Tag Archives: classification systems

Wait! Let’s rethink the whole new classification system thing.

I’ve been harping on…um, examining, DDC and the use of Dewey in our public libraries quite a bit lately.

In my last Dewey post, I discussed the possibility of creating a type of classification ‘mash-up” which explored the idea of combining categories or genres into our DDC call numbers. This can be accomplished through a variety of procedures, from stickering and adding a note in the record, to an extension of the call number itself (prefixes/suffixes).

There’s a wealth of information and literature floating around that sing the praises of removing DDC from public libraries, of implementing new classification systems and, to some extent, even creating new, in-house classification systems. This literature is focussed primarily on public libraries using DDC. We don’t often read about libraries throwing out LC classification or Sears (maybe it’s out there and I just haven’t seen it?). In fact, it isn’t often we read about users of LC or Sears having difficulty understanding the classification numbers, which is the opposite of DDC, where its classification system (based on numbers!) seems to cause no end of trouble for staff and patrons.

When I hear about libraries opting for categories and then shelving alphabetically with no assistance or foundation from a developed and standard classification system, I cringe. I’ve walked into my own library to pick up my holds, which are shelved by last name, and have found the items sprinkled throughout the shelf, not grouped together and certainly not in alphabetical order. Holds are only a small, small collection of items, imagine the problem on a wider scale!

But, more importantly, if we get rid of DDC from our collections, we are ignoring the growing and very real situation of virtual browsing and access to our collections. From my own experience, and from what I’ve heard from other professionals, patrons and staff like to browse by call number. In fact, when we first implemented AquaBrowser, that was one of the first patron complaints – that a sort and browse by call number function was missing.

In our new libraries, shelving space is limited, allowing more room for the “social” aspects of our physical spaces. As a result, it is only the new or popular items that are housed within the physical walls and on display, where the remainder of the collection is placed in storage. In storage, we can either shelve by call number where the purpose for retrieving an item is most often based on known item searches of an identified item (usually one with a hold on it) or, with a browsing system that does not identify the exact location, but will let staff browse the storage area by category until they find an item. The latter doesn’t sound efficient or desirable. This is an issue that many librarians and managers are not considering when they build new branches which include smaller collections and fewer shelves. By combining DDC with a more “browseable” system, items in storage can be found, too. Eliminating DDC will make retrieval difficult and time-consuming.

Finally, there are the advancements in technology that should not be ignored. Shelf Browse, launched this past year, indicates a shift in how we are enabling our users to browse our shelves – browsing virtually. Shelf Browse works by sorting and displaying through code created to read and sort information based on call numbers. Eliminating DDC and opting for word based classification systems may result in lost opportunities for libraries looking to promote their collection virtually through computers and mobile devices.

A serious question we need to consider is: Do new classification systems work or can higher circulation be the product of a new (or newly renovated) library and better signage? I don’t know because I haven’t seen any research critically examining this in public libraries (and adjusting or taking into account the “new library” factor).

Libraries get caught up in the ideas and excitement of copying Amazon, our bookstores and Blockbuster. Of course it’s exciting – especially if it’s working. But, our customers are also more diverse than the target environments in which these for-profit markets operate. And, what they do well and what public libraries often ignore, is research. There are several areas of research and examination that need to be addressed with implementing new classification practicies:

1. Return on investment. What is the success rate of DDC versus the time and expense involved in creating and applying an entirely new classification system.

2. Proper study and research examining the results of the new classification system. (How is the success being measured? Have external but significant factors [such as a new branch, increased patron attendance due to a new branch and increased signage] been removed or considered in their feedback/surveys?)

While the ongoing discussions over whether we should continue to use DDC will continue for the forseeable future, we shouldn’t be so quick to exclaim success and applaud these innovative rebels for throwing out DDC.

Should we be exploring new ways to enhance and compliment DDC? Absolutely. But what if, in our excitement to show our innovation by eliminating Dewey, we end up compromising future access? DDC has been in use for many years for a reason. It works. No, it isn’t perfect, but it’s very good. It appears that, given the new technology and increased demand for technology to access our collections remotely and the ever-growing emphasis on a social space within our physical walls that a structured and stable classification system needs to remain in place throughout our libraries no matter what our short-term needs may demand.

Like tagging in our catalogues, new ways to categorize, shelve and access our physical collections can sit atop our existing classification systems. But, thoughts to the future of access, how our collections are being accessed, the transition into downloadable collections and the increasing amount of remote users over physical visits to access our collections must be examined.


Click to access shelf-browse.pdf



Filed under Access Issues, Dewey

Enhancing Dewey through a classification “mash-up”

I admit it. I have a thing for Dewey. Not just the man (while he was fascinating, strange and brilliant), but for the Dewey Decimal Classification System.

While I’m not so enamoured that I don’t think it can be improved (but what classification system is perfect?) I do believe that libraries that are currently using DDC, but are experiences twinges of doubt about keeping it, need to think again.

As libraries continue to grow and change, we are noticing a mash-up and mutation of services. A good example of this is the blurring of service lines between reference staff and readers’ advisors. While we’ve been noticing this mash-up in the branches, we haven’t really been exploring the possibilities in cataloguing.

Next generation catalogues are starting to create a mash-up of services in the catalogue. We’re introducing reference services and RA services into our bibliographic records and offering chat within the catalogue. Slowly, we’re even making the content of our websites searchable in our catalogues, including programming and library hours.

So, if we’ve been able to concede and make room for additional content in our catalogues (and even in our bibliographic record content), why haven’t we looked at ways to expand or mash-up DDC to increase access? This doesn’t involve tainting the classification system itself, but incorporating the “bookstore model” into our stickering or call numbers.

In 2008, I wrote the following:

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?

I think the one change I would make to that statement, two years later, is to encourage a collaborative leadership role between front-line staff and cataloguers.

I don’t believe getting rid of DDC in our libraries is the answer to better access. But I also don’t think we should refuse to explore additional ways to enhance physical access to the collection through our classification systems. This can be done without compromising organization and strict classification that provides the foundation of access.

Many of us are open to allowing user tagging in our catalogues because it sits on top of our structured subject and genre headings. While not “messing with” the integrity of our data, we are allow yet another level of access. Can we not start exploring the same options for adding another level of access with our call numbers?

Related slideshow that may be of interest:

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Filed under Access Issues, Dewey

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