That Darn Dewey Decimal System
May 06, 2013
Ok, you have arrived at the Library, and you need to find some information about World War II. So, you go the computer, enter WWII, and up comes this number. You write down this random, seemingly meaningless, number on a piece of paper and head off into the stacks to find. When you locate the number and your book, you notice that the other books around it also appear to be about WWII. You assume that the number somehow indicates books on WWII, but you have no idea why. Nor do you probably care. You just want to get your book.
Unless you are someone who works in a Library, the Dewey Decimal System is some mysterious, secret code. Some people might know that it was created by this guy called Melville Dewey (1851-1931), but it seems to have no other purpose except to catalog books. As such, there is no reason for the average person to know much more about it. I have been working in a Library for many years, and therefore, I have figured out a bit about the Dewey. I can tell you what is in a certain range of numbers (for example, History is in the 900s, Religion the 200s, and Art and Entertainment in the 700s). However, ask me why, and I have never really gotten that far.
And don’t ask me to explain why the sewing books are in the 600s, while the quilting books are in the 700s. Or why books about certain wars are in the 900s, while books about the weapons people use in those wars are in the 300s. There is obviously some logic to it, but it is only necessary for those who do the cataloging to really understand everything. So the question that has been raised recently is this: Do we still need the Dewey?
There has been a trend in some libraries to stop using the Dewey Decimal System completely. Others have decided to alter it slightly to make it more convenient for the average library user. Many feel that, maybe, we should be doing what the bookstores are doing and group books according to the interests of the readers. Then there are those who are terrified of changing anything and believe that if something isn’t broke, don’t fix it. This last argument seems to be more with us who work in libraries than with our visitors. For them, as long as the book is where the computer says it is supposed to be, they don’t really care why it was placed there.
The Dewey Decimal System can be confusing for the average library user. But, then again, there are a lot of things about the Library that can be confusing to the layperson. For example, people still get confused over the difference between fiction and nonfiction. It seems more logical that the book that isn’t true should have the "non" in front of it, and the book that is true shouldn’t. I feel the same way about the word secular. Every time I hear, it I think that it should mean religious, while nonsecular should mean non-religious. But of course, it is the exact opposite. The same holds true for the fiction/nonfiction dilemma.
So, should the Dewey Decimal System go the way of the dinosaurs? Well, in the end, your feelings about it probably have to do with how much contact that you have with it. If you are a Library worker who is accustomed to it, to change it would mean quite an adjustment. If you simply use it and don’t have to know how it works, it probably doesn’t matter to you one bit. After all, most people don’t care how a computer works as long as it does. Personally, I am a bit torn. However, if changes are made to the system, I would hope it would be because the new system is better, not just new. And I think that most will be perfectly fine with whatever system is used as long as a book is easy to locate when they need it. What do you think?