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Dewey and Universal Decimal Classification in a Medical Library


The DDC scheme of classification is enumerative while the UDC scheme of classification can be said to be faceted. The two approaches however, share some similarities. First, both approaches can be used to express the same number of classes. On the other hand notational synthesis is always available in faceted systems but not always in enumerative ones.

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DDC System of classification

(The straight Dope 2006). It is advantage to use DDC for it makes use of decimals. (Nation 2003) The Dewey decimal classification system is attributed with several characteristics, first in this system classification standards are available in print and Web formats and in both full and abridged editions. Secondly the Dewey Decimal classification system offers significant notation in universally recognized Arabic numerals, clearly defined categories and hierarchies. It also provides a rich network of relationships among topics. (OCLC 2008). Another characteristic of DDC is that it can be used in the search services. (UKOLN Metadata Group 1997).

The Dewey Decimal Classification system endeavors to organize and present all knowledge in ten major classes (Jean Hasley (n.d)). These major classes are further subdivided into other smaller classes. Simply put the ten main classes have ten divisions. Each of the ten divisions contains ten sections. In summary the system has ten major classes with 100 divisions and 1000 sections. This classification is a reference system that classifies all subjects by number. The numbers that are usually in a particular grouping refer to a selected general topic, each new number after the decimal then subdivides the previous numbers and the subject that it covers. The system has been widely modified and expanded through twenty two major revisions the most recent being in the year 2004. These modifications have made placing of books on the shelves specific and in a repeatable order. As a result it has been easier to find books using this system and to also return them to their proper place. The system is known to be advantageous as its makes use of decimals. The decimals allow the categories to be both numerical and infinitely hierarchical. In its classification of works the DDC focuses on the subject. It further focuses on the subject relationships such as time, place and type of material. Thus producing classification numbers of no less than three digits. In this system books are placed on the shelf in an increasing numerical order. The whole number to the left of the decimal is in counting order, while the digits to the left are usually compared one digit at a time, with a blank coming before a zero. When two books have the same subject and same classification number, the second line of the call number that contains the first letter of the author’s last name is placed in an alphabetical order. If there is no any identifiable author the title can be used in placing the work alphabetically. According to Eugene E. Graziano (n.d) Medicine is closely allied to Natural History, its subjects take up in a new form the same content.

Compared to other systems like the Library of congress classification DDC is preferred for its simplicity. It is also advantageous to use the system as it makes use of both mnemonics systems and hierarchical decimal place system and pure notation which are easy to use. While Library of Congress Classification is totally enumerative DDC is more flexible as it greatly makes use of facets which is usually via auxiliary tables.

Even though DDC has several benefits that are associated with it, it has some shortcomings. To begin with the system is not hospitable to the addition of new subjects. The notations in the DDC can sometimes be extremely long when compared to equivalent classes in other classification systems. Essentially the DDC was developed on a top-down approach that centered around one man in the early 19th century. It was meant to classify all human knowledge and this made it difficult for it to adapt to changing field of knowledge. On the other hand there are other systems that are based on the literary warrant; that is classes are added by individual experts in each area. Hence DDC has not been able incorporate the changes and the additions of new branches of knowledge. (Absolute 2009).

DDC is also known to have bias towards the American aspects common in both the disciplines of religion and history. Another problem associated with DDC is that the scheme has a tendency towards very large classification call numbers as a result of number building and the need for extreme accuracy by some libraries. Moreover, compared to other classification systems the DDC does not work well for huge educational institutions. In terms of emerging technologies the DDC is not easily flexible compared to the Library Congress Classification system. In DDC some disciplines are closely related but you can be shocked to find out that they are separate numerically; for instance literature 800_899 and languages 400_499. Some classes within the DDC are very crowded for and others are very sparse. For instance in the class of Technology in the 600s it is very crowded. In extension sections of the library catalogues can sometimes require considerable revisions when new editions come out. Catalogue divisions in many libraries may also need to carry out a great deal of additional work so as to move from one division of the DDC to the next. (James Lovitt and Gregory Myers 2003).

Features of DDC Notation

In terms of simplicity DDC has a simple decimal notation consisting of totally decimal numerals; there is only decimal point after the third digit and the system has the most understandable shelf order. It is also an expressive system; in this scheme a given class mark reflects very clearly the various steps of division that have been applied. The system is considered to be hospitable as it makes use of decimal notation. Notation provides a good framework for expansion but may undermine the need to maintain expressiveness.

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The DDC Scheme of classification

The Universal Decimal Classification system is based on the Dewey decimal classification system but in this case the UDC uses the auxiliary signs to indicate various special aspects of a subject and relationships between subjects. This classification scheme is used in all the fields of knowledge.

It is used for sophisticated indexing and retrieval. Index is very detailed and is used as a pointer to the classes. The indexing groups subjects that are scattered through the schedules. The best indexing is the chain indexing for it saves on the number of index entries; economy of intellectual efforts. It gives good allocation of related subjects and it also gives independence of classification scheme used. The system therefore endeavors to achieve decimal notation and at the same time to continue being in close liaison with the Dewey decimal system. In this classification follows the traditional disciplines of study. The system is highly flexible so as to tolerate for regular revision so as to keep pace with the development of knowledge. One of the most impressive characteristic of the Universal Decimal classification system is its ability to express not only simple subjects but also relations between subjects. This classification scheme has a hierarchical structure where knowledge is divided into ten classes where each class is subdivided into distinct logical parts; each subdivision is divided further. Since the UDC classes a phenomenon according to the way the concept of discipline in which it is considered; it has a code that can be applied in two ways. First, it may be transcribed directly onto the documents, and be used to verify their physical arrangements. For example, books on shelve or even papers in a file. Secondly, it may be incorporated in the reference to the documents; for instance in entries in catalogues or bibliographies. In a summary this scheme of classification subjects that have not yet been classed can be placed following the basic precept; there is also the temporary accommodation by the use of verbal extensions. The UDC has been two different primary categories; the basic classes and subsidiary and the facets. The principal concepts or rather the basic classes that form the superstructure of the UDC are found in the primary listing. In this classification scheme there is the digit notation reflecting position to other basic classes within discipline. For every basic class there are a number of subsidiary precepts which are grouped into facets. The notions within a facet all have similar relationship to the basic class. In order to make a distinction them there needs to be application of the same principle of division or differentiation. In each basic class there are two kinds of facets; common facets and facets specific to a particular basic class. Common facets are usually listed at the beginning of the schedules; notations that tend to fall into these facets are represented by notation beginning with a comma.

Facets in UDC

On the other hand facets specific to a particular basic class are listed in the schedules at appropriate place for that class. In the UDC scheme of classification the subject to be classed can either be simple or composite where the compound subject can be of more than one type. The notation for a simple subject is found with the enumeration in the schedules. The notation for basic class is usually given and the piece of notation for a single concept is added to this for a single–faceted subject. The notation for the composite subject must be built up or synthesized while on the other hand the notation for the basic class is found and the notations for the other concepts present are added. In some instances a double colon is necessary. This is more often used when the concept is defined by means of a concept that is found in another basic class. Sometimes documents are written where the subject written represents a fusion of more than one basic class. If these are adjacent in the schedules then their notation is connected by using a stroke. If separate then it is necessary to use a plus sign. In both situations the resultant notation is enclosed in square brackets to show consideration as one unit. Similarly square brackets are used to show algebraic groupings. To make it easy for readers this classification scheme has long notational elements that are broken up into three digit unit by means of a point that has no any other use. (James and Gregory Myers 2003). In addition parentheses are used to include terms that cannot be found in the schedules.

UDC is similar to the DDC for the symbols selected for its notation are not dependent on language and are unanimously recognizable. Arabic figures, which are supplemented by a few other signs derived from Mathematics and ordinary punctuation, are a characteristic of this scheme of classification. In addition the arrangement in the UDC is based on the decimal system. The numbers that are generally taken as the decimals determines the filing order. This classification scheme is by a long way extensible; that is the newly introduced subdivisions cannot tamper with the existing allocation of numbers.

It is worth noting that the UDC makes use of two types of tables; the main tables and the auxiliary tables. The main table includes the outline of the various disciplines of knowledge that are arranged in 10 classes, hierarchically divided and numbered from 0 to 9. To provide a solution to the limitation of the UDC’s notational base there was extensive application of zeros. On the other hand the auxiliary tables add faceted ness to the system and it is considered perhaps to be one of the outstanding features of the UDC. There is the use of the auxiliary signs and connecting symbols. This is according to James Lovitt and Gregory Myers 2003. One of the features that make UDC preferable to DDC is that; DDC is not perfect system as not all books can’t fit neatly into 1 number.( Dewey pinball).

One of the benefits of UDC is that it is very flexible in nature. Because of this beneficial characteristic of flexibility the UDC has a tendency of lending itself to conversion in a digital computer format. It shares a beneficial characteristic with the DDC; just like the later UDC has been published in full, abridged and web formats. The UDC is universal, for when its notations overcomes all language; that is it can easily applied to other languages and scripts. Its flexibility makes it possible for the UDC to be used in multiple fields together with museums, archives libraries and in documentation. UDC classification scheme makes use of abbreviation and vocabulary. This specific feature makes updates easier and makes worldwide standardized indexing possible. The UDC is easy to manipulate making it easy to accommodate advances in knowledge. This is made easy because a new number can simply be inserted without going to the burden of a general editorial agreement. Moreover new concepts can be made to be a combination of the already existing ones. (James Levitt and Gregory Myers 2003).

Despite the many benefits of the UDC, there are some shortcomings that are associated with it. The UDC cannot be found easily in CIPs and pre-recorded records like the catalogue and the OCLC database. It is known for a fact that the UDC lacks both conformity and uniformity. Many libraries have reported lack of uniformity in the UDC in library use. In extension the UDC lacks what is known as even coverage of modern topics, whereas some of the expansions of the UDC are too cumbersome for they are too detailed. Notations that are used in the CDC are often too clumsy and unnecessarily long. Generally the UDC lacks synthesis which eventually leads to what can be referred to as repetition of base numbers in the colon combinations at times. To a certain extent it can safely be concluded that the CDC is not in very much use in the North America. (James Levitt and Gregory Myers 2003).

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In comparison to other systems of classification the UDC is more meticulous when it comes to presenting the features of the work in question. The UDC shows specificity in its breakdown of numbers. Other schemes of classification have moderate breakdown of subject materials

The Universal Decimal Classification system is more suitable for use in a medical library; especially in reclassifying large volumes of academic materials that are concerned with medicine. This is so because the UDC seems to be evolving on a daily basis. Recent editions of UDC have introduced specific phase relationships and common auxiliaries and facets. In UDC each concept has a place for its unique definition instead of being re-notated. The evolution of the UDC makes it even more suitable for reclassifying volumes in a medical library since there is always emergence of new knowledge in the field of medicine almost daily; this is more often in form of journals written by medical practitioners. To accommodate these increasing volumes of knowledge and academic materials there is need for a classification scheme that is always evolving.

In DDC sections of library catalogues can sometimes require major adjustments when new editions are invented hence catalogue divisions in many libraries may need to carry out massive additional work to move from one edition of the DDC another. In UDC there is no need to concentrate on making a lot of changes when new editions emerge as the scheme is flexible and can accommodate new works. In addition DDC scheme of classification frequently requires revisions. Under such circumstances it is advisable for a medical library to adopt the UDC for it is flexible and can accommodate the frequent new research and technologies in the field of medicine. Unlike the DDC that is usually crowded with call numbers The UDC is well organized with facets and notations that take into account the accumulating knowledge in the field of medicine.

UDC can be easily used in the medical library with even the latest computer technologies. This is so because the UDC can be converted easily in a digital computer format. This is advantageous as the new medical journals can be accessed on the internet. The flow of information is therefore fast since the filing of information concerning the medical profession is computerized. Furthermore, the UDC has been published in full, Abridged and web formats, hence lending itself to conversion in a digital computer format.

In a medical library it is important that there should be no language barrier. The UDC in this case is therefore effective in the accessibility and spread of information. The UDC can readily lend itself to applications in other languages. Its notation system is also advanced hence UDC is able to overcome all languages and provide a worldwide use. The medical information is universal and very important in the preservation of human life; by overcoming all languages the UDC becomes even more effective than the DDC. According to UDC consortium 2006, UDC renders itself to corrections and recent editions can be translated into other languages.

Nature of UDC

In nature the UDC is brief and simple to understand; this is so because the system uses abbreviations and vocabulary that is easily updated hence providing a worldwide standardized indexing. Its simple vocabulary makes it easy to sometimes understand the technical and scientific jargon that is associated with the medical profession. Its abbreviated nature makes it possible to accommodate the many classes and subdivisions that are characteristic of many medical subjects. In a medical library UDC is the most appropriate as it is recommended for a scientific library; and medicine is under science. (IFLANET 1998)

In terms of bibliographies and filing of information UDC provides a greater freedom and autonomy. Anybody can therefore add information that is new without necessarily having to reach a general editorial agreement. This is possible because it is easy to influence the UDC to house advances in knowledge. The UDC can generate new synthesized numbers for concepts; that is it can insert a new number as required hence combine new concepts into the already existing ones and therefore can be instantaneously expressed. According to Birger Hjorland 2007 UDC is the most detailed and specific of the general enumerative classification systems. UDC is relevant for use in a medical library for it is used by over 60% of the countries all over the world. ( Slavic, Aida (2006) )

Compared to UDC, DDC is the most applicable in a medical library. Its notation is marked with simplicity brevity hospitality, flexibility and expressiveness.

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  1. Absolute Astronomy.2009.Dewey Decimal Classification.
  2. Birger Hjørland 2007 (Universal Decimal Classification)
  3. Dewey Pinball (n.d) Dewey Decimal Classification ( 13th Abridged). Web.
  4. Dewey Decimal System(n.d) Universal Classification System.
  5. IFLANET 1998 64th IFLA General Conference.
  6. James Lovitt and Gregory Myers.2003. An Examination and Comparison of the Dewey Decimal Classification and the Universal Decimal Classification Systems.
  7. Nation 2003 Encyclopedia > Dewey Decimal Classification.
  8. Slavic, Aida 2006 Use of the Universal Decimal Classification: a worldwide survey.
  9. The Straight Dope. 2006. What’s so great about the Dewey Decimal System?
  10. UDC Consortium.2008. what is UDC? UDC Publications. Web.
  11. UKOLN Metadata Group 1997 Current Use of Classification schemes in existing search services.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 27). Dewey and Universal Decimal Classification in a Medical Library.

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1. StudyCorgi. "Dewey and Universal Decimal Classification in a Medical Library." October 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Dewey and Universal Decimal Classification in a Medical Library." October 27, 2021.


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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Dewey and Universal Decimal Classification in a Medical Library'. 27 October.

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