Monday, June 4, 2007

Death of Dewey? I don't think so.

In case you missed it, the Maricopa County Library District in AZ is opening a new branch in which the books will not be classified by Dewey Decimal, but instead will use a bookstore model of organization by BISAC Subject Headings. Inevitably, this has caused much uproar and gnashing of teeth and proclamations of the death of Dewey.

Information seems to be lacking on some of the specifics about how this new scheme will be implemented, but nonetheless I already have a few thoughts:

1) They say the library will be organized by subject instead of by Dewey, when in fact Dewey is already organized by subject, so that seems like faulty logic. Dewey is more specific though. When you have an entire aisle of books on World War II it's a good thing to have a more specific location than "somewhere in that aisle." Which bring me to...

2) One of the most satisfying parts of being a librarian is the ability to find out exactly where a book is shelved and walk directly to it and hand it triumphantly to the eager patron. I don't want to do what bookstore staff people do - point you to the general section and just let you go wander aimlessly among the shelves hoping the book will leap out at you as you pass by it.

3) Patrons aren't stupid and Dewey isn't that difficult. Middle school teachers could spend about ten minutes explaining library basics to their classes before assigning that first research paper and it would go a long way towards lifelong enlightenment.

4) None of the articles have mentioned whether this library will use spine labels, but I would think they'd have to if they want to be able to reshelve anything without looking it up in the catalog. A Dewey number would fit on a spine label much better than, say, the words "behavioral psychology" or "linguistics, vocational guidance."

5) One reason cited for this decision is "Dewey doesn't facilitate browsing." Really? Since it is organized by subject, it's easy to point a patron to the section they are looking for - or better yet, put up signs so they can find it themselves - and they can certainly browse. This argument doesn't make sense to me, so I'm convinced I must be missing something here.

6) It's not the end of Dewey Decimal. It's one library. In fact, it's one small branch of a library. It will only start to catch on if it works well and people like it, in which case there is nothing to worry about, is there?

All of this being said, I think there's a lot we can learn from bookstores. I'm a big fan of the library cafe, for example, and fantasize about it frequently while at work. (I also spend a great deal of time fantasizing about a coffee shop in my neighborhood, so this seems to be a recurring theme in my life.) I'm also a proponent of displays, as I think book covers are infinitely more appealing than the spines and patron response suggests that I am not alone in this. I like the idea of libraries as social spaces with added value like author readings and classes, and I do think we should generously stock our shelves with popular materials regardless of their literary merit, or lack thereof. And as unpopular as this idea would be in my library, I think it should be ok to bring in your coffee.

Jeannette Woodward's book, Creating the Customer-Driven Library, is based on these bookstore-inspired principles of marketing and revitalizing your library, and I plan to read it as soon as my library buys a copy. For now, I remain unconvinced that eliminating the Dewey Decimal system will help achieve that goal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I strongly report a coffeeshop as an addition to the Somerville Public Library. Particularly if it also has sandwiches and herbal tea, and in summertime, popsicles.