Charles Ammi Cutter (1837-1903), US librarian

Cutter was born in Boston to a family of farmers, but he was a sickly, shortsighted child, so his family encouraged him to become a clergyman instead. At the age of 14, he attended Harvard College and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1855. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1860 but was never ordained, because at divinity school he discovered his true calling: librarianship. He had been hired to catalogue the school's library in 1856, and upon graduation he decided against the ministry and became assistant to the head librarian of Harvard College, Dr. Ezra Abbott. During the next eight years, Abbott and Cutter created for the Harvard library the first public card catalogue in the US.

In 1868, Cutter became librarian at the Boston Athenaeum, where he remained for the next quarter century. There he produced another catalogue for the Athenaeum's collection. Cataloguing would be Cutter's life's work. He was one of the first people to attempt to systematically define the purpose and methods of cataloguing, as in his 1876 Rules for a Dictionary Catalog:

1. To enable a person to find a book of which either
A. the author)
B. the title) is known
C. the subject)

2. To show what the library has
D. by a given author
E. on a given subject
F. in a given kind of literature

3. To assist in the choice of a book
G. as to its edition (bibliographically)
H. as to its character (literary or topical)
Cutter’s vision was that central agency would produce records used by all libraries in cataloging, one that came to fruition in the Library of Congress Classification System (LCC), which Herbert Putnam based on Cutter’s initial efforts at forming a cataloging system. The combination of letters and numbers at the end of call numbers in the Dewey Decimal System, LCC, and other classificaton systems which usually denotes the author of the book is called a "Cutter number" in his honor.

Cutter was also present at the formation of the American Library Association in 1876, serving as head of its cataloging department, editor of Library Journal, and later president of the ALA for two years.

After 25 years at the Athenaeum, Cutter left for the Forbes Library in Northhampton, MA in 1893. That institution was innovative in many ways: the welcoming of children within its walls, the active lending of materials, and the collection of materials in media other than print. Cutter remained at the Forbes Library until his death.

Sources include:,,,

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