Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Death of Dewey:Gilbert library to be first to drop Dewey Decimal

Gilbert library to be first to drop Dewey Decimal

When the new Gilbert library opens next month, it will be the first public library in the nation whose entire collection will be categorized without the Dewey Decimal Classification System, Maricopa County librarians say.

Instead, tens of thousands of books in the Perry Branch library will be shelved by topic, similar to the way bookstores arrange books. The demise of the century-old Dewey Decimal system is overdue, county librarians say: It's just too confusing for people to hunt down books using those long strings of numbers and letters. Dewey essentially arranges books by topic and assigns call numbers for each book.

This library is in the Maricopa County Library District and will be in the Town of Gilbert. This is the second library in Gilbert. The first being the Southeast Regional Library (66,000 square feet). I have also seen the layout there. Things are laid out in what they call "neighborhoods". This is also a joint-use facility.It should be interesting to see how this flows. Maricopa County has often been a leader in trying new things.

I wonder how this affects their technical services. Do they just not get call numbers or spine labels? I am glad we are forward thinking here, however, my big problem in a bookstore is that I cannot find the EXACT book I want. Some people like browsing the section and that increases finding through serendipity, but when I want to find the exact book, this model doesn't always work. I will definitely be paying them a visit.


Anonymous said...

I live in Phoenix, and when I heard about this on NPR today, all I could do is shake my head at the ignorance of the common person.

The purpose of a library is the cataloging and retrieval of information. While the Dewey Decimal system isn't perfect (nor is it the only method of cataloging information), it is one of the simplest cataloging schemes for an individual person to understand (although, apparently not, I suppose).

If people want to see difficult, I suggest they try the ISBN or LOC call number system - they will quickly see that the Dewey Decimal system is easy by comparison.

Furthermore, not having a system for cataloging information makes research nearly impossible, or at minimum, makes research on a subject take even more time.

I do think we need a "new" system - I would personally argue for using ISBN call numbers exclusively in libraries, although how you would fit such monsters on the spine is unknown. Basically, the issue is that the Dewey Decimal system doesn't have enough resolution for today's expanded list of categories. Even ISBN could run out - but that doesn't seem likely to occur any time soon (though, I am not a librarian or in library science, so I really don't know).

Today, we have computers to look up topics and categories, and to find books. Card catalogs are the things of the past in modern libraries - only in small town libraries are you likely to still find such cataloging systems.

While being able to browse and find books on a lark, that is the main purpose of bookstores, not libraries. Libraries are for the quick cataloging and retrieval of information for (mainly) research and collection purposes. Anyone with a large collection of books knows how it is neccessary to at least have a minimum level of organization to their collection, and the larger the collection, the more fine-grained that cataloging needs to be.

Jeff Scott said...

Very true. Once you learn dewey, it is a heck of a lot easier than any other system. You can read about my tour of the Perry library and further analysis here: