Library blog – how does library classification shape learning?

Newnham College Library

Graduate Trainee Librarian Beth Walters reflects on the significance of library classification in a College library. (Photo by Beth Walters)

Have you ever wondered what librarians do all day? I did too, and then I became fascinated by it and wanted to learn more.

I’m now finishing my first term of work as the new Library Graduate Trainee at Newnham College, a role created to give a graduate the chance to experience library work before proceeding to further study to become qualified. One of the most interesting things has been learning just how much work goes into the maintenance and development of a collection.

Over the summer, while most undergraduate students are not in college, the library was a hive of activity. We took the opportunity to work on reclassifying the Medicine section, and I saw just how much work is involved from purchase to shelving, classifying, reclassifying and finally withdrawal if the book becomes outdated. It has given me an exciting insight into curating and managing a library collection, especially when it comes to ensuring our library reflects new and emerging research.

Libraries are sometimes viewed as static and subdued places but I’ve found that the opposite is true. When we classify a book – giving it a label to reflect where it’s physically located – we must ensure the category we assign the book reflects the ways we are thinking about the contents within. These categorisations might be obvious to our seasoned Medics who study and practise Medicine every single day, but our incoming Freshers really rely on their reading lists and the sensible organisation of their resources to help guide them on their first steps in the field.

For example, our previous classification didn’t include a dedicated section for neuroscience. With the explosion of research and interest in the field, we now have five new subsections within neuroscience and room to expand! It’s vital we ensure the shelves physically represent developments so any member of college can glimpse the front line of research and education just by standing in the library.

The reclassification gave us a chance to reflect, remove anything that was outdated, and purchase new and exciting books to inspire and support our medics. In this way, a library is a lot like a carefully cared-for plant that is live and responsive to its environment, but also ready to adapt to change and development. It’s been an inspiring term, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else is in store! If you have any questions or suggestions about the library, we would be very excited to hear from you at

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