What’s the Universal Decimal Classification?

What’s the Universal Decimal Classification?

city busses in astana

I’ve just arrived to Kazakhstan to work at a university library, and as you friends have seen on Facebook, I’ve been getting terribly lost on the city buses! Again today, I headed out around 9:30 am to meet my colleague *Manya at the Evrasia mall, but got turned around on the marshrutka (public bus) and started heading out into the suburbs. I ended up in some pretty neighborhood with a boarded-up billiard cafe, fruit stands, and people walking around with carry-bags. So… I caught the same marshrutka on the other side of the road, going in the correct direction — and then promptly got lost at the mall itself, heading in circles around it instead of towards the entrance, apologizing profusely on my cell phone to Manya.

“Anyway, there’s construction,” Manya reassures me as she finally meets me, breezing along in a pretty pink shirt (“Can you carry balloons?” a dog asks, apparently not holding a balloon because he has paws), white slung purse, and orangey sunglasses that perfectly match her dyed hair. We chat on the bus about the difference between the $600-1000 a month salaries here, and the smaller southern cities where people like us might bring in $350 a month. But, as Manya notes, rent starts at $700 a month here. In the smaller towns, young people stay in family-owned houses, and might actually have more disposable income at the end of the day.

As our bus circles into the city, Manya points out Bayterek, the city’s aspirational tower, along with the egg-shaped national archives, the various embassies, and all the various and strange and creative blue and gold towers popping up in the city, their quick-poured cement-square interiors half-exposed, as colorful paneled windows are laid on.

remont, or repairs at the library

Remont (Renovations)

We get to work late, walk in, and find a lot of people milling around. Our university library’s had some sudden pre-semester remont (renovations), and is supposed to open in just a few days. But white plastic sheeting still covers the circulation desk and we hear grinding and cutting and construction noises. Student workers use rolling office chairs to haul books from the cataloguers’ onto the main floor. I ask Manya why we don’t have metal library carts, but she says they can’t find anyone willing to ship to Kazakhstan, and local suppliers aren’t willing to make them.

As she shows me around the library, I see a cluster of student workers, who shift books in long assembly-lines from one shelf to another. They keep adding new books to the shelves… but then have to re-order the whole set when we realize they’ve gotten the УДК (Universal Decimal Classification) numbering completely wrong. A hardworking little cataloger comes in clutching an enormous English manual in her hands, certainly larger than her entire torso. In Russian, she starts instructing us in the mysteries of УДК:

  • 6 gets shelved before
  • 61 which is before 61-1
  • then 61’1 then 61.1 then 611.1 then 611.

Manya and I look up the classification system online — 61-1? 61*1? 61’1.11’1??? What is this? How will patrons know what it means?

Library Security

Over a lunch of soup, pastries, cold eggplant salat and tea, I’m told by my boss, Galia Berikkyzy, that any book which gets stolen will come directly out of the librarians’ salaries (!). This library is only a year old, and didn’t use RFID tags last year, so over 300,000 tenge ($2000) of academic books were stolen by enterprising young scholarship students. I think this would work out to about $200 per librarian per year, but the librarians managed to beg off by getting publishers to eat the costs in purchasing deals, and convincing admin that the necessary security systems weren’t in place.

But now we have a security gate and RFID tags, so I think we may be on the hook. I’m not at all confident that students can’t just take the tags off and sell the books at a profit. If I were setting the system, I’d at least have students, librarians, and administration all co-share the costs of theft — it would then provide an incentive for everyone to find solutions!

* Sorry for the delay in posting! Also note that I’m using pseudonyms* … and that my stories are skewed to the more upper-class people here who meet with and speak English to me! 


  1. all the confusion is a reason why I just go to general sections of the library and look for what I find on the shelf… Unfortunately that’s a fine method for pleasure reading, but not so good for finding specific books for research!

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