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.