Death to the Dewey Decimal System… Maybe?

Hey team, despite my inflammatory title here I want to say that I haven’t made up my mind about the use of the Dewey Decimal System.  In any case, I absolutely applaud Maricopa County Library for taking a risk and trying to see what happens without the Dewey Decimal System.  I spoke with a couple of folks from this library at a conference in 2008 and they said it was a fantastic decision.  So… they’re two years into this and I have family living in Maricopa County and I’m hoping I can take a trip down there and see how the patrons are liking it.  After all, that’s who its all for.    But if you are the last librarian on the planet to hear about this, here is a great interview from NPR to fill you in – It’s audio of course since text is dead as a medium on the internet anyway. –

2 thoughts on “Death to the Dewey Decimal System… Maybe?

  1. The difference between a bookstore and a library is the number of books. Bookstores only classify books by main categories, which can be compared to the 100 numbers in the DDC. Some even go down more level which would be 110 level of the DDC. I have never in my life, seen a bookstore go down to the 111 level. But the DDC goes down to an even farther level 111.1. Plus, there is a logic to the whole DDC, if you take a bit to study it. I just read the introduction section to “Abridged Dewey Decimal Classification” last night.

    But there is another issue. Let’s compare the DDC to Wikipedia. Wikipedia categories go down to a very detailed level, like the DDC. But the problem with the Wikipedia model is that you can’t figure out from the category name what the parent categories are. With the DDC, a patron not only knows the specific category of the book they are looking at, but all of the parent categories that go above that.

    The bottom line is to just take a look at Wikipedia. If you want your local public library to organize material like Wikipedia, then get rid of the DDC. If you want a little bit more organization, then keep the DDC.

    Finally, think about the difference between what a person does in a library vs. what they do in bookstore. A person does not tend to go to a bookstore to do research. They go to a bookstore to find a book to read for enjoyment. If they are doing research, they usually know exactly what book they want (eg. ISBN number) and the book is referenced by that number, which does not have any rhyme of reason to it.

    As for the cost, can you image recataloging 100,000 books! That is taxpayer money at its worse.

  2. Interesting… However, while I agree with many of your thoughts, there are a couple of things I’d like to point out.

    1) you stated that patrons know the parent classification. I don’t think that very many librarians know DDC well enough to know parent classifications. I just don’t think that knowing DDC is a realistic expectation we can have of our patrons.

    2) In public libraries, I don’t think that deep enough research occurs often enough to necessitate a complex organizational structure. And I would argue that quite a bit of the same kinds of activities occur in a bookstore that occur in a library. Most of the people I know go to a bookstore to buy materials to do research instead of a library.

    3) DDC was created to organize the books in a logical way, but also as a kind of “address” for the books so that they are kept in order and to quickly deal logistically with the addition, subtraction, and circulation of materials. I think DDC is more important to librarians than it is to patrons.

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