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Is Dewey Dead?

by on December 18, 2012

Half the battle of any search in a library is locating the item in question.  In a perfect library, every item would be shelved and stored exactly where the catalog says it should be down to the shelf marks. Even if the library pours a majority of its operating budget into excellent cataloging though, there is one thing that operating dollars cannot help: patrons’ knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System.

We have heard it all before, “Where are the books about animals?” and “Where are the cookbooks?” We have done our best to section out popular parts of the fiction and non-fiction collections, like mysteries and career development books respectively, but patron needs’ still demand division in children and adult collections alike. Several libraries across the country have explored alternatives to traditional numeric and alphabetic classification systems.

In 2007, the Maricopa County Library District (Ariz.) opened the Perry Library with a classification system now coined as “ShelfLogic.” Utilizing logical, plain-word language, patrons in Maricopa search for materials in a scheme similar to searching for materials in a book store – by subject and genre. This “Deweyless” library allows for easy browsing while not sacrificing searching by specificity. This classification system was adapted from the book industry’s Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC).The community’s response to this change has been so overwhelmingly positive that the Maricopa County Library District has opened every new branch since with ShelfLogic and they are in the process of retro-converting the existing libraries’ holdings to this model.

Inspired after a visit to Maricopa, librarians from the Rangeview Library District (Colo.) reconsidered their classification system . In 2009, the Rangeview Library District (also known as Anythink Libraries) was the first library system to adopt a BISAC-based model at all of its libraries. The District modified the system a little though. They use a hierarchical system similar to the Dewey Decimal System coined as “WordThink.” Spines are labeled with a broad categorical title and a narrower term. For example, a book about drawing would be found under the category of “Art” in the subsection of “Drawing.” Books are then shelved alphabetically in their subsections.

The Darien Library (Conn.) reorganized their collection in a small, but meaningful way. Upon receiving patron feedback, the library reorganized their children’s collection to be more empowering to youth and adult patrons alike. The First Five Years collection breaks resources down into nine, color-coded sections: Favorites, Stories, Growing Up, Transportation, Rhymes & Songs, Concepts, Celebrations, Folk & Fairy Tales, and Learn to Read. Patrons found the reorganization to be very user-friendly, and staff found that, as a result of selecting under which category books would be housed, they were able to deliver more effective reader’s advisory.

Beyond the children’s room, the adult non-fiction collection at Darien is a hybrid of Dewey’s findability and the bookstore model’s browability. Breaking down the inherent barriers in Dewey that separate language and travel, for example, patrons can browse for similar materials in connected “glades” or “neighborhoods.” Armed with the positive feedback of reorganizing the children’s non-fiction, Darien Library is now in the processing of planning to reorganize the children’s non-fiction collection as well.

When considering a new classification system though, always return to one of the fundamental collection development: what do the patrons want? Users’ experience and input was critical to each reorganization. While the Deweyless movement is still young, it is no less important to the concern for access. In the ever-growing landscape of collections, ability to access materials is key to a user’s experience and motivations should be well-founded before reorganization.

What classification systems does your library use?

Has your library thought of implementing an in-house classification system?


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