Two Places At Once – OR – Get Out Your Phasers!

Candolim_Beach_GoaThe first blog of Summer! A reminder of those glorious days spent at Aunt Gertrude’s tea party instead of down at the beach wishing you hadn’t forgotten the SPF-30. People have always thought it would be useful to be in two places at once, and the same goes for information.

Unfortunately, you can’t do this unless you have a clone, and with your luck, it’s the clone that will always get the beach assignment. Same for information. Unless there are multiple copies of a book, it can be found in only one place. There may be different ways to access it such as the stairs or the elevator, but it’s always in once place.

Now, librarians do try to help by classifying like materials together, so often related material can be found by browsing around the area. But what happens when a book can logically be put into two or more different subject areas?


There was an example in my last blog with The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, a classic work dealing with the psychology of religion. Should it be classified with the books on psychology, or with religion? Both are important areas of study, and would be delighted to have such a high-class work gracing their shelves.



phaserIn such cases, librarians often employ a strategy called Phase Relations. (Don’t worry about the jargon, just the principle.) When a book covers two major concepts, determine if one is influencing the other. If so, classify under the subject being influenced rather than the one doing the influencing. Thus, The Varieties of Religious Experience studies the effect of psychology on religion, so it goes in the religion section.

Need a more down-to-earth example? OK. Remember the kerfuffle last year when Kim Kardashian posted a photo which attracted so much attention that it “Broke the Internet”? If we ever receive a book about the incident – and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least — we will probably use the phase relations principle to classify it. Is it about how a single post was able to disrupt the entire Internet? Then it will go in the technology section. Or, is it a book about the role played by the Internet in Kim Kardashian’s career? In that case, it will go to the area for entertainment celebrities.

There are other principles of classification. For instance, a book like Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! will probably wind up in a general number for animals. But, really, the classification is not as important as the relation between various subject areas studies in the book. An important step in research is finding information about these subjects, wherever the book might be shelved.

Browsing on the shelf is nice, but limited. The advantage of using the catalog is being able to use the subject heading links found in catalog records to locate other related material throughout the library’s collections.

Using subject headings in the catalog is the next best thing to a book being in two places at the same time. There may be only one copy, but there are many different ways to get there from here.


David Moody, Associate Librarian