Tag Archives: Dewey decimal system

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

Another Library Ditches Dewey

The Frankfort Public Library in Illinois is yet another library, in the growing list of libraries, choosing to break free of the Dewey Decimal Classification System.In an interview with Melissa Rice, head of adult services and reference librarian Joanna Kolendo the Southtown Star reports:

“People spend 10 or 15 minutes in the library. They are frustrated if they have to go to a card catalog and get the number. They are embarrassed to ask for help. This Dewey-free system takes out the middle man,” Kolendo said.

“I love coding. I read Dewey’s biography,” she said. “As librarians, we have a hard time changing things. But it’s not about me. It’s about the patrons.”

When Frankfort’s patrons walk into their library, they can look for colored signs directing them to books on gardening, cooking, auto repair, health and fitness, travel, computers or whatever.

Cooking and gardening collections already have been retrofitted and broken down into subcategories, all clearly marked and alphabetized on the shelves. Within each subcategory, books are further alphabetized by author.

So if a patron wants Rachael Ray’s “Thirty Minute Meals,” they find “cooking,” “quick and easy,” and find Ray’s name, instead of looking up the 641.555 RAY. (Ironically, this places “cooking” and “heart attacks” in the same 600 category, according to Dewey’s system.) If this is confusing, think: bookstore.

The gardening category now combines botany from the 500s, gardening from the 635s and landscaping from 717s.

This dynamic duo pores over one collection at a time and decides what to name each new category and subcategory based on what patrons are asking for and using words they can identify with.[Emphasis added]

First, the question must be asked, where are the cataloguers? Were they consulted? Are they in favour of this? Was there expertise utilized in any way?

According to this article, the head librarian and reference librarian have taken it upon themselves to classify the materials and assign random categories to items, with no authority control or uniformity. Are they taking these categories from the subjects assigned in the MARC records? Or, are they just making it up, “for the good of the public”. The MARC records provide detailed information regarding subject information and the Dewey number provides librarians and patrons with the subject most closely related to the item. 

Now, I’m going to get a little stereotypical here. Isn’t it always the “front-line” staff and librarians who believe they have a greater understanding of classification and the library catalogue than cataloguers? Most of these librarians, and I remember them from library school, stayed far, far away from cataloguing and classification courses. Yet, somehow, they assume the responsibility and expertise of knowing more about how information should be classified and structured than cataloguing librarians.

What Frankfort Public Library has now created is a changeable, non-uniform classification system that has no standards or guidelines.

Regarding the use of Dewey as a system whose only function is to provide classification numbers, I urge you to read Moving Beyond the Presentation Layer: Content and Context in the Dewey Decimal Classification System.







Filed under Access Issues, future of cataloguing

Cataloguing Potpourri

While I’ve been on holiday, there have been some interesting cataloguing posts and information made available. Here’s a sampling:

Beyond the Dewey Decimal System – Washington Times, June 23, 2008

EBSCO and ATLA to Create Digital Archives for Purchase

Karen Calhoun’s New Blog

LC’s Task Force on Competencies and Education for a Career in Cataloging – Minutes
Not only are the minutes from ALA’s mid-winter meeting up, but the Task Force is now moving ahead on their projects. More to come on this as we gather information and start pulling together our resources. This is a first for me, so I’m excited to let you know about my own experiences on this task force.

LSCH on the Web

PALINET presentations

RAPI: Another open-source OPAC

Why do we Dewey? PLA 2008 session handout

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Filed under future of cataloguing, Our Profession, Subject Headings