say that the arguments concerning law classification will continue for many years, inconclusively.

I wonder then if KF Modified might be useful for the smaller American law library?

KF Modified is modelled on LCC’s KF classification and provides a browsable topical arrangement of the common law. Jurisdiction can also be specified in some topic areas using what is known as the Geographic Division (G.D.). For example, Canadian materials on domestic relations would be classed at KF505.ZA2 where ZA2 is the G.D. for Canada.

There has been no G.D. for American law in KF Modified instead the number is used on its own, i.e. KF505. However, a G.D. for each state could be easily devised. For example domestic law for New York state might end up something like, KF505.ZU33 where ZU33 is the GD for New York.

Wahl also points out practical time related reasons for sticking with LCC. I considered this in an article I wrote for the Canadian Law Library Review a few years back, “KF Modified and the Classification of Canadian Common Law.”

The irony here is that KF Modified can actually save time and money in law library cataloguing departments. It is much easier for cataloguers to consult only one schedule for all common law jurisdictions. The result is that cataloguers can really learn the system well, enabling them to make better and more consistent classification decisions. The cataloguer can focus on analysing the intellectual content, determining the main subject area, and applying a geographical division (GD) where appropriate. A few topical areas have been ‘modified’ to handle constitutional law, taxation, etc. and there are a handful of additional tables that can be applied to collocate bibliographic formats. That’s it. Consulting one classification schedule with one approach to information organization saves cataloguers’ time.

And more specifically on copy cataloguing and KF Modified:

… even if a cataloguer is faced with only a Class K number, it is a relatively simple task to convert this number to an equivalent KF Modified classification number. It is a simple matter to find the corresponding subject area and, if appropriate, add a geographic division (GD). For example, a book on family law in Ontario would use KEO213 in Class K; the corresponding topical area in KF Modified (something KF Modified cataloguers will know intuitively) is KF505; and the appropriate GD for Ontario, ZB3, is added to create KF505.ZB3. People familiar with KF Modified (including law library users) will know that Ontario family law will be found in KF505.ZB3. And, as an added bonus, they will also find grouped together in KF505 other resources on family law in England, Alberta, Nunavut, Queensland, etc., that they can also consult.”

With some slight additional modification KF Modified might be a suitable choice for the smaller American law library.

* This post was first published on the KF Modified Blog on July 22, 2014.

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