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Libraries are supposed to be paragons of traditionalism…right? And they’re supposed to safeguard the established ways of doing things …aren’t they?

These days, libraries are expected to do it all: preserve long-standing traditions while evolving into leading-edge resources for the communities they serve.  So when a decision comes along about whether to abandon the time-honored Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system in favor of a bookstore-style subject-based system, libraries need a good rationale for whichever course they elect.

[Photo:] Some bookish jewelry and accessories from Etsy make good use of Dewey Decimal classifications, such as thependantemporium's I still believe in 398.2 (fairy tales)

Two librarians will talk about why their organizations opted for the bookstore model in “Dewey or Don’t We? Transitioning to a Deweyless Library”—a free webinar for library staff on January 22, 2014 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. EST, sponsored by the Colorado State Library.  The webinar will explore how to transition to a bookstore system and why such a move has benefited K-12 and public library patrons.

Librarians—including Melissa DeWild at the Kent (MI) District Library, whose institutions have moved to a Deweyless system, cite several reasons for the change:

  • Makes the library easier to browse and, consequently, more welcoming
  • Empowers self-serve patrons by making  the library less intimidating
  • Elevates the library experience
  • Increases usage and circulation
  • Enables like items to be put together that with Dewey, would be in disparate areas (such as materials on wedding cakes, flowers, and etiquette now all grouped under “Wedding”)
  • Replaces a system that was created in 1876 and still reflects, despite 23 revisions, a narrow, U.S.-based worldview

Of course, those who oppose such a change have their reasons, too:

  • The DDC is far more expansive and specific, with 27,000 categories compared to the 3,000 categories of the Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) model
  • The DDC provides an easy way to introduce new subjects, by dividing its 10 very broad classes into finer and finer gradations
  • Abandoning the DDC is part of the “dumbing down” of our society (a satirical ezine even published a spoof story called “Librarians Abandon Dewey Decimal System in Favor of Netflix Categories”)

To Dewey or not to Dewey? That is the question. What is your opinion?

21 Jan 2014 | Posted by Shannon Janeczek

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