Dewey’s being dumped!

August 21, 2007 at 3:00 am 1 comment

StephaneNot too sure how good old Melvil Dewey would feel about this – the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system is being kicked out of some libraries. Maybe Dewey’s had his day – a classification system should reflect how users think about and search for information. This is why folksonomies are so popular.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that a library in Arizona has abandoned the DDC in favour of book spines that carry simple, plain English labels such as “History” and “True Crime”. They refer to these categories as “neighborhoods”. Now, those of us who hang out a lot in libraries would know that the DDC arranges human knowledge into 10 classes, 100 divisions and 1000 sections – so it’s numerical and hierarchical. But now that we have Google and Yahoo!, users are pretty used to finding stuff with their own keywords and subject headings (let’s leave aside the probability that a lot of it is useless stuff and let’s leave aside that they’re searching the world according to Google or Yahoo!). And librarians well know that the DDC has its flaws – the 600s (technology) has no topic area for computers, which have to be classified in the 004-006 section.

But I’m of two minds about this: as someone who also spends a lot of time in bookstores wasting time trying to work out how they classify books, I wonder how a simple label like “History” really helps patrons find things. But it does raise the issue of how libraries and librarians are being asked to become more “relevant” in an age in which Google is perhaps a patron’s preferred information seeking method.

Apparently, the Arizona library used to check-out 100-150 books a day; now that it’s de-Deweyfied (is this a term??) around 900 items a day breeze out the library doors – so there’s some argument in saying that the way this library is choosing to present subject headings to its users is more relevant than the DDC. And apparently the library spoke to its users before the decision was made to dump Dewey and 80% of patrons said they go to the library to browse rather than search for a specific item. So it’s the browsing versus searching debate. So I guess even libraries are now being Googlefied (is this a term too??).

But I’d like to know how many books this library (the Perry Branch in Gilbert, Arizona) actually handles. I don’t know how a large library with say 200,000 books as opposed to say 20,000 would be able to cope with classifying things according to ‘neighorhoods’. But full marks to them for an innovative approach and I wonder how many other libraries will follow?

And on another note: news from Libraries Interact (blog central for Oz libraries). Mark September 10, 2007 in your diaries. Librarians around the world will ‘invade’ various Answer sites (eg Yahoo! Answers, Amazon’s Askville, Wikipedia Reference Desk). It will be a day-long Answerfest, with librarians “marketing their services to an audience that has gone elsewhere”. Great stuff!


Entry filed under: Information management, Information seeking, Librarians, Libraries.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Bong  |  August 21, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    Nice post – very informative! Btw, I added your blog to my blogroll.


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