From the catalogs of babes











{December 31, 2008}   on education, standards, and guilt

One of the biggest issues I struggle with personally when discussing moving away from more traditional library classification systems is that of education. It takes a certain amount of education to teach library users how to find materials, regardless of which classification schemes is in use. No one magically appears in a library having been born with an innate knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System. They have to elarn it somewhere. When I was young, it was taught to us in elementary school, with the idea that when we went out into the big wide world and began to use the public library, we would already understand the fundamentals. And this is where I begin to have conflict with advocating for libraries (and my library in particular) to switch to a different system: are we doing a disservice to our patrons by not following the inherent consistency in standardized classification systems? Which is to say, in English: a partons learns how to find books according to the DDC at library #1, how will they be able to find books at library #2 if library #2 is using a different system?

But the more I agonized over the issue, the more flaws I began to see poking through. Yesterday drove the point home.

Yesterday, my co-workers and I were treated to a tour of the Little Tokyo branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. It is not far from our campus and would likely be a branch utilized by our students, for general work or for more specific research on Japanese art and fashion. The Little Tokyo branch, like the rest of LAPL,  and our library as well, uses the Dewey Decimal System to classify its collection.

As we toured through the stacks, I noticed a large section on origami, entirely appropriate for the branch’s subject focus. I also noticed the origami books classed in 747. According to DDC22, the most current edition, origami is classed at 736.982, under the broader discipline of sculpture. 747 is currently used for interior decoration. I have known for quite a while that LAPL does not use the current edition of the DDC. Librarians who work there have informed me they use DDC14 or 16, always with the excuse that the system-wide collection is far too large to reclassify and bring up to date, which is understandable to a certain extent, what with “over 6 million books, audiobooks, videos and CDs to check out.” However: what happens when a patron from our library, who has learned to find origami at 736.982, goes to look for origami books in Little Tokyo, or any one of the other 70 branches?

In my opinion, this is worse than the libraries using differnt classification systems. A different system is recognizable to a patron right away. They may not know yet how to use it, but they can recognize it as a different system than the one they know and act accordingly. If, for example, you are used to DDC, and you walk into a library using Library of Congress Classification (LCC), the alphabetic characters used in LCC clearly demonstrate that a different system is in use, and if you don’t recognize the system, you can ask for assistance.

But, if you are used to DDC and you walk into a library using a different edition, or another modified version, you see the numbers and think you have your bearings. You think you know the system. You head to 736.982 and stand there scratching your head wodnering why there are absolutely no books on origami in the Little Tokyo library, of all places. Now maybe you ask for help or look up the books in the online catalog or find them some other way, but my point is this: the so-called standarized classification system isn’t.

So I no longer feel guilt about alternate classification systems interfering with library education. The education provided currently is already interfering with itself. Adopting a classification system that works for the collection is not just a benefit in terms of ease of use, but it doesn’t subtley and underhandedly reduce the effect of any prior classification education a patron may have already experienced. Elementary school students taught to use DDC eventually grow up and attend college, where they must learn to use an entirely new system more suited to the collection at a academic library. I don’t see how any other alternative classification system is any different.

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Holly says:

I couldn’t agree with you more! I think reclassing is crucial. When I worked for (LA) County, I managed to get one reclassification project approved, but it was a special case, limited in scope, and took about 3 years to go through the hoops. I wish they could make an exception to blanket no-reclass policies when there are really drastic changes, as in the example you noted above. Bottom line, the user is not served. But a lot of people just think of call numbers as a shelf-location system and not as subject access – which really undermines the beauty of Dewey as it was intended. It’s always frustrating to try to explain to a user when it’s something you don’t agree with.



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