Charles Ammi Cutter
Charles Ammi Cutter is an important figure in the history of American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 library science
Library science
Library science is an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary field that applies the practices, perspectives, and tools of management, information technology, education, and other areas to libraries; the collection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information resources; and the...


Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Cutter was appointed assistant librarian of Harvard
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

  Divinity School
Harvard Divinity School
Harvard Divinity School is one of the constituent schools of Harvard University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States. The School's mission is to train and educate its students either in the academic study of religion, or for the practice of a religious ministry or other public...

 while still a student there. After graduation, Cutter worked as a librarian at Harvard College, where he developed a new form of index catalog
Library catalog
A library catalog is a register of all bibliographic items found in a library or group of libraries, such as a network of libraries at several locations...

, using cards instead of published volumes, containing both an author index and a "classed catalog" or a rudimentary form of subject index.

Cutter's most significant contribution to the field of library science was the development of the Cutter Expansive Classification
Cutter Expansive Classification
The Cutter Expansive Classification system is a library classification system devised by Charles Ammi Cutter. The system was the basis for the top categories of the Library of Congress Classification.-History of the Expansive Classification:...

 system. This system influenced the development of the Library of Congress. As part of his work on this system, he developed a system of alphabetic tables used to abbreviate authors' names and generate unique call numbers. This system of numbers ("Cutter numbers") is still used today in libraries.

Cutter was one of the 100 or so founding members, in 1876, of the American Library Association
American Library Association
The American Library Association is a non-profit organization based in the United States that promotes libraries and library education internationally. It is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 62,000 members....

. Cutter is a member of the Library Hall of Fame
Library Hall of Fame
The Library Hall of Fame is a list of 40 leaders of the modern library movement. The list appeared in the March 15, 1951, issue of Library Journal. That issue of Library Journal celebrated the 75th anniversary of the American Library Association...


While a student at the Harvard Divinity School
Harvard Divinity School
Harvard Divinity School is one of the constituent schools of Harvard University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States. The School's mission is to train and educate its students either in the academic study of religion, or for the practice of a religious ministry or other public...

, Cutter served as the student-librarian from 1857 to 1859. During his tenure, the then 1840 catalog had a lack of order after the recent acquisitions 4,000 volumes from the collection of Professor Gottfried Christian Friedrich Lücke
Gottfried Christian Friedrich Lücke
Gottfried Christian Friedrich Lücke , was a German theologian.Lucke was born at Egeln near Magdeburg, where his father was a merchant. He studied theology at Halle and Göttingen...

 of University of Göttingen, which added much depth to the Divinity School Library's collection. Along with classmate Charles Noyes, Cutter re-arranged the library collection on the shelves into broad subject categories during the 1857-58 school year. During the winter break of 1858-59, they arranged the collection into a single listing alphabetically by author. This project was finished by the time Cutter graduated in 1859.

After graduation, Cutter became an assistant to Dr. Ezra Abbot
Ezra Abbot
Ezra Abbot was an American biblical scholar.-Life and writings:...

, the assistant librarian of the Harvard College Library.

In 1868 Cutter accepted a position at the Boston Athenæum
Boston Athenæum
Boston Athenæum is one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States. It is also one of only sixteen extant membership libraries, meaning that patrons pay a yearly subscription fee to use the Athenæum's services...

 library. One of its main goals was to publish a complete dictionary catalog for their collection. The previous librarian and assistants had been working on this when he left. Unfortunately, much of the work was sub par and, according to Cutter, needed to be redone . This did not sit well with the trustees who wanted to get a catalog published as soon as possible. However, the catalog was published. Cutter was the librarian at the Boston Athenaeum for twenty-five years. In 1876, Cutter was hired by the Bureau of Education to help write a report about the state of libraries for the Centennial. Part two of this report was his Rules for a Dictionary Catalog. He was also the editor of Library Journal from 1891-1893. Of the many articles he wrote during this time, one of the most famous was an article called “The Buffalo Public Library in 1983”. In it, he wrote what he thought a library would be like one hundred years in the future. He spent a lot of time discussing practicalities, such as how the library arranged adequate lighting and controlled moisture in the air to preserve the books. He also discussed a primitive version of interlibrary loan
Interlibrary loan
Interlibrary loan is a service whereby a user of one library can borrow books or receive photocopies of documents that are owned by another library...

. After he had been at the Athenaeum for a while, a new group of trustees started to emerge. They were not as favorable to Cutter and his reforms, so the relationship soured.

In 1893, Cutter submitted a letter to the trustees that he would not seek to renew his contract at the end of the year. Fortunately for him, there was an opportunity in Northampton, Massachusetts
Northampton, Massachusetts
The city of Northampton is the county seat of Hampshire County, Massachusetts, United States. As of the 2010 census, the population of Northampton's central neighborhoods, was 28,549...

. Judge Charles E. Forbes left a considerable amount of money to the town to start a library. This was Cutter’s chance to institute his ideas from the ground up. He developed a cataloging system called the expansive classification system. Unfortunately, he died in 1903 before he could finish. It was to have seven levels of classification, each with increasing specificity. Thus small libraries who did not like having to deal with unnecessarily long classification numbers could use lower levels and still be specific enough for their purpose. Larger libraries could use the more specific tables since they needed to be more specific to keep subjects separate. At Forbes, Cutter set up the art and music department and encouraged children of nearby schools to exhibit their art. He also established branch libraries and instituted a traveling library system much like the bookmobile
A bookmobile or mobile library is a large vehicle designed for use as a library. It is designed to hold books on shelves so that when the vehicle is parked the books can be accessed by readers. It usually has enough space for people to sit and read books inside. Mobile libraries are often used to...

. Today, Charles Ammi Cutter might be surprised to see his own portrait hanging over the reference librarians' desk in the Forbes Library in Northampton. His roll top desk is also in the office currently occupied by the recently elected director of the library.

Charles Cutter died on September 6th, 1903 in Walpole, New Hampshire
Walpole, New Hampshire
Walpole is a town in Cheshire County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 3,734 at the 2010 census.The town's central settlement, where 605 people resided at the 2010 census, is defined as the Walpole census-designated place , and is east of New Hampshire Route 12...


Future Predictions

"The desks had.. a little keyboard at each, connected by a wire. The reader had only to find the mark of his book in the catalog, touch a few lettered or numbered keys, and [the book] appeared after an astonishing short interval."

Charles Cutter "The Buffalo Public Library in 1983" (Library journal 1883)

External links

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