The Library of Congress Classification (LCC) is a classification system that was first developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to organize and arrange the book collections of the Library of Congress. Over the course of the twentieth century, the system was adopted for use by other libraries as well, especially large academic libraries in the United States. It is currently one of the most widely used library classification systems in the world. The Library's Policy and Standards Division maintains and develops the system, posting lists of updates.
The system divides all knowledge into twenty-one basic classes, each identified by a single letter of the alphabet. Most of these alphabetical classes are further divided into more specific subclasses, identified by two-letter, or occasionally three-letter, combinations. For example, class N, Art, has subclasses NA, Architecture; NB, Sculpture, ND, Painting; as well as several other subclasses. Each subclass includes a loosely hierarchical arrangement of the topics pertinent to the subclass, going from the general to the more specific. Individual topics are often broken down by specific places, time periods, or bibliographic forms (such as periodicals, biographies, etc.). Each topic (often referred to as a caption) is assigned a single number or a span of numbers. Whole numbers used in LCC may range from one to four digits in length, and may be further extended by the use of decimal numbers. Some subtopics appear in alphabetical, rather than hierarchical, lists and are represented by decimal numbers that combine a letter of the alphabet with a numeral , e.g. .B72 or .K535. Relationships among topics in LCC are shown not by the numbers that are assigned to them, but by indenting subtopics under the larger topics that they are a part of, much like an outline. In this respect, it is different from more strictly hierarchical classification systems, such as the Dewey Decimal Classification, where hierarchical relationships among topics are shown by numbers that can be continuously subdivided.
The full text of LCC is distributed by the Library's Cataloging Distribution Service in various forms:
- 41 printed volumes (called schedules), which may be purchased individually or as a set as long as copies are available
- World Wide Web access via Classification Web, an online product that includes not only LCC but also the text of Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)
- A full set of LCC records in MARC 21 or MARCXML format, as well as subscriptions to a weekly update service
A detailed outline of LCC is available on the World Wide Web.
Questions or comments about the structure or content of LCC may be addressed to the Policy and Standards Division.