Dewey Decimal Rant

9 07 2013

@flickr by Super Furry Librarian

I believe that librarians who focus on conventional technical practices like cataloging using the Dewey Decimal System are harmful to our field – because their attitudes appear to be elitist and exclusionary.
Librarianship today must be inclusionary, dynamic, and focused on the user – not on the librarian.
Librarians who fail to see that marginalize themselves and their programs.
It’s difficult to accept for many people, but the field has changed.
Cataloging and classification served as a valuable tool for many years and before the advent of Internet/tags/an abundance of information available at our fingertips, it ALSO (not very conveniently and not very easily, but also) served as the user-facing resource for information retrieval in our libraries.
It turns out, keywords are a more user-centered way to access the MEANINGFUL information our students are looking for. We keep books on our shelves for those same students because we’ve evaluated the best informational texts and want our users to access them. Why not make that process as easy as natural language searches?
A researcher walks into my library and is faced with laptops, computers, and other devices- as well as a wall of natural language signs (i.e Decades, Countries, Shakespeare, etc.) They have the choice: logon to a computer and easily find millions of links to both good and bad information OR walk to the shelves and browse through 20 or 30 titles that have been evaluated by a professional. Neither choice involves decoding an outmoded and archaic system of classifying information that so many librarians continue to grasp at.
So why. the. hell. are we still spending time arguing about an administrative practice that is useful to almost no one?

Breaking Up with Dewey

2 06 2013

As a follow-up to “Putting Dewey on a Diet” I’ve made some additional adjustments in our library. Read on…

While my main library goal is “connecting users with information,” I need to keep in mind that it doesn’t mean overwhelming them with so much information they don’t know where to turn. Weeding helped this process, as I was no longer putting outdated and inaccurate information in the proximity of my users. When we weeded, we got rid of 25% of our nonfiction print collection. 1 in every 4 books was removed from our shelves. This change created an immediate improvement in the appearance of our bookshelves.

After weeding, we pulled out all of the sections of books that had been frustrating us at our high school. For instance, we pulled our PostSecret books out of the art collection and How to Build a Robot Army out of our literary essay collection.


How to Survive a Robot Uprising was in the literary essay section

PostSecret books were in the art section

PostSecret books were in the art section

We moved both titles to our most popular new section called “Curiosities & Oddities.”

Now, both titles are on the "Curiosities & Oddities" shelf

Now, both titles are on the “Curiosities & Oddities” shelf

Our country books are shelved alphabetically by the name of the country.

Our country books are shelved alphabetically by the name of the country.

We also moved all of our country books. We decided to put them in order alphabetically by country name and change the call numbers to “Countries.”

We are starting to notice that our checkout statistics are increasing (compared to the same time period last year). I will update soon with more areas of change and some statistics!

Putting Dewey on a Diet

20 02 2013

Last summer we weeded our print Reference collection and replaced it with a 400-volume set of Gale Virtual Reference Library reference books. Our users barely noticed, other than the fact that the library was now a more welcoming and customizable space. The Reference books had been on high shelves in the middle of the library. With those shelves gone, we were free to place mobile displays, rearrange tables, and create a large space for full staff meetings (which my Principal was thrilled with.) As administrators from other schools came by, they asked expectantly if I was getting rid of all of the books. “Who reads books anymore when we have the Internet?” was their view.

While I spent a great deal of time trying to customize our virtual library to make it more user-friendly, we rarely rearrange the physical library. Our fiction collection continued to be relevant and popular with our students but our nonfiction books were rarely touched. It got to the point that when I saw students browsing in the non-fiction shelves I thought “what’s wrong with that student? why are they over there? and what are they up to?” When a student or faculty member did ask me to help them find a nonfiction title, I felt myself cringing. One student asked me where the books on the Renaissance were kept. Gulp! 940.2 has the basic titles, but if you’re looking for Religion in the Renaissance, Women in the Renaissance, or Architecture in the Renaissance, it’s a different story. Students from Psychology class come in monthly to find memoirs of people with psychological disorders. While we did have some memoirs in a biography collection, most of them were filed under the Dewey number for the type of disorder: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, see 362.85 or 616.85. We had memoirs all over the place! I was frustrated, and our users were confused and learning that libraries were simply complicated places. I didn’t want to just increase our signage, I wanted a paradigm shift.


We started Trimming Down Dewey in our School Library
Step 1. We weeded the collection heavily and comprehensively. Our collection was 14,364 for 700 high school students. We weeded 2,621 volumes or nearly 20% of our print collection. We weeded anything that was out of date, inaccurate, worn, or had not been checked out in 10 years. We displayed the weeded books at a faculty meeting and asked teachers to take anything that looked valuable or interesting. The rest of them were picked up by Got Books, a company that sorts, cleans, and sells books back to consumers at incredibly inexpensive prices at the Used Books Superstore. The books never end up in landfills.

Step 2. The second thing we did was to map out our vision of the new user-centered non-fiction collection. We decided to break our collection into Popular Student Subject areas. Because of the way our shelving is set up and our limit on mobile shelving we were limited to 23 Subject areas. This is what I came up with:

Popular Subjects are now on display on mobile shelves and display areas throughout the library:

Graphic Novels
Children’s Books (English, French, and Spanish)

History (divided into subcategories, gathered on one wall)
Countries (alphabetical)
Ancient Times
European (Middle Ages, Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, French Revolution, etc.)
World Wars I & II
Wars (Revolutionary, Civil, Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, etc.)
American (Decades)
New Hampshire

Everything that did not fit into one our subjects were left in Dewey order on the nonfiction shelves.

Step 3. After weeding we went through the collection again and pulled titles that would be better suited in one of our new subject displays. For instance, we pulled “Women in the Renaissance” and moved it to History / European / Renaissance. We also pulled any memoirs, decade specific books, and oddities.

Oddities is our most popular section of nonfiction books. We only include titles that are heavy with graphics, non-academic, and fun-to-read. We mostly focus this area on teenage boys who “don’t like to read.” We did include titles like the Guinness World Records, Paranormal Caught on Film, The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions, and The Zombie Survival Guide. We did not include titles like Paranormal Phenomena: Opposing Viewpoints as it is too academic (books about oddities aren’t necessarily odd).

After we got all of the books on the shelves in their proper order we decided to leave them for a month to see how it was working. We wanted to see if the subject areas we thought would be popular with our users actually were popular. We wanted to see if we should rearrange subgroups within the collections. Did it make sense to put “Martial Arts” on the Sports display or keep it in the traditional Dewey collection?

Step 4. We created color-coded signage for all of the subject areas and changed our shelf markers from Dewey ranges to subject headings. We decided to start off by adding a Prefix to the existing Dewey Number on the spine label and in the OPAC record. “Sports,” “Music,” and “Oddities” were easy. We decided to change the History numbers into History / American / 1920s.

Step 5. Our plans for the future are to compare check-out statistics, monitor in-library usage, watch for browsing and serendipitous learning. We will survey our faculty and students to see what they think of the changes. We may pull additional collections. For instance I’m considering a “Health” display to be organized by disease.

Stay tuned!