Jo’s and Mel’s Thoughts

Hi Everyone!

Thanks for all of your interest – good and bad!  Working on this project during the last 3 months has been a wild ride – lots of worrying, lots of physical work (Jo – I think we should put together a Library Workout DVD), and lots of decision-making.  This is not a simple project or concept to accomplish – several opinions on the blogs have been quite critical of our integrity and intelligence.  All I have to say is that it’s quite sad when our professional colleagues find it so easy to throw out opinions when they don’t have all of the information or don’t bother to ask for more information.   So, if you hear about our project and find it interesting, confusing, or questionable, ask us – that’s why we’re here – we’re librarians after all.



6 responses to “Jo’s and Mel’s Thoughts

  1. Hi, I’m a new MLIS student and was just curious about how the patrons find the Dewey-less system working out? I mean would you believe that I was on a plane last night talking to a journalist and he wanted to know if the Dewey Decimal system is still around (and he was embarrassed that had just dated himself). I just know from working in my library that we still use it and it’s alive and well, but I had no idea that some libraries are doing away with it.

  2. I supervise 2 branches of the Lincoln City Libraries in Lincoln, Nebraska. One of the branches is a “neighborhood branch” which is relatively small (circulation of 6,000-11,000 items/month). As we embark on an aesthetic remodel of the facility, the director, assistant director, and collections manager are all advocating that we make the collection Dewey-less. I have numerous reservations about the project. My biggest concern is how the 1 Dewey-less branch will interact with the other 8 branches in the system. The other locations will retain Dewey, and there are currently no plans for any of those branches to transition to becoming Dewey-less. Any thoughts?

  3. SLIS Student

    I’m a SLIS student halfway through my degree, and work at a Public Library that went with a system similar to this. I’m also taking Cataloging this semester and writing a paper about DDC and this trend to get rid of him. All that said, I can only echo my cataloging professor who said she cannot understand why any librarian would think this is superior to Dewey. Having worked on this project for our branch, and having lived with it for a few weeks at the reference desk, I have to agree with my professor. I could say a lot of things, but in my opinion, the problem was never Dewey, which does keep like materials together, but the lack of signage in public libraries. Numbers mean nothing the average person. Just put subject signs over the appropriate areas. For example, put a Cooking sign over the 641’s. Put a Gardening sign over the 635’s, etc. Nothing needs to be moved out of sequence. That way you accommodate both the browsing type patron and the one who wants one book and wants to find it quickly. As someone else has pointed out, this trend brings about the beginning of the end of standards and standardization between libaries. That was one of the strengths. If this continues, librarians who move between systems will have to learn a new system every time they change jobs.

  4. I think some people aren’t taking the time to really understand the purpose and design of this project. It’s not for every library, particularly large or research libraries, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work really well for the right library. SLIS student is right that the Dewey numbers don’t mean anything to most people but anyone that has worked with the public for very long would realize that signs are not the answer. People don’t take the time to read them. Dewey-free is not the same as chaos- there is still an organization that gets every item back on the shelf where it can be easily found by both browsers and people looking for a specific book. For the record, I don’t work at the Frankfort library but I applaud them for trying a new idea that has the potential to make their library more patron friendly.

  5. SLIS Student


    If the public doesn’t read signs, then they’re in really big trouble because in BISAC based libraries, that’s all they have to indicate the book’s location. A big sign over the general area, and within that, every book becomes essentially a mini sign with it’s subject heading label.

    The idea that this system empowers patrons and helps them find what they want more easily is a false one. Since I work in a library like this I can offer specific examples.

    A woman came in looking for books about birthday parties. Where in the BISAC subject heading system do books about birthday parties fall? Answer: Crafts and Hobbies.

    A woman came in looking for books about Asperger’s Syndrome. Where in the BISAC system do those books fall? (Our branch elected not to use the MEDICAL heading.) Depending on how the subject is treated, the books fell in either HEALTH, HEALTH/DISEASES, FAMILY/PARENT, and PSYCHOLOGY.

    A high-school student came in looking for “scientific” books on dreams and dreaming for a school report. One was in HEALTH, another in TEEN/SPIRIT, others in BODY/MIND/SPIRIT. Most were not scientific, but she’d waited until the last minute… Also, in Dewey all the books would have been next to one another and not been scattered throughout the nonfiction or throughout the ranges.

    The point is that only in the simplest circumstances does this BISAC system work. A book about how to train your dog is probably going to be in PETS/DOG. But it doesn’t work in so many other instances. Where do you look for books about what to wear, what type clothing suits your body type? ART/FASHION? HEALTH/BEAUTY? BUSINESS/CAREERS? You might laugh at the last suggestion, but that is precisely what Baker and Taylor assigned to one book about what to wear to the office–for women. For the matching men’s book it put it in ART/FASHION.

    Starting to see the problems?

    Where are books about the Civil War? HISTORY, HISTORY/U.S., HISTORY/MILITARY, HISTORY/U.S. SOUTH? More likely than not there are books in all those areas. Dewey had them all together in ONE location. How’s that for efficient “browsing”?

    It seems like the real issue is the lack of willingness on the patrons’ part to learn how to do good, efficient catalog searches-and I admit it is a complex skill that requires some education and a good deal of practice to do well. It’s a skill that should be taught beginning in elementary school and all the grades to graduation–not just during the research paper portion of the senior year.

    Proponents of BISAC seem to want to do away with the catalog and rely on intuition. Yet, the examples I gave are not intuitive. You must go to the catalog. Even in instances where you think you know where to go, what happens when you get there and everything is checked out? Don’t you want to look for available items in other branches or to put checked out items on hold for yourself?

    People get frustrated searching card catalogs because, despite appearances, they’re not web pages and full-text search engines. They’re databases, and must be searched as databases. Teach these skills to students, and there is no need whatsoever to reorganize the library. They’re also skills the patron can take anywhere and will stand them in good stead for the rest of their information seeking lives.

  6. Yes, SLIS. There will certainly be some situations like that, but those same issues exist in Dewey.
    Take the subject of Egypt, for example.
    Maybe you need books on the current country of Egypt (962) or books on travel in Egypt (916). But what if you need books on Ancient Egypt (932) or books on Mummies (393) or Egyptian Mythology (299.3113).
    I have trouble finding books in a bookstore sometimes. It’s hard to know if the book I want will be shelved in fiction or in fantasy, for example. However, based on the number of people who frequent bookstores, people seem to be able to figure it out.
    The other benefit to a library is that we have a catalog to help users looking for a specific book. No one at the Frankfort library (or any other library, I would imagine) is saying we should get rid of the catalog. The problem is that many times, the library catalog doesn’t use language that patrons understand? What patron looking for cookbooks knows to look up “Cookery,” the LCSH for cookbooks?
    You have constructed your argument based on a premise that is common in the library world: If we simply educate the users better, our systems will work.
    Patrons like bookstores. They know how to use them. They like to use them. They will sometimes spend *hours* hanging out and browsing with their latte and their laptop. When was the last time someone did that at a library?
    I’m not saying that libraries need to become bookstores. We serve different purposes. However, we need to stop trying to fit patrons into our library world. Instead of constantly explaining to people why they can’t download Oprah’s KFC coupon, why not fix our computer system so it allows patrons to download programs that they need, then resets the computer settings after a restart. Instead of educating people on how to use the crappy OPAC, why not redesign the OPAC so it works more like Google. And instead of putting up more cutesy hand-made signs showing people that Dinosaurs=567, why not take a look at how are libraries are organized and see if there is a better system out there.
    I don’t work for the Frankfort Public Library, and I’ve never been there to visit. I don’t know how the dewey-less library will work. But I do know that if this is a system that will work for our users, we had better pay attention. Remember that companies, for example: newspapers, who are unwilling or unable to adapt in a new marketplace become obsolete. Libraries like Frankfort are working to make sure that doesn’t happen.

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