The wrath of librarians (Day 25/365)

So we’re down to eight planets.

In a cosmic game of Ten Little Indians, the International Astronomical Union has voted that to be called a planet, an object must be in orbit around a star, be big enough for its gravity to collapse itself into a round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.

This vote on a topic contentious for the past year eliminates Ceres (an asteroid), and Xena (out in the Kuiper Belt) from the competition. It also knocks Pluto completely off the nation’s placemats. They are now lumped together under the new rubric dwarf planet. At least they escaped demotion to small solar system bodies.

Ah, well. C’est la astronomie.

But there is more to redefining our universe than just changing names. (WARNING: Library geek column ahead.) In my online catalog, do I recatalog Pluto under DWARF PLANETS or PLANETS, DWARF? If under the former, then surely I’ll need a SEE ALSO directing students from PLANETS to DWARF. But PLANETS, DWARF seems a bit baroque. The people in charge of these things have been steadily getting rid of the NOUN, ADJECTIVE format for years, so that POETS, AMERICAN is now simply AMERICAN POETS.

And what’s the subject heading for SMALL SOLAR SYSTEM BODIES? Is ASTEROIDS no longer good enough?

This is just the subject headings, of course. The bigger issue is the venerable Dewey Decimal Classification System. Pluto shared a number with Neptune as a “trans-Uranian” planet, 523.48, although if you’re going with the unabridged DDC, you can bump it up to its full number 523.482.

So where does Pluto go now? Do we bump it down to 523.44, with the Asteroids, which I guess we now rename to Small Solar System Bodies? Or do the Dwarf Planets get their own number? I’m guessing they go into 523.49, which is currently unused. We could leave it with trans-Uranian planets, but it’s not a planet anymore, and Neptune, its partner, is.

At least I guess it is. One of the criteria that worked against Pluto was that its path crossed Neptune’s. (It’s orbit is also weirdly tilted out of the paper plate we glue all the others onto.) So if Pluto hasn’t cleared its own orbit, neither has Neptune. Just because it’s huge, it gets to keep its place in the model kits?

All I’m saying is that the IAU clearly has not checked with the Library of Congress (you think Dewey Decimal has issues?) or H.W. Wilson (publisher of the Sears List of Subject Headings) or OCLC (publisher of the DDC). And as any librarian can tell you, you don’t ever ever want to make us mad. If we say it’s still a planet, then the IAU can vote all it wants to but that decision will never make it as far as the next kindergartener’s hands. Cataloging power!

Thank you for listening.

13 thoughts on “The wrath of librarians (Day 25/365)

  1. So does this get catalogued under




    or should I refer that question to the Library of Congress, H.W. Wilson, OCLC, and a partridge in a pear tree?

  2. You may all laugh, but I’ll bet the LC’s been flooded with emails about this. I’m changing all my PLUTO (PLANET)s to PLUTO(DWARF PLANET)s today. The main headings and DDC numbers I’ll leave alone until we get official notification. I wonder if there’s a pool I could place a bet in.

  3. One of the few lasting rubrics that science has been able to bestow on the child is gone. Lonely Pluto, icy silent Pluto, Pluto the guardian of the outer boundary of our Solar System, Pluto the last on our beloved list of Planets, Pluto the smallest and darkest sphere of styrofoam impaled on the longest piece of coat-hanger wire…Adieu. Science has worked so hard over the last three hundred years or so to produce items that can lodge in the child’s consciousness with the permanence of Father, Son & Holy Ghost and Pilgrims, Indians & Turkeys. Now it’s changing the fundamental blueprint. Next thing you know they’ll find a worm in Newton’s Apple (wait, Einstein already did that). Ah well, it’s only we grown kids who will get jittery in retrospection.


    You know who you are. We turn up our noses at the option of growing our own flowering tree of life. Instead we hunch on the branches of others’ authentic sproutings and offer observations, seizing upon the goodwill invitation for “comments” as an opportunity to sketch out a questionable statement of existence. It’s a lurking and shadowy way of life with its own customs, protocals and prohibitions, but until now it has found expression totally under the radar.

    Such is no longer the case. If you wish to try and survive as an active blog parasite, you must register and receive a code number, as unique and identifying a designation as a web address or IP number. The current climate of concern is understandably suspicious of such inauthentic modes of expression. With a call for registration the message is clear: you will be tolerated but also accountable.

    It is in your best interest to register immediately. The number you will be issued is to be given upon request from any blogger upon who’s worth and patience you choose to feed. Failure to communicate your number upon request carries strong penalties.

  5. I thought of one possible benefit to this reclassification:

    Kids hearing Holst will no longer ask why he left one out.

    BTW, marc, you lost me completely on that last one.

  6. Just more evidence that what I try to pass of as a “sense of humor” is really just a fascination with certain persistent hues in my stool.

  7. Being asked to explain a “joke” is like having salt poured in a wound. I was attempting to joke about the fact that I exploit someone’s blog (“tree of life,” kabbalistic phrase) in order to “express myself” creatively or otherwise. I was teasing myself publicly over the extent of my abject wretchedness. Hoping it would amuse, that’s all.

  8. Hm. I’ll get back to you. I enjoy offering comments on your site because it has the feeling of good conversation among gentle companions. I need to take stock and honestly decide what needs are not being met.

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