Classifying art photography
Summary of an ARLIS-L discussion
April 1999

Date sent: Thu, 15 Apr 1999 16:58:48 EDT
From: "Peter P. Blank" (
Subject: Summary of NH vs. TR responses

----------------------------Original message----------------------------

Many thanks to you all for such a wealth of info. It turns out that NH was not an LC designed convention, but was created locally by a variety of ARLIS catalogers. Here are some selections from the responses I received. Very interesting in terms of the collective memory of the Society. Here at Stanford we are staying with TR. Occasionally some copy cataloging sneaks into the system with the NH class. We reclass to TR. But it appears that a number of institutions are using NH.


Peter Blank

I'm sorry to say I don't have all the details, but... the NH classification was developed in the mid-70's by a group of ARLIS catalogers to deal with the fact that most of our photo books were considered "art" books, hence they should be in the N class. I know I have a copy of the schedule somewhere. I'm sure it is in the ARLIS archives.
I would imagine that any library that uses NH would be on [institution's name] unacceptable list and that reclassifying would take place if they were the only library having cataloged an item for a long time. There are probably some old ARLIS/NA Newsletter articles about NH. Pre-electronic indexing. It was never accepted by LC. I'd be interested if you find a list of libraries that are using it.
[from the Getty]
I did not think NH was used by anyone except the Getty. It is my understanding that we created a local classification scheme to accommodate photography as an artistic form and not purely technical. I can send you a copy of our schedule if you would like.
We [OCAD] use NH and so does UBC -- I think it was actually developed by ARLIS/NA and accepted by LC, at least that is my recollection. Basically, NH covers photography, film, video, holography etc. "as art" (ie. materials on the art, theory, criticism, history etc. of the medium) -- as opposed to the technical "how to" aspects which remain in the T's. We use both classifications.
I believe I remember seeing on the arlis listserv some years ago that NH was invented for art libraries that were permitted to have only N's in their collection. T's went to engineering, or other scientific collections. Particularly necessary in art libraries that are on one floor of a main library.
You won't find any information about NH on any LC web site. It is not an authorized LC schedule. Actually it was proposed by ARLIS/NA as an alternative to TR. You can find it on the ARLIS/NA Cataloging Section web site under:
Other Publications:

NH Classification for Photography An alternative classification system to TR. 1974. 4 pages. Paper. $1.50.

Here at the St. Louis Art Museum, we use NH for all of our Photography books except technical works. We catalog on RLIN and put the NH number in the LCAL instead of an 050. We have retrospectively reclassed our TR's into NH. But, we're a small to medium collection, and have more control over our workflow than many academic libraries. Our curators love NH, it acts just like NC because it uses the same table. I've only seen a few others use the schedule. We have many handwritten annotations in our schedule, especially for special subjects.
NH is not an official LC classification. As a matter of fact, it is an ARLIS/NA publication. It grew out of dissatisfaction with TR. If you looked at ARLIS/NA newsletters from the late 1970s (?), I bet you could find an article or notice in a CISSIG column about NH's development.

Though quite a few libraries use NH, I discovered when I analyzed it for the Amon Carter that we'd have to add as much technical stuff to NH as we'd want to add artistic stuff to TR (the Getty does have a much expanded version of NH, with technical numbers most of the additions). The Amon Carter stayed with TR with some tweaks.
You will undoubtedly get more detail from catalogers. My understanding was that the NH classification was developed at the Met to give an artist parameter to photo materials. NH works very much like ND in helping to group by personality rather than medium/technique. This problem was an early gripe which helped to unify art librarians who formed ARLIS in 1972. Unless things have changed, NH is not sanctioned by LC. See the ART DOC article by Wolfgang Freitag on the history of ARLIS/NA ( Spring 1998, I think)

Peter P. Blank                         102 Cummings Art Bldg.
Librarian                              Stanford, CA 94305-2018
Art & Architecture Library             (650) 725-1038
Stanford University                    fax 650-725-0140

Other users of NH include:

Edmund L. and Nancy K. Dubois Library
Museum of Photographic Arts
1649 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 238-7559 x216
(per message on ARLIS-L, 15 November 2001)

In 2005, a new edition of the NH schedule was published online by ARLIS/NA (free). An article entitled "Classifying photography" by Lynda Bunting and Ani Matosian (Art libraries journal, v. 36, no. 4, 2011, p. 44-49) discusses the need for NH and the methodology for preparing the revised edition.

... go to top of Sherman's art cataloging, etc. site ...