Filing Rules

ALA Library Fact Sheet 27

Even though library catalogs are now online, with built-in programming to create screen displays of search results in alphabetic (or other) order, and the software we use will arrange lists for us at the click of a mouse, there are still times we need filing rules to provide consistency in the arrangement of text, books, or files.  For libraries that arrange fiction by the author's last name, it may be necessary to refer to a set of filing rules to determine the proper sequencing of works, for example, by Debbie Macomber and Ronald McDonald, in a specific library.

Basic Instructions

There are two main versions of filing rules: letter-by-letter and word-by-word.

Letter by letter:

ALA Filing Rules, developed in the late 1970s by the RTSD Filing Committee and published in 1980, presents rules for the arrangement of bibliographic records whether displayed in card, book, or online format. These rules are  "letter-by-letter" (or "character by character") rules. They also largely ignore distinctions among different punctuation marks and do not distinguish among the types of access points.

In these rules, for example, names beginning with M', Mc, and Mac are filed alphabetically as spelled.

     MacDonald, David
     MacDonegan, Steven
     Macomber, Debbie
     McDonald, Ronald
     McDonegan, Cecelia

These rules do not make distinctions between types of headings

     London and Londoners
     London, Andrea
     London Bridge is falling down
     London, Jack

 

Word-by-word:

The ALA Rules for Filing Catalog Cards, 2nd ed., by Pauline A. Seeley, is the classic guide to filing catalog cards using the basic order of alphabetical,"word-by-word" rules.  They retain provisions for observing hierarchy in the form of catalog entries.

In these rules, names beginning with M', Mc, and Mac were all filed as if spelled "Mac".

     MacDonald, David
     McDonald, Ronald
     McDonegan, Cecelia
     MacDonegan, Steven
     Macomber, Debbie 

These rules do not make distinctions between types of headings and file "nothing before something"

     London, Andrea
     London, Jack
     London and Londoners
     London Bridge is falling down

 

Publications on Filing Rules

American Library Association

American Library Association. Resources and Technical Services Division. Filing Committee. ALA Filing Rules. Chicago: American Library Association, 1980.

American Library Association. Subcommittee on the ALA Rules for Filing Catalog Cards, Pauline A. Seely,  Editor. ALA Rules for Filing Catalog Cards, 2nd ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 1968.

(Note: Although ALA Filing Rules has a publication date of 1980 and ALA Rules for Filing Catalog Cards, 2nd Edition has a publication date of 1968, these are the latest editions of both titles.)

Library of Congress

Library of Congress Filing Rules, first published in 1980, is part of the Cataloger's Desktop and retains traditional groupings of access points by type.

Other

Establishing Alphabetic, Numeric and Subject Filing Systems, by ARMA International Standards Task Force (ANSI/ARMA 12-2005) Publisher's description: "This standard is intended to aid in the selection and application of a filing system that will enable users to retrieve information when needed. It describes three principal systems: alphabetic filing, subject filing, and numeric filing. In addition, it contains standard rules for indexing alphabetic data. This standard will establish a uniform files classification system that makes sense to the users while identifying and preserving a set order of records. Three informative appendices include instructions for indexing, factors to consider when using automated indexing systems, and exceptions for alphabetic indexing."

Guidelines for Alphabetical Arrangement of Letters and Sorting of Numerals and Other Symbols, by Hans H. Wellisch. (Bethesda, Md.: NISO Press, 1999. (PDF document) Abstract (from NISO): "This technical report provides rules for the alphabetical arrangement of headings in lists of all kinds, such as bibliographies, indexes, dictionaries, directories, inventories, etc. It also covers the sorting of Arabic or Roman numbers, and other symbols. It consists of seven rules that cover problems which may arise in alphanumeric arrangement of headings. The technical report is based on the traditional order of letters in the English alphabet and that of numerals in ascending arithmetical order. It does not address issues concerning meaning or type of headings. The rules can generally be applied by human beings as well as by computers. Each rule is followed by illustrative examples."

 

Rules for Individual Libraries and Quick Guides

Common U.S. Filing Rules (PDF), by Michael Buckland, shows brief examples of both versions of the ALA rules.

Some libraries have posted brief rules covering the main situations on their home pages for the benefit of library users. These would apply to those libraries specifically and may not be exactly as in use at your library.

Princeton University Library

School Library Handbook: Filing Rules for Catalog Cards - School District of Philadelphia via Internet Archive

 

Last updated: December 2012

 

For more information on this or other fact sheets, contact the ALA Library Reference Desk by telephone: 800-545-2433, extension 2153; fax: 312-280-3255; e-mail: library@ala.org; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795.