Wednesday, September 5, 2007

025.431 The Dewey Decimal Classification System: A Very Useful and Relevant Tool

Ok, I have contemplated, and thought about, and stewed over, and thought about, and wrangled and wrestled with, and even got steamed up over, and thought about this topic long enough. I am prepared to take my stand…although judging by the number of articles going the other way, it going to a lonely vigil.

There is nothing wrong with using the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system in your average every day school library (and the above average ones, too!) Although I have an opinion about the effectiveness of this system in small public libraries and of the LC system in other libraries, I won’t speak to them in this essay because I am only formally trained and many-years experienced in school librarianship.

All of the news stories and articles that have come out about libraries that have abandoned (or are planning to abandon) this tried-and-true method of locating materials in the library are missing the point….IN MY OPINION.

As far as I am concerned the DDC system is merely a system of markers, or addresses if you will, to WHERE the items are in the library with some organizational pattern behind it. The Dewey numbers are no more significant in one way than such markers as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, 90210, or 36°30'.

Do the Dewey numbers mean more to a librarian than to a patron? Probably. Most library patrons do not know the significance of 398.2, 597.8, 636.7, 796.33, and 976.4 (and librarians outside of the great state of Texas might not recognize the last one!) But if the patrons use these numbers as addresses or markers, once they get to the spot, they certain will know that they have found what they wanted and/or asked for.

And I will agree with the nay-sayers, there in lies the rub…the REAL problem at hand. Can the patrons take this well-established set of DDC numbers and find what they desire. They can. ..if and ONLY IF…the librarian has provided signage.

I don’t really care if the librarian chooses to make lots of signs with the actual Dewey numbers and lots of appropriately placed arrows. Or if librarians choose to use key words or subjects related to the Dewey numbers on their many signs with appropriately placed arrows. And I will even admit that most elementary librarians probably should use pictures or symbols to represent the addresses of their books, etc.…with appropriately placed arrows. Symbols and pictures go for big kids and grown-ups as well. After all, even our own profession has a visual representation!

Another issue involved with the many discussions about the DDC system is that it is dated. Huh? The newest technologies have a classification. Yes, we fumbled around in the latter portion of the 20th century trying to decide whether computers should be in the 600s until the powers that be took unused numbers in the 000s and assigned them there. In the school library where I worked during this time, it was far MORE traumatic when dinosaurs changed DDC numbers than where to find computer-related materials! The DDC system has handled all the inventions, the space race, and catastrophes and disasters. I remember during the terrible time of September 2001 that the folks responsible had a “marker” for us to carefully place all of our information ready and waiting almost instantly. The DDC system grows with the times as far as I can see.

And the last point I want to cover is that of wanting to “be more like a bookstore.” Have you ever tried to find something specific in a bookstore if it didn’t start with the words “Harry Potter…” or make the NY Times best seller list. Even the people that work there can’t always follow their arrangement…even after repeated trips to the computer to see where it should be. And signs…???

[Folks reading this don’t despair—I am not talking about the small, intimate privately owned and operated neighborhood book “shops” like we are lucky enough to have in our area…my problems lie in the big box bookstores that try to be all things to all people…if you have time to browse.]

Yes, bookstores have displays placing the covers out, but we have been promoting displays in our libraries for a number of years…and we have an advantage…if a patron picks up a library book on display and wants more, he or she need only look at the spine label to know where other related books are. Not possible in the bookstore! You are left to your browsing prowess once again.

As for browsing in the school library being stunted due to Dewey…I really don’t get that argument at all. Kids are experts at browsing…just ask any harried teacher on a tight time schedule. And any school librarian who is “smart” makes it easy…all the good stuff is out and about!

Am I against change? No, I have learned to adapt. Am I afraid of change? Only of change for change’s sake. Do I think the school librarians of today need to add to their never-ending list of things to do, the undoing of a perfectly good system of finding materials. NO!

Yes, I know there are people who dream of new things and new ways of doing old things and I am glad. If not, we would be cooking on open fires, using handcarts to carry our belongings as we walk beside them, doing business with an abacus, and listening to people tell their stories (o,wait we do that now…but that is another post entirely!) I just choose not to embrace this idea for change at this time.

Ok, I have had my say on something that has bugged me for awhile. And I feel better. Do I hear the unmistakable sound of a saw against the nice thick limb I have ventured out onto? Hummmmmmmmmmmmm…guess we will have to wait and see!

I do issue a challenge to the librarians in my sphere of influence…have you taken a HARD look at your library signage? Can your patrons maneuver around your library using the DDC information given for each book or item? Can they take that address and go to the “place” for the information they want? If not, then that IS a change that is needed…and I will help you!


coach b said...

ok, ok... I finally made a blog. I've posted only once. And btw... I lost my phone charger. Instead of buying a new one for my old yucky phone, I am getting a whole new phone with M this weekend. If you need me before then, just email, or send a pigeon, cuz this phone is almost dead!

Library Girl said...

As a librarian in your sphere, I can tell you that I have HIDEOUS signage. I am working on painting some fun new brightly colored ones, but they aren't ready yet. I'm sure you could offer other suggestions, though!!!

Library Girl said...

Oh, and I am all for using the DDC, forever! =)

Bookgenie said...

I totally agree with you about DDC. The bookstore arrangement is VERY frustrating if you want to find a particular book. DDC provides, like you said, "addresses" where books can be found.

Dewey gives us a system that works, is easy for kids to use, and has stood the test of time. Thanks for posting.