University of Bergen

Classification of the Centre library

Below are some comments and clarifications of the rules used to classify (and put on shelves) the books of the Middle East Centre's library. They add to the general classification scheme indicated in the categories page.


The basic units are the modern states. The following directions apply:

General vs. geographic: A, NA, P.

There are three general, non-geographic categories: A, for books not on the Middle East or Africa, NA, for Islam and P, for Arabic language and literature.

  • A is used for books where the topic has no relation to the region, including e.g. Arabic translations of European literature, and general works in human and social science (thus general works on Imperialism, put under A 970).
    • However, if any identifiable part of the book, thus a chapter or a paper, concerns the region, classification is made on the basis of that part.
  • NA is used for works generally on Islamic topics, which are not classifiable to a particular country.
    • Used for presentations and discussions of ideas, irrespective of the author's origin.
    • Case studies of social effects of Islamic ideas are put under the country discussed. Thus, works on Shi'ism in general are put here under NAM (Shi'ism), but works on Iranian Shi'ism in are put under "Iran: Islamic groups" (NT 278), or if political, "Iran: Political Islam" (NT 271).
    • Used for comparative or cross-border works cases; thus studies of a Sufi teacher or order in Egypt is put under "Egypt: Sufism" (US 274), studies of a teacher working in various countries or a Sufi order in general are put here under "Sufi orders" (NAK).
    • The category NA takes precedence over the regional category NB. Thus NB 270-278 (Middle East: Islam-Islamic groups) should normally not exist, the works there being distributed over the more fine-meshed NA subcategories.
    • In the NA category, numbers are used when pertitent, thus e.g. NAJ 209 (History of religion) for historical studies on Classical Sufis, as opposed to writings by the Sufis themselves or general, non-historical works. Writings from within the traditions that can be periodized are done so, mostly with the numbers 293-299. Books that cannot easily be placed in either of these groups are left without numbers.
  • P is used for works on Arabic language and literature, rather than NR 400-899 which should not be used.
    • Works on Arabic dialects are put under the P subcategories. Works on non-Arabic languages in those countries and put under the country, in the 400 range.
    • For literature, works that can be specified to a particular country are put there, general works are put under P.
      Normally, this distinction is deemed to arise with the transition to colonial and post-colonial period (modern literature, national boundaries) in the mid-late nineteenth century. Literary works from before ca. 1850 will mosty be put under P 490-497, while works from after that period are put under the county where the author was born or active (whichever is dominant, decided at discretion).
    • Literary works of the same author should be grouped together.
    • Literary works by authors from outside the region are treated as if the author came from the country / region discussed in the work. Works of such authors need not be placed together.

Cross-boundary, comparative and regional works.

A cross-boundary work is one discussing a region just straddling the border between two countries. A regional work discusses all of a region jointly, a comparative work dicusses cases in two or more countries that need not be geographically close. All these present issues to resolved in a geographical classification.

The general rules are:

  • Countries outside the library region are completely ignored (a book comparing Egypt, Korea and New Zealand is put under Egypt. The "library region" is those countries which have a specific country code.
  • If one country dominates the description completely (two thirds or more of the content), the book is placed under that country, and the minority country(ies) are noted in the Geography field of the catalogue.
  • If a book dealing with several specified countries cannot in this way be placed in a country category, it is placed in the closest regional category up that covers all relevant countries. Thus, a work on Sudan and Tanzania is put in "East Africa" (VA), on Tanzania and Nigeria in "Africa" (U), on Nigeria and Syria in "Islamic world" (NB).
  • Cross-boundary works are studied to see what area is actually covered, and as far as possible placed in that country, even if the ethnic group or area mentioned in title or similar covers a wider, cross-boundary area.
  • A book is placed on the basis of the geography studied, not actors, thus a book on Sudanese migrants to Iraq is placed under Iraq, not Sudan. Similarly a book the Egyptian war effort in Yemen under Yemen not Egypt, and on the Sudanese independence from Egypt under Sudan (but on "Sudanese-Egyptian relations" in the more general, regional category Nile Valley countries).

These are the larger regions and what countries they cover:

  • NB: Middle East / Islamic world. The most general category, covers all that the library is focused on. Any work that cannot be placed in a lower regional category, or which has the Middle East or Islamic world in general as topic is placed here.
  • NR The Arab world. Excludes non-Arabic countries. The distinction between Middle East and Arab world is often hard to make. Normally, NB will dominate, and only works that specifically state by title or content that they concern Arabs or the Arab world will be put in NR, the others in NB.
    However, for convenience, some rules of thumb apply:
    • Bibliographies and catalogues of manuscripts (011) are by and large all put together under NB. However, biographical dictionaries (012) are distributed according to what they aim to describe, Arabs-only or all Muslims.
    • Works of general history specifically aiming at the history of Arabs are put under NR. Otherwise, general histories of the pre-modern period, the caliphate etc. are all placed under NB.
  • C : Asia. General, including non-Islamic parts of Asia, or countries in regions not specified.
  • H : South-East Asia. Islamic and non-Islamic countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Burma.
  • J : South Asia. Covers Pakistan, India, Bangla Desh, Sri Lanka, Nepal.
  • JX : Indian Ocean, incl. the coast. More general than East Africa, South Asia or South-East Asia, covers all coastal states of these regions, Iran, Oman, Yemen and Maldives.
  • NC : The Arabic Peninsula. Covers Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Emirates, Oman and Yemen, also peninsula prior to partition. More general than Gulf state for modern period.
  • NK : The Gulf. Covers Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arbia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Emirates, Oman.
  • NMA : The Red Sea. Covers Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, in particular coastal regions of these.
  • NQ : Iraq. A special problem is the Iran-Iraq war, which could be under either country. For convenience, they are grouped together under NQ 990 "Iraq : Modern history / current events" (unless specifically dealing with Iranian policy on / effects of the war).
  • NQJ : Palestine / NQO : Israel. Another problematic area. These rules of thumb are used for distinguishing:
    • Jewish religion and history of Jewry until the rise of modern Zionism is placed under QO Judaism.
    • Modern Zionism, theory and practice, and the Jewish settlement / community in Palestine from ca. 1880 is placed under NQO Israel.
    • General history / culture of Palestine before 1948 except for the Zionist presence is placed under NQJ Palestine.
    • The "Arab-Israeli conflict" is placed under NQO unless Palestinian activities are specifically dicsussed, in that case NQJ. Thus, the 1956 and 1967 wars are under NQO, the Palestinian resistance under NQJ.
    • Palestinians in Israel are placed under NQO, mostly 301.
  • NSA : Balkans. Covers Cyprus, Turkey up to Hungary.
  • NU : Kurdistan. Kurds in general, studies not specied by one of the geographic sub-categories.
  • O : Caucasus and Central Asia. More general than Caucasus (OB) and Central Asia (OM).
  • OB : Caucasus. Covers Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iranian Azerbaijan, Armenia, Crimea, and other Islamic regions west of the Caspian.
  • OL : Pre-Islamic Central Asia. Only works specifically on the pre-Islamic period. Works on Central Asia (east of the Caspian) in general are put under OM. Works on pre-Islamic regions to the north and east under OUB, OW, CI or C (most general).
  • OM : Central Asia. Covers the areas of the former Soviet Union, Chinese Sinkiang, and Afghanistan.
  • Q : Antiquitiy, Semitic and Jewish studies. More general than QB, covers also regions outside the Near East.
  • QB : The Near East in Antiquity. Covers from Constantinople over Persia to Libya. Persian empire is put under NT 935.
  • QO : Jews, Judaism. Studies on religion, early/general history and the Jewish diaspora. Modern Zionism and the settlement in Palestine / creation of Israel are put under NQO.
  • QW : Christianity in the Middle East. Early history and regional / comparative studies, Chrisitianity in each country under that country and 230. Replaces NB 230, which should be empty.
  • U : Africa. The continent. More general than any subgroup. Less general than NB, Islamic world. However, for convenience certain topics that are more relevant for Africa are placed under U even if Africa is not specifically mentioned, thus e.g. works on slave trade / slavery, on British and French colonial rivalry and rule etc.
  • UM : North Africa. Covers Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco / Western Sahara and Mauritania.
  • UST : Nile Valley Countries. Covers countries where the Nile runs (even if the Nile or Nilotic area is not specifically mentioned), down to the Nile-Congo watershed: Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Congo-K (may also include Central African Republic).
  • UZ : Sahara. Covers countries bordering the desert: Morocco / Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Algeria, Mali, Niger, Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Egypt. More general than North Africa, West Africa and Central Africa.
  • VA : Eastern Africa. Covers Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Uganda, Rwana, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, (may also include Congo-K, Mozambique, Zambia and Malagasy / coastal island states). More general than Nile Valley.
  • VB : Horn of Africa. Covers Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti. More general than Nile Valley.
  • VM : Western Africa. Countries south of the Sahara, from Niger / Nigeria and westwards.
  • WA : Central Africa. Covers Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger; also the Congos and Gabon. More general than Nile Valley.
  • WH : Southern Africa. Covers Mozambique, Zambia, Angola and countries further, and Malagasy.

The 'More general' rules indicate what the lowest level is for any two countries that are listed together in more than one regional group (thus the Sudan, which appears in many categories).

It means that books on Egypt-Sudan relations, comparisons Sudan / Ethiopia, or on the borderlands between the Sudan, Uganda and Central African Republic all are placed under UST 'Nile Valley Countries'. However, if a book on the Sudan and Uganda also includes parts of Kenya, it is placed under the 'more general' East Africa, VA.

Note the Central Africa region (WA), which covers the area from the upper Nile to lower Niger, including both 'Nile to Niger' travel and comparisons between Sudan and Nigeria.

The thematic classification

The number scheme follows largely the Dewey understanding, but may deviate from it for our purposes. Apart from the description in the table, these rules of thumb have been applied:

  • 011 : Bibliographies: Takes precedence over other themes, all bibliographies e.g. in one particular science is placed in 011, not in the science.
  • 070 : Press. Covers printed media. Electronic media under 380.
  • 293-9, 493-9, 893-9 : Writings, periodization in the two last digits follows the same distribution as the first first two digits in 930-990.
  • 300 : Social sciences. Used for works covering more than one social science, including history and culture history. This includes general descriptions of a country, as well as many conference volumes etc. where the thematic does not easily fall within one science.
  • 301 : Sociology. Women's rights, gender issues are generally placed here unless they clearly belong in another science. Works on urbanism etc. also normally here.
  • 320 : Political scinece. Used for history of political parties or social movements, and for political statements made by actors of a contemporary situation. Descriptions of current events otherwise under 990. Human rights issues fall under 320.
  • 327 : Used for contemporary descriptions of relation with West or internal interstate relations. Wars and specific conflicts under history (930-990).
  • 330 : Economy. Contemporary studies, also 'economic development', and international links not related to aid. Oil generally under 330.
  • 338 : Development aid. Used only for international aid & projects, not for economic or social development generally.
  • 350 : Administration. Including colonial reports on administration of regions etc.
  • 415-437: Books clearly didactic (with lessons, exercises) put in 437, although they are called 'Grammar'
  • 909 : Book on culture, culture history not classifiable elsewhere. General books on cultural studies, overviews not including social sciences (but may include history) put here.
  • 911: Historical geography except travel accounts. Includes medieval Arab geographers etc.
  • 915: Travel accounts, historical or modern. Memoirs of independent historical events are put in 920, thus e.g. journals of the members of the Emin Pasha or Gordon relief expeditions.
  • 928 : Historical aids, thus date conversion and genealogical tables, historical atlases, historical dictionaries etc.
  • 929 : Philsophy of history, historiography, studies on historians etc.
  • 931 : Economic history. Diachronic or non-contemporary studies. Contemporary studies under 330. Includes history of economic actors, trade unions etc.
  • 935 : Pre-Islamic history. Includes archaeology, unless specifically within one of later periods. Egyptology in Egypt under QR, not US 935, Nubian studies in Sudan under UT 935. Early Iranian history, Sassanian empire under NT 935.


Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (SMI)
Phone + 47 55 58 26 47, fax + 47 55 58 98 91, e-mail: post@smi.uib.no
Postal address: SMI, University of Bergen. PO Box 7800 Bergen, Norway
Visiting address: SMI, 5th floor , Stein Rokkans Hus, Nygårdsgaten 5, 5015 Bergen