Skip to main content

Filing Rules: Basic Instructions

Brief guide to library 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 Megan 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

 

Saint, Eva Marie
Saint Nicholas visits at Christmas
Santa Barbara Mission
Spelling bees in history
St. Louis Arch
Ste. Genevieve Palace
Stinson lectures

 

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

 

Saint, Eva Marie
St. Louis Arch
Saint Nicholas visits at Christmas
Ste. Genevieve Palace
Santa Barbara Mission
Spelling bees in history
Stinson lectures

Electronic Resources Librarian

Rebecca Gerber's picture
Rebecca Gerber
Contact:
ALA Library
50 E. Huron St.
Chicago, IL 60611
800-545-2433 x3277