Cataloguing systems have evolved through the centuries as more and more works were published. From monastic manuscripts to books to ebooks to websites, each type of material needs to be classified and categorized for easy access by patrons of the cataloguing system. The first library science cataloguing system was taught in German universities during the Enlightenment in the 16th century. The first modern university research library was opened at the University of Göttingen in 1734. In the 18th century, in addition to the traditional subjects of religion and history, romances and novels were added to library cataloguing systems and public libraries were established in France, Vienna and England.

Universal Cataloguing Systems

Universal cataloguing systems cover all subject matter from medicine to philosophy to history. The major cataloguing systems in use are the Dewey Decimal System, the Universal Decimal System, and the Library of Congress Classification system. These systems are built around numerical values which are assigned to ten or more classes of subjects. Each class is then subdivided into its logical parts, such a title, author, specific subject matter and publication date. Each subdivision is assigned a number, thus the more detailed the subdivision, the longer the number that represents the item. The numerical symbols used are non-language-dependent and thus have 'universal' applications.

Subject Matter Cataloguing Systems

Subject Matter or Type Cataloguing Systems are those that catalogue their materials according to the subject matter they classify. The National Library of Medicine catalogue specializes in physical and mental health subjects and lists their library subjects accordingly. They use an alphabetical designation per subject matter with numbers designating subdivisions of that subject matter. Law libraries catalogue written laws and court cases by courts, state, federal and international conventions. In the United States, law libraries followed the conventions of Thomas Jefferson where his law material was filed on the letter "k", thus most law cataloguing systems follow this convention and further subdividing the subject matter into subdivisions of U.S. Law, Foreign Law Primary Materials, Comparative Law, etc. The British Catalogue of Music Classification catalogues their items by type, composer, instrument and medium.

National Cataloguing Systems

National Cataloguing Systems are those that are specific to each country using their own traditional heritage. China has systems based on their ancient and modern language character forms and meanings, as does Egypt for its ancient hieroglyphics. The United States Government has a national product stock number cataloguing system, among many others. Each government has its own national cataloguing conventions specific to its heritage.

Functional Cataloguing Systems

Functional cataloguing systems are those that list items according to the media they are used on or for other specific functions. CD catalogues, book catalogues and television time schedule catalogues all use listing systems specific to their function. Astronomy catalogues list entries by dates and planetary position. So a wide variety of functional catalogues are possible.