I was thrown back into the world of cataloguing for a brief period earlier today when reading a great post by Paige Turner (still wish I’d have thought of that nom de plume). ‘Paige’ has a blog detailing the development of the new Swansea central library. Now as someone that worked in the old central library for around 6 years I have an interest in the old place. However, I digress, the post was about Dewey. What about Dewey? Exactly! Paige dares to ask – or at least hints at – do we need him in public libraries???
I’ll let Paige explain (Paige hope you don’t mind me reprinting most of your post!?)
Anyway, for the sake of argument, you’re a customer and you’re looking for Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking.
You walk into a bookshop – you look around at the headings on the bookshelves – you notice that there is an area headed “cookery” or “food and drink”, you think – ah, yes, that sounds right. On closer inspection, you notice that every couple of shelves is a smaller sign “barbecues”, “soups”, “A-z by country” Ah-ha!!!! a,b,c,d,e,f – French cookery.
You take the initiative – you read the titles and author’s names on the spines of the books – OK sorry, getting a bit controversial there. But hey – you did it!
Now the alternative scenario – you walk into a traditional library. There are no signs above the shelves. On the end of each run of shelving, you notice an array of numbers (340-385, 610-649 etc.) You walk further and may notice a decrepit poster filled with a list of these numbers and what they mean, written in arcane language. (If you’re a kid, your poster may have a jungle theme but the language will be the same).
OK – you say – I get it, there’s some sort of coded system in play here! But, I’m an intelligent human so I can work it out. Right, let’s see:
000 – computers, information and general works (nope)
100 – philosophy and psychology (nope)
200 – religion (well Delia’s a bit fanatical about eggs but…nope)
300 – social sciences (don’t think so)
400 – language (non!)
500 – science (erm, no)
600 – technology (nope)
700 – arts and recreation (ah-ha! The culinary arts! Recreational activity – sounds good, just finish checking)
800 – Literature (nah!)
900 – History and geography (no – hee-hee! I’ve cracked it, now, off to find the 700 section!)
Go home or ask the code master.
Of course 641.5944!! “Utilising the sciences to harness the natural world and it’s resources for the benefit of mankind” = Cookery! Silly me.
By the way – helpful tip, when you do get to it, if you do get to it, hope there’s not too may books on French cookery, because chances are, you won’t be able to identify the book you want behind all the spine labels.
Now, I like Dewey. Yes, that makes me strange – or strang(er) – but I do. HOWEVER … I have never been a fan of making it harder rather than easier to find things. This was indeed something that the people I worked with in my time at Swansea Reference Library agreed with me on. So we started to make Dewey a bit more user friendly. No Dewey number would go more than 3 numbers after the decimal point for starters. Then, in areas such as ART, Literature and a few others we swapped what was after the decimal point with the first three letters of the Author, Artist etc.
So, we were not getting rid of Dewey, but we WERE trying to make him more useful to our patrons, and yes dear reader, even ourselves as it make it much easier to reshelve items using this system.
Could we have gone further – yes, I think we could of done: but what we did was a start.
Even now in my current job, I have created a filing system for my small collection of 450 books that makes it easier for me and my lawyers to find them, rather than using an established ‘system’.
Of course, Paige’s post is putting the question out there of whether – in the 21st century – we actually need Dewey in libraries (esp Public Libraries) at all. So, is it time for Dewey to be retired? Should the Library of Congress system join it? What do you think, dear readers?