|Charles Ammi "The Number" Cutter|
A system of alphanumeric author marks developed by Charles A. Cutter to permit the subarrangement of items of the same classification, alphabetically by author's last name. A Cutter number consists of one to three letters from the name, followed by one or more arabic numerals from the Cutter Table added to the end of the call numberby a cataloger.
What does that mean, non-library folks? Say you have a big library collection with 1,000 books about underwater basket-weaving. How do you differentiate between all those books when they are all about the same thing? Well, without the subject area, the only ways are title and author. The odds are that at least a third of those begin with "Underwater Basket-weaving," so title is out. So we go with author, and even though a bunch of them might be named "Smith." So Charles Cutter looked at this and said, "Boo-yah, homies. I got ya covered." He came up with a variation of this table, where the author's name is encoded into a few letters and numbers that creates a unique number for that particular book. Have a lot of "Smiths?" Continue translating letters into the author's first name. Bada-bing, bada-boom, you have a well made catalog where every book has a place.
Whew. That went on for a while. Bored yet? Let's talk about the man himself.
Born in Boston in 1837, Charles Ammis Cutter was raised by his aunts after his father remarried and sent him away to West Cambridge. His aunt was a librarian, giving him a respect for knowledge at an early age. At the age of 14, he went to Harvard. After graduating, he went to work as an assistant at the Harvard Library and went on to help create an index catalog card system that allowed the catalog to be changed at will. So there was the first contribution, the card catalog system.
Next, after an appointment as a librarian at Boston Anthenaeum. For the next 25 years, he decided to kick some library science ass. He created a catalog of the library's holdings, including loan cards glued into the books, an inter-library loan system, and home deliveries that were something like a bookmobile. Yeah, we still do those in one way or anther. Then, just for giggles, he published Rules for a Dictionary Catalog in 1876, the first work of its kind that became the leading textbook of its kind.
His professional creations continued as he started working on a seven stage Expansive Cataloging scheme. You might know the version we use today as the Library of Congress Classification system, which use his "Cutter" numbers in their system. Each stage was set up for various sizes of libraries, with stage one being for small libraries and so on. Unfortunately, he never finished the full system and the Dewey something or other became the more popular classification method.
Unfortunately, his life took a down turn. After working with a guy named "Dewey" and others to form a little organization called the ALA (American Library Association), he clashed with the other creators over leadership and administration as well as the trustees at the Boston Anthenaeum over the catalog changes he was implementing. He left the library and toured Europe for a while.
During his travels, he contacted the trustees of the newly formed Forbes Library in Northhampton to purchase materials for their library. When he returned, he was hired as a librarian for the library. Here, I quote from the Forbes Library website page about Cutter, where I have re-learned much of this information:
"Cutter's vision for the Forbes, in his own words, was for 'a new type of public library which, speaking broadly, will lend everything to anybody in any desired quantity for any desired time.' There were to be no bothersome rules and children would be welcome.
In another of Cutter's major departures from the standard practice in most libraries of the time, the Forbes' patrons were free to browse the open stacks rather than having to request books at the front desk, which a staff member would then fetch."
I could not have said it better. Thanks in part to the efforts of Charles Cutter, you can walk around your public library today with impunity with your screaming children and your cell phones. This man helped free information to the public as well as working with local schools.
He died in 1903 at age 66 of pneumonia. In his wake, he left behind an idea that the library is a part of the community, in service to the community. The Forbes Library continues to this day, with artifacts of his life including using the Cutter Classification system.