Dewey Discord in WSJ

No Dewey Sticker Distributed at ALA Annual

Fascinating article that features Jessamyn West, Sarah Houghton-Jan, Karen Schneider and Michael Casey and other librarians weighing in on Maricopa County’s Perry Branch Library that opened without using Dewey to organize the collection.

I heart this: “We may want people to spend hours learning our arcane systems, but the reality is they’re going to default to the path of least resistance,” PubLib’s Ms. Schneider said. “We need to be in that path.” Oh yes we do!

But it’s what’s missing from the library that has drawn the most attention: Perry abandoned the Dewey Decimal Classification System for its books, whose spines instead carry labels with plain-English subjects such as “history” and “weddings.” Instead of locating books by the traditional numerical system, patrons use a computerized catalog to find out which subject a book has been filed under, and then follow signs posted throughout the library. Many visitors skip the catalog altogether, and just head for the aisles that interest them.

The discussions over Dewey and Google are similar, said Michael Casey, in that they both relate to serving people who don’t want to learn a complicated system. Mr. Casey, a librarian and information-technology director in Gwinnett, Ga., who writes a blog called LibraryCrunch, said that during a new branch’s recent construction, he began asking plumbers, inspectors and other construction workers whether they used libraries. Most said they couldn’t figure out how to find a book, he said. Although it didn’t give up Dewey classifications, the branch incorporated more subject signs as a result.

“Librarians like to think that we’re indispensable,” he said. “While I think that is true to a point, I don’t think we should continue to propagate the idea that we’re indispensable by keeping a complicated cataloging system.”

I was given a “No Dewey” Sticker at ALA and wore it on my name tag. If anyone asked, I told them about Perry Library and that I was pleased some librarians were questioning how we present ourselves. I think that’s how we’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. We’ll also learn more about presence in our users lives, as Karen and Michael point out. One librarian stopped me on the exhibit floor and got very agitated. “I love Dewey,” she said. “No one needs to change it. It’s perfect.”

This is perfect for discussion here and in the classroom. I tip my bloggers hat to everyone involved with the Perry Library and this high-profile article.

More coverage is below, featuring Marshall Shore, the innovative librarian at Maricopa who “lead the charge” not to use Dewey.