Shelving issues shouldn’t be blamed on Dewey

I’ve had a nasty cold that has prevented me from doing much of anything lately. However, prior to getting sick, I was contemplating the whole “getting rid of Dewey” debate. Most of the arguments for getting rid of Dewey involve patron dissatisfaction that stems from not being able to physically locate the books and confusing signage (ie. The ends of shelves only having Dewey numbers and nothing more).

These are the questions that have arisen for me out of this:

Will getting rid of Dewey really solve the shelving issues at libraries, or is it just that, a shelving issue?

Is Dewey being blamed for a physical library’s shortcomings in shelving and arranging materials to fill our patrons’ needs?

Will “dummying” down libraries and getting rid of Dewey really solve access problems?

Although traditionally libraries shelve by classification number, they don’t have to.  I’d love to see libraries embracing Dewey yet exploring new ways to shelve.  Perhaps shelving by Dewey number within genre categories? Cataloguers provide subject headings and classifications. Front-line staff should take a leadership role in enhancing the “foundation” we are providing and find new and inventive ways to feature the collection so that it is easily accessible. Why do we need to get rid of one to have the other?

Dewey arguments/comments from other blogs:

No Dewey in the Dessert

Should Dewey Retire?

Librarians weigh in on Arizona’s Dewey–Less Library

Getting rid of classification systems

Getting rid of Dewey part 2




Filed under Access Issues, Dewey

2 responses to “Shelving issues shouldn’t be blamed on Dewey

  1. Lanie

    Having just discovered your website, and because I like it, I’m apparently now going to make a pest of myself by littering not only one but two old posts with comments!

    Classification and display of large groups of physical items, as you point out, is just inherently difficult and imperfect. Tossing one system overboard in favor of a different system is likely to, at best, relocate areas of confusion and inconsistency rather than eliminate them – while introducing a whole new set of problems.

    There may be a certain parallel here with maintenance of computer software. In this article (, a prominent computer industry entrepreneur and writer essentially says, Do not throw out your entire code base and ‘rewrite it from scratch,’ lest ye end up in a disaster like Netscape.

    I’ve looked at a bit of the BISAC subject list…and… isn’t it a lot like Dewey? In that it’s (unavoidably?) a long list of categories and subcategories, with alphanumeric codes attached to them? They happen to begin with letters and end with numbers, instead of the other way around, and the apparently-dreadful decimal point is gone (!), but look: “Bibles” are in a whole separate section from “Religion.” Highly intuitive, right? And lest we think it’s all sweetness, light, and simplicity, look at this fine print from the “Gardening” section:

    “Under the “Regional” subheading, state abbreviations have been provided as a guide, but users should not feel constrained by them. For example, CA is found in the “West (AK, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, UT, WY)” subsubheading, but a book dealing specifically with northern California could be assigned the “Pacific Northwest (OR, WA)” subsubheading. Similarly, all of Canada is covered by one subsubheading, but a book dealing with British Columbia could also be assigned the “Pacific Northwest (OR, WA)” subsubheading.”

    In other words, what seems to be the major ‘improvement’ in these codes, that they begin with mnemonics like PET for pet books, could (and often is) be easily achieved in libraries with large signs. Which you’re going to have to have anyway so people can locate their destinations without peering at book spines.

  2. Pingback: Enhancing Dewey through a classification “mash-up” « The Cataloguing Librarian

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