A mini-debate is breaking out among library-philes in the wake of a Wall Street Journal story about an Arizona library that has ditched the Dewey Decimal System for much broader subject headings, catering to a client謥 who are apparently more browsers than researchers. An earlier article claims it to be the first library to break with Dewey (or, one would assume, with any another established means such as the Library of Congress Classification System).
The debate is over whether bookstores and search engines such as Google are pushing libraries in this ?simpler? direction ? and would also seem to beg the question whether one library constitutes a ?trend.? The story indicates that circulation is much higher in the Arizona library than for comparable branches in the area, but so far unexplored is whether patrons can actually and easily find what they?re looking for.
An LOC-led working group is tackling very similar issues.
Across the blogs, LibrarianInBlack advocates a hybrid approach: ?In my head, this goal can be achieved pretty easily through two things: better keyword-based signage on your physical items (shelves and book spines) and better tagging and keyword search functionality on the online catalog. Do those two things, keep Dewey, and I think you?ll end up with happy users of both the browsing and searching kind.?
AnnoyedLibrarian isn?t as alarmed as if the change had occurred at a college or research library: ?Most public libraries I?ve been in have already shelved their biographies alphabetically, so Elizabeth Taylor and Zachary Taylor sit next to each other on the shelves. If public librarians haven?t been bothered by that sort of historical dissonance, why should getting rid of Dewey for the rest of the collection matter??
LibraryCrunch points to an earlier piece he had written: ?Are we spending too much time trying to force our users to utilize Dewey ? and losing too many users despite our effort? If we really want to make our users comfortable and serve them well (and allow them to serve themselves well) then perhaps some of us need to reexamine our shelving and labeling methods.?
Librarian.net expounds on comments she made in the Wall Street Journal story, while CaveatLector bestows humorous kudos on the WSJ reporter for his journalism: ?Andrew LaVallee got librarianship right and is to be commended for it. No buns. No shushing. No covert sneers. No misogyny. ? A real debate, not something trumped up out of nowhere.?
As a non-librarian I don?t feel right offering any sort of learned opinion, especially given where I work. But as a customer of libraries and an advocate for books, I can see both sides of the argument: Anything that makes people more apt to check out books and read throughout their lives is a good thing. But don?t throw away finding aids that are generally more useful than the torrent of unfiltered content under which we?ve been inundated on the Web.