Wednesday 16 September 2009

rescuing Jan Morris from the paedophiles

In an earlier post, I described how I found that Bristol City Library had filed Becoming Drusilla under 306.768 (Culture & Institutions: Sexual Relations: Transgenderism and Intersexuality). Further research showed that Jan Morris' autobiography Conundrum had been placed in the personality disorders section, where it was sandwiched between a couple of books about child sex offenders and their victims.

I sent a copy of my previous post to Bristol Central Library, and got a reply yesterday.

Dear Dru Marland,

Your recent e-mail querying the classification of books on transsexuality/transgenderism, has been passed on to me as I am responsible for classification and cataloguing at Bristol Libraries.

The basic answer to your question is that we classify any book by its subject matter, regardless of whether the author has written books on other subjects or is more famous in another field.

So - 306.768 is the number for transsexuality, and as the book "Becoming Drusilla" is about the biographee's change of sex, this is the correct number. If any other material on her was published we would classify it according to what it was about - not necessarily 306.768

Similarly, Jan Morris' s "Conundrum" is about her change of sex, so 306.768 is the correct number for it. The more recent edition of the book is at this number.(the older (1974) version is, as you say at the medical number 616.8583, which is now incorrect and unacceptable, and I shall alter this). Other books by Jan Morris are classified in their individual subjects - travel, architecture, history, etc

With regard to your Noel Coward example, 822 (plays), 792 (stage presentation), 821 (poetry) are examples of the different numbers used. If a book specifically about his homosexuality was produced then it would be classed at the relevant number (306.7662)

I hope that this clarifies the situation for you.

Stock Officer

So, a small step forward. But more work still to be done. Watch this space. Or not, of course, as you please. I do think that, in its small way, this stuff is important, because the way we categorise things is indicative of the way we think about them. We have come a fair distance from 1974, when Conundrum could so readily have been categorised as it was, in a way that is now recognised (if only when it has been pointed out) as unacceptable. But the journey isn't over yet.


  1. Well done, Dru.

    Yes, categorisation is VERY important when it comes to how things are perceived by others.

    I had thought there was a standard Dewey system in use throughout UK libraries, whereby a book received a universal number, which it was then filed under in every library.

    Is this not the case, then? If not, it means each library makes it's own personal decision as to what number a book gets, which seems very odd.


  2. Very interesting post - and yes, a small step forward, as you say. Mind you, I guess we'll see just how unacceptable it still is to classify transsexuality as a personality disorder once the DSM V comes out in 2012...

  3. I'm not quite sure, Chrissie; I have a vague notion that the British Library may classify something and other libraries take their lead from them; but there is the potential for regional variation; there are books in Bristol libraries which are classified differently in Somerset, as my wandering in the catalogue has shown. So individual choices can be and are made locally.

    Treasure in store, Charlie...

  4. As you say it is important.

    I couldn't help thinking of Kenneth Williams while I was reading this (I wonder what his diary is classed under). He was so unhappy and guilt ridden. if he'd have been born a couple of decades later his life would have been so much easier (inside and out).

    The little steps count more than people realise.