Doing In Dewey?

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.? 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.


  1. Lori
    July 23, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    I think you summed up my feelings with your last two sentences.

  2. K.G. Schneider
    July 27, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    As I noted in my Techsource article, it’s not just one library, and it’s not just with physical layout. So yes, I’d say that there is something happening when two unrelated libraries are independently exploring the same post-Dewey mechanisms. At the very least, it suggests we know Dewey alone is inadequate.

    I’m not convinced Dewey’s limitations can be easily handled by just adding signage.

  3. Edmund
    July 29, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Libraries should stay independent and not be influenced by technology companies or Google in any way.

  4. Sarah
    July 30, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    It seems as though the high circulation may have more to do with the extraordinary amount of publicity the library opening has gotten than it has with the new classification system. At any rate, it seems too early to tell.

  5. L
    July 30, 2007 at 11:27 pm

    I like the suggestion of a hybrid approach in your article, with one addition… a friendly smile and a “May I help you?” Come out from behind the desk and help people. Ask us – that’s what we are here for!
    “Knowledge is of two kinds: we know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” Samuel Johnson 1709-1784. Dewey may have its problems but I haven’t seen anything better…yet!

  6. Dave
    July 31, 2007 at 9:04 am

    Thje assumption that the Dewey system works perfectly in most situations is very out to date. My local public library is mostly used by new arrivals to Canada. Its another thing that may keep them from exploring the English section of the library.

  7. Dimiril
    August 19, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    I think you summed up my feelings with your last two sentences.

  8. Jacksonville NC Homes
    August 23, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Google is an awesome technological monster…however I don’t think doing away with Dewey is a good thing.

  9. Dave
    August 24, 2007 at 8:31 am

    Yeah, some good points made, however there are two valid sides to this arguement so I’m not sure I completely agree.

  10. RV
    August 29, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Is anyone convinced that Dewey’s limitations can be easily handled by just adding signage?

  11. Dave Nofmeister
    September 10, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    I think that Dewey has needed to be taken care of a long time ago. I think however that Dewey will be around a long time, as it’s much established, and as the article points out, one library isn’t a trend.

  12. Irfan
    September 12, 2007 at 9:48 am

    Personally, I favour anything that encourages people to read more books. If online library can do that then fair enough

  13. Malcolm Lambe
    September 30, 2007 at 10:40 am

    This is the problem – Google Search is killing off the library – or should I say, knowing how to use Dewey to find books. But yeah…I think good online libararies is the way to go. I belong to The American Library in Paris – a really good library – but their website is very ordinary. A pity, because if it had all the bells and whistles the kids might actually visit the library and – shock, horror – read a book!

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