Asexuality in the library: Dewey Decimal Classification edition

Content warnings for historical and institutional homophobia and transphobia, because of course.

As very few of you may know, I am a LIS student (that’s “Library and Information Science”, which by the way is an undergraduate program in my country) and that means you may see me here nerding out about asexuality and libraries once every blue moon. Here we go again.

According to The Asexual Librarian in 2012, the only Dewey Decimal numbers related to asexuality she found in (when that site still worked) were 571.8429 and 571.847, both about asexual reproduction. She also mentions that 306.76 was listed as “Sexual orientation, transgenderism, intersexuality”, but if i remember correctly the site didn’t went into much detail about specifics within. Well, i’m gonna talk here about those specific within, and what’s the current place of asexuality in the Social Sciences section.

Now, what’s this about Dewey numbers?

The Dewey Decimal Classification® system (DDC) is the way most libraries in the world thematically organize their books on the shelves, with numbers from 001 to 999. In wide terms, DDC divides knowledge in

  • 000 – Computer science, information & general works
  • 100 – Philosophy & psychology
  • 200 – Religion
  • 300 – Social sciences
  • 400 – Language
  • 500 – Science
  • 600 – Technology
  • 700 – Arts & recreation
  • 800 – Literature
  • 900 – History & geography

The more specific a theme, the more numbers it has, so 370 is “Education”, 372 is “Primary education”, 372.4 is “Reading”, 372.45 is “Reading-skill strategies” and so on. There’s also several Tables with extra numbers to add on more specificity if needed, so since in Table 2 (Geographic Areas, Historical Periods) Mali is —662 3, “Reading-skill strategies in Mali” would be 372.456 623.

The DDC was first developed by Melvil Dewey in 1873 when he was 22 years old and fresh out of ΔΚΕ, and once it was finished and copyrighted in 1876, he lobbied until everyone and their mother used DDC. Dui was also one of the funding members of the American Library Association (ALA) that same year. Currently in its 23th edition, it is developed and maintained by the Dewey editorial office within the Decimal Classification Division of the Library of Congress, who then propose revisions to the Editorial Policy Committee (EPC) international board. DDC is published worldwide by the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center, Inc.), the library cooperative that also maintains WorldCat®.

The Dewey isn’t the only classification system around —there’s the Universal Decimal Classification, the Library of Congress Classification, the Nippon Library Classification, and more— but it is the most widely used one by libraries in more than 130 countries: It’s in the call numbers of the San Francisco Public Library, in the National Library of India, in the libraries of the Universidad de Lima, and in the Johannesburg City Library.

Now, there’s a long list of problematic stuff in the DDC, like religion being ridiculously focused on christianity with an “Other religions” in 290, or literature having codes assigned for every single work by Willy Shakespeare but lumping Asian, African, Semitic, Celtic and non-european native language works all together in 890 “Other literatures”… But we’re here just to talk about non-heteronormative identities, and that’s its own can of worms.

The first time homosexuality appeared in the DDC was in the 13th edition published in 1932, where it was classified in “Sexual perversions” within Mental Derangements (132.754 6 – Homosexuality) and in “Sexual manias and aberrations” within Abnormal Psychology (159.973 484 6 – Sexual inversion/Homosexuality). In the 14th edition of 1942, homosexuality also made it into the social sciences as 301.415 7 – Abnormal sexual relations. In the 17th edition of 1965, besides being a subclass of “Disorders of character and personality” (157.734) and a type of “Sex life outside of marriage” (301.415), it was also considered a neurological disorder (616.858 34). The 19th edition in 1979 was the first time homosexuality made it into Culture and Institutions as 306.76 – Homosexuality. Including bisexuality., under “Institutions pertaining to relations of the sexes”, which also includes flirting, unwed parenthood, sadism, and prostitution.

Note that I’m only talking here about homosexuality, because the DDC only talked about homosexuality. Or, more exactly, the 19th edition Relative Index mentions “Transvestism see Sexual deviations”.

Neutral sexual orientation and Asexuality

The publication of DDC 20 in 1989 stirred things around in a way that may be interesting to us. Now, 306.76 looked like this:

  • 306.76 – Sexual orientation
    • 306.762 – Neutral sexual orientation
    • 306.764 – Heterosexuality
    • 306.765 – Bisexuality
    • 306.766 – Homosexuality
      • 306.766 2 – Male homosexuality
      • 306.766 3 – Female homosexuality (Lesbianism)

I haven’t been able to find what they specifically meant by neutral sexual orientation, but Google insinuates me it may be related to John Money’s “gender neutral” theory…

Hold onto that .762 for a moment.

Homosexuality also appeared in ethics, religion, literature, medicine, and as a social problem (in “Controversies related to public morals and customs”). This was also the moment sexual orientations made it to the Table 1 under “Persons by social and economic characteristics”, which means that you could add —086 643 after any classification number to organize materials focused on lesbians in, say, military institutions or engineering.

And the only mention to trans identities in this edition is 306.77 – Sexual practices. Examples: group sex, fetichism, transvestism.

In 1996, the DDC 21 added Asexuality to the Relative Index, telling us it must be classified under 306.762. It also changed 306.766 3 to just Lesbianism, and now Transsexuals goes to 305.906 6 within “Persons by cultural level, marital status, sexual orientation, special social status”.

Now, the 22th edition of 2003 have some more exciting news (emphasis mine):

  • 306.76 – Sexual orientation
    • 306.762 – Asexuality
    • 306.764 – Heterosexuality
    • 306.765 – Bisexuality
    • 306.766 – Homosexuality
      • 306.766 2 – Male homosexuality
      • 306.766 3 – Lesbianism
    • 306.78 – Transsexuality

306.762 is described as “Class here neutral sexual orientation, persons with no sexual orientation”.

I repeat: This was 2003. I have no idea how asexuality ended up here before there was even a public discussion of asexuality as a human sexual orientation.

Several libraries nowdays have adopted a slightly modified version of this classification, including the Los Angeles Public Library and the Kihei Public Library. In 2016, a presentation on LGBTQIA+ YA readers [pdf] at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference also advocated for it.

Now you may think, “Wow, asexuality is considered in the Dewey classification for libraries, that’s great right?”.

Keep reading.

A vanishing act on the way to DDC 23

In Transgendered People: A Discussion Paper, posted in 2007 in the DDC editorial team’s blog, we see a proposal on how to incorporate trans people to the Classification and Table 1. It also talks about whether asexuals should be added to Table 1; in their words:

This group also appears in the current class-here note under 306.762 Asexuality, along with “neutral sexual orientation.” “Neutral sexual orientation” is indexed to 306.762 along with “Asexuality”; neither is indexed in Table 1. There appears to be little literary or terminological warrant for the topics. In WorldCat, there are only six records associated with 306.762, five of which represent works about eunuchs. The term “asexuals” isn’t found anywhere in Dewey (except in the context of asexual reproduction in biology), and “Asexuals” and “Asexuality” do not appear in LCSH [Library of Congress Subject Headings] as headings or references. We are not sure the provisions for these topics are warranted in Table 1 or 306.

So, it seems they also didn’t know how asexuality had ended up in DDC.

They then propose to discontinue the use of 306.762 and to add the line “Including asexuality, people with no sexual orientation” to the description of 306.76. The paper and post end with the question “Is there any need for provisions for “asexuality and asexuals,” “people with no sexual orientation,” or “neutral sexual orientation”?”.

Two commenters, Hillary and DLT, responded by defending the need for asexuality to be in DDC, as they hoped that in the future there would be more literature about it that would need a place to sit; and said there was no need for “People with no sexual orientation” and “neutral sexual orientation”. Other two talked about the mistake it was to classify intersex people as transgender, and said nothing about asexuality.

This discussion was brought up a few weeks later to the CAMMS Subject Analysis Committee 2007 Annual Meeting [doc] —the ALA committee in charge of optimizing “access to information resources, with an emphasis on classification and controlled vocabularies”— where after explaining the above feedback, they seem to have decided to continue to work in the inclusion of “asexuals” and “asexuality” in DDC.

Indeed, there is literature available on the Web, even if it’s not manifested in our usual source of literary warrant, and we can get advice with colleagues with direct experience and interest in this topic.

(By “colleages with direct experiece and interest” they mostly meant the GLBT Round Table, which started in 1970 as ALA’s Task Force on Gay Liberation and currently is the oldest LGBT+ professional community in the USA.)

Well, that didn’t happen. The next year, the revised drafts of the documents relating 305-306 were posted and they looked like this:


The Relative Index draft tell us that Asexuality must be classified in 306.76, as must Asexuals, who can be also added by ways of T1 —086 6 “People by sexual orientation (Including asexuals)”.

Three months later, the editorial team presented said drafts to the Editorial Policy Committee, and they were approved with minor modifications, so that’s the version that made it into the 23th edition of DDC published in 2011.

So that happened.

Again, some libraries may still be using 306.762 for works on asexuality, but that’s either because they’re using the 22th edition of DDC, or because they exist in a place with an active queer community and have decided as that institutional policy their shelves will explicitly include the ace community. But that’s not what the Dewey Decimal Classification, in paper and in its more accesible web version, currently tells you to do.

“But now there’s considerably more literature on asexuality than back in 2007. Has no one proposed to bring asexuality back to 306.762?”

Well, not that I’ve found.

But, in very recent news, the new Dewey editor Violet Fox has been working on updates for this section, which so far include class-here notes for “interdisciplinary resources about the LGBT community as a whole” for 306.76, replacing “Transgenderism” with “Transgender identity” in 306.768 and adding “Queer identity” and “Queer people” to the Relative Index, among other things. So we might have an in…

Finally, two related things that kinda make me wanna cry and one that doesn’t:

How much of this did you know? Have you ever found a book on asexuality browsing the social sciences section of your local library?

About Chrysocolla Town

Chrysocolla Town (or CT for short) is a chilean nerd who posts about ace history and the spanish-language ace community at her blog, where one can also find resources on local groups and ace research. She also has a spanglish Tumblr (@chrysocollatown). She is asexual and her romantic orientation is ¯l_(ツ)_/¯. She's currently the admin of the Facebook group Asexuales Chile and manages the related Fanpage and Tumblr.
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10 Responses to Asexuality in the library: Dewey Decimal Classification edition

  1. luvtheheaven says:

    Such a fascinating post!! I requested The Invisible Orientation be added to my library system when it first was released and later we pleased to know the library system had purchased 7 copies of it! Currently the library system has 6 and it’s classified under 306.76 (Montgomery County, Maryland, USA). No other books that come up seem relevant besides some a couple fictional novels when I search the word asexuality but that one is there.

    • luvtheheaven says:

      Actually though when I try again to search not “asexuality” but “asexual”, and also the quotation marks are needed or else a ton of things with words like sexuality it bisexuality come up, there are 2 other 306.76 results. One copy of The ABC’s of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell published in 2016,
      Call Number “TEEN 306.76 MAR” and tthe Contents are listed as including
      “…Fluid attractions ; Asexual and aromantic identities ; More sexual and romantic identities” and so it comes up. Subject categories don’t list asexuality specifically the way it does some other identities but it does generally include “sexual minorities”.

      And the other one is:
      “The pride guide : a guide to sexual and social health for LGBTQ youth” by Jo Langford. Publication Date 2018 Call Number 306.76 LAN. This one the word asexual doesn’t come up in the contents, however “ace” does! Contents include: “Coming out ace — Coming out trans” etc! And the subject terms include:

      Asexual people — Social aspects.
      Asexual people — Health and hygiene.
      Asexual people — Violence against.

      So that’s pretty interesting! 4 copies in the library system of that one. The library system has 21 total branches
      Aka locations
      But can pretty easily transport books between the branches.

      One can find 3 more works of asexual fiction searching that way too. But without the quotation marks my searching their online catalogue was confusing me is all.

      Anyway I think it’s pretty awesome. 🙂 i appreciate where I live as a pretty great place for aces!

      • 6 copies of The Invisible Orientation! How nice! And ugh to their catalgue’s search engine 😦

        That’s exactly the kind of book that should be in 306.76: Books about sexual and gender identities in general. We need more books about asexuality that are not super academic (and thus, super expensive) to would fill that gap in libraries, especially public libraries. That would help out case about needing a specific number to place them, because it would be absolutely needed.

        I’m looking at the catalog of the San Francisco Public Library and they have:
        – The Invisible Orientation (306.76 aka Sexual orientation)
        – Asexuality: Feminist and Queer Perspectives (306.7 aka Sexual relations)
        – Understanding Asexuality (305.8 aka Ethnology…)
        – Ace & Proud (306.7609 aka Sexual orientation related to geography)

        And, as a side note, they have an ebook of “Todos somos normales”, a recent Argentinian YA book with an ace protagonism and a very dramatic plot that i haven’t read because i don’t have access to it even though they’re my neighbours :/

  2. Elliot Williams says:

    This is a really fantastic piece of research! Thanks for sharing it. The history is fascinating (especially the mystery of how it appeared in the 22nd edition…), and hopefully it will help spur some action to better represent asexuality in classification schedules.

    • I contacted the editorial team (with a link to this post) and they also have no idea how exactly did asexuality ended up mentioned in the 22th edition, at least as of now. They also pointed out that they got rid of the homosexuality mention in “Controversies related to public morals and customs” last year, in case someone was wondering.

      More info on this Dewey business at some point in the future, maybe.

  3. I had not thought to check this since I have greater access through my university library, but it looks like the county library system has 7 copies of The Invisible Orientation shelved under 306.76. That was the only relevant book I turned up in a quick search.

  4. Pingback: Challenging Dewey in dreams and reality | Queeries & Clareification

  5. Update: The DDC Editorial Team is doing revisions and one of the proposals is bringing asexuality back to the 306.762!

    Here’s the post at the Dewey blog and here’s the proposal for “Asexuality, eunuchs, and hijras” on Google Drive. They’re requesting feedback, so if you have any comment make sure to email them before February 25.

  6. Pingback: Journal Club: Asexuality in the Library of Congress Subject Headings | The Asexual Agenda

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