From the catalogs of babes

{February 11, 2010}   a heart made of red tape

I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I wanted to make sure to express my gratitude to everyone who posted examples of alternative classification systems. So many great examples, and all the information was very useful. Thank you all so very much!

What was it being used for, you ask? Well, I if you recall, back in the fall I proposed a new classification system for our library, as well as a survey to our students and faculty regarding classification and findability in the libraries. I’ve spent the last few weeks running around  trying to finalize the survey and get it going, as well as making presentations to, having discussions with, and gathering feedback from internal library staff.

Originally the discussions were scheduled for the week before Christmas, then put off due to staff vacations, then rescheduled because I was out of town, then rescheduled for illness, etc., etc. Finally we rescheduled for 2 weeks ago, and the initial presentation went well, but not all library staff were able to attend and so there was an encore the following week. All this, and we haven’t even been able to distribute the survey yet.

Why not? Because we’re still waiting for approval from the library director. I was hoping that would happen this week, after jumping through all the presentation hoops, but he still had some questions, and we were to meet today to clear up any lingering concerns. But he didn’t feel well, and had to reschedule, and the next available time when we are both in the library is two weeks from now.

We were supposed to distribute this survey to the faculty the third week of January, and to the students mid-February. Well, we’re there now and pretty much all we’re waiting for is a sign-off. I’m beginning to get a little frustrated that this has to take so long, that something so superficially simple has to be bogged down by bureaucracy. I know it happens everywhere, and it’s just a fact of life, but red tape is simply one of my biggest pet peeves that pushes all my frustration buttons.

Sometimes I think it’s a miracle anything in libraries gets accomplished at all. No wonder there’s not more needs assessment going on. Sigh. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Dear Readers,

I’m looking for concrete examples of libraries currently using alternative classification schema (i.e., not DDC or LCC) for some reasearch I’m doing regarding our library’s reclassification project. BISAC, Bliss, Colon, locally-designed, home-grown, what-have-you are all okay. Examples of academic libraries (regardless of size and specialty) are preferred, as are corporate libraries. Not so much on the public libraries (I’ve already noted Maricopa County and the other public libraries recently featured in the press) but I’ll take whatever I can get. Beggars can’t be choosers, and all.

If any of you faithful readers out there know of any examples, please leave a comment with any info you have and you will earn my undying gratitude (at least for now, until the next project…)

With sincere thanks,

your friendly neighborhood cataloging librarian

I was pleased to see this article from the current issue of SJSU’s student newsletter The Call Number talk about one student’s experience creating a unique classification system for a small arts library. While she doesn’t talk much about the specific information-seeking behavior of her particular patron base, I can’t help but feel a person can’t go wrong with her three tenets of “specific, simple and searchable,” regardless of the genre.

I wrote for The Call Number when I was a student at SJSU (when it was still published in print and PDF) and I’m glad to see it carrying on successfully in a more accessible and technological format.

On the first day of classes for winter quarter, we had a bunch of comments about the new DVD classification from students, faculty, and internal library staff–all of them positive. Every. Single. One.

“Oh! It’s actually better because like, now I don’t have to look through, like everything.”

“It’s so organized, like Blockbuster! Makes things much easier to find.”

“I really like it– I’m going to tell my roommate who is really into musicals that there is a section now– and I know what to avoid when getting something for my boyfriend.”

“Oh, they’re all labeled now! Perfect. Now I can find what I want.”

Looks like we might be off to a good start after all!

2 days. 2 staff. 1200 DVDs. One mission:

DVDs sorted by category, with labels

It may sound like a bad action movie tagline, but it’s true: two people reclassified our feature film collection in two days.

I say this because I get a lot of balk whenever I bring up reclassification, anything from upgrading to the latest DDC edition to instituting an entirely new schema. Libraries are understaffed, underfunded, don’t have the manpower or the time to go back and retroactively convert or upgrade or migrate to a new system. And I say (pardon my French): bullsh*t.

I’m not denying that it’s a lot of work. It’s a crazy amount of work. What I am saying is: isn’t that work worth it? Obviously every project requires a calculation of return on investment, and sure, sometimes the amount of effort expanded won’t be worth it.  But how can you calculate the returned value of patron service? Doesn’t improved findability for patrons (which in turn increases library usage and circulation) warrant a significant investment? And to anyone who claims otherwise, I ask that you re-examine the mission and purpose of libraries in general, because if you’re not willing to invest in patron service, then what exactly is your purpose?

To the catalogers who balk: I know we’re all swamped and underappreciated, and most libraries have backlogs enough to keep them occupied until the year 2063. (And I can rant about that for the same amount of time, but that’s a post for another day…) Cataloging new acquisitions and making them accessible is important–it’s personally my highest priority as well as being the highest priority in our cataloging policies here. But as high as it is, it’s not the only priority, just as bibliographic records are not the sole point of cataloging. As busy as we all are, I think there are ways to work on updating and/or reclassifying a collection so as to improve patron accessibility and experience. Here’s what we did:

  • Tuesday morning, circa 9 a.m.: The audiovisuals specialist and I decide to reclassify the feature films. Okay, that’s kind of a lie. It was an idea we’d been talking about for a while, 2 quarters at least. Repeated observation and commentary from students and faculty led us to believe there was a great deal of difficulty finding feature film DVDs and videos, which up until now, had simply been shelved in DDC/Cutter order. All features were assigned 791.4372 + Cutter number; essentially all 1200+ commercial Hollywood movies were arranged in alphabetical order. Try to imagine walking into a Blockbuster Video arranged like that and trying to find a movie. I sure hope you know exactly what title you want to see, because if you’re in the mood for a light romantic comedy or a scary thriller, you’re SOL. Sure, we could have built out DDC numbers for the film genres based on the schedules under 791.436 + Table 3C, but honestly, that’s not only a lot of work, but how does that help our patrons? Maybe it lumps together like genres, sure. But by that point you have a number so long that it wraps around the spine of the DVD case, making it difficult to read as well as still being a number that patrons don’t identify with. Much easier to just divide into sections by name of genre and label accordingly. And that was what we decided to do, and Tuesday morning we looked at each other and decided that we’d dallied around long enough, and we were just gonna bite the bullet and do it.


  • 9:30 am: The two of us brave immensely strong winds on our way to the nearly office supply store to purchase a package of labels for the project. Total cost =$12.99 + tax.


  • 10am: We discuss and decide on 7 categories: Action, Animated, Comedy, Drama, Foreign, Musicals, and Sci-Fi/Horror. We debate other ideas, like Historical and Documentary, but we decide to keep it simple and just stick with the main seven. They are based on traditional movie genres as well as what our patrons commonly request, as well as what they don’t want–we’ve had numerous occurences of students checking out films only to return them with disappointment because they didn’t know the movie was a musical or in a foreign language. Separating those two categories out should help alleviate that problem, if not solve it entirely. We print color-coded labels for each section.


  • 11am: We start pulling materials off the shelf and sorting them into piles. Of course we encounter problems as we go. Some movies span multiple categories; some are totally unfamiliar to us and we have no idea where to class them. We begin making executive decisions: all war movies will go in Action; all Jane Austen films will go under Comedy (where we have already decided to class romantic comedies); an animated film in a foreign language will go under foreign, because our students are more interested in avoiding subtitles than they are in finding (or avoiding) animated films. This is the thing about physical classification–there comes a point when these decisions have to be made. Yes, everything is miscellaneous, and I can point you at examples of animated foreign musicals. But you have to make a decision, you have to document that decision, and then you have to move on. And I think this is where many classification/reclassification projects shut down, either at this point, or even before, just from fear and anticipation of this point. (See: Open Shelves Classification.) Face it: you’re not going to please 100% of the people 100% of the time. There’s going to be a lot of compromise. Be Zen with the compromise. Embrace it. And most of all, be able to explain it to people–that’s one reason you’re documenting it, so you can say “here’s where we put war movies, we file them under action.” As long as you know where they go, you can direct a user there. Because believe me, someone, somewhere will be upset that you don’t have a top-level category for war movies. But if you can say, “hey, we didn’t have enough to make a separate section, but we put them all in action, you can find them all there,” as long as the person inquiring knows where to find them, they’re usually happy. (There are a few people who will never be happy no matter what. That’s life. Move on.) We end up with a small pile of materials that defy obvious classification, so we look them up on Amazon (notice I didn’t say the Library of Congress or in the bib record) to determine the best place for them. 


  • Noon-ish: Now that we have piles, we start slapping labels on materials. We take a few minutes to agree in which direction and where on the spine they should be adhered. Then we get to it, and madly begin sticking labels on everything, including ourselves.


  • 1:00: Break for staff holiday potluck. Whee!


  • 2:30: Back to work. The audiovisuals specialist continues to label while I begin changing call numbers in the ILS. Unfortunately, we don’t have any sort of batch change option, so each record must be changed individually. Previously, a DVD call number would read something like:

DVD 791.4372 AL42w

After the change, the call number now reads:

DVD Animated A

That’s a lot easier to read and understand, no?

We continue like this until the end of the day Tuesday and resume Wednesday morning. We get a little help finishing up the labeling from some wandering part-time staff in need of projects. After the labels are done in the morning, I continue to change call numbers in the system while the audiovisuals specialist begins shifting the stacks and alphabetizing and reshelving materials. After I finish working on the computer, I join her, and by 5 p.m. Wednesday, the project is done. Well, we still need to order some alphabet labels to replace the old DDC spine labels–until those arrive we’ll still alphabetize by the old Cutter number. But other than that…

DVDs arranged neatly on shelves

So that wasn’t so hard, was it? Sure, it was a lot of work, but hey, that’s our job. I think it’s often fear and anticipation of the overwhelming nature of such projects that puts a stop to them even before they start. I’ve done quite a bit of reclassification now, and here’s some stuff I’ve learned so far:

1. Start small. Work in sections. If you look at reclassifying your whole collection, it’s going to be too much. This time around, we didn’t even do all of our audiovisual collection–we limited it to just feature films. When I updated our collection from DDC21 to 22, I worked section by section, first tackling 745, then 747. Break it down into manageable chunks. We’re on the quarter system here, so I like to go quarter by quarter. One quarter I took on 750, reclassing painters by name rather than country origin (since it made more sense for our students that way). The next quarter I did the same thing for architects in 720. Also, if you’re working in a smaller section, it’s easy to throw up a ‘pardon our dust’ sign telling patrons that there’s work going on in that section and to ask staff for help if they need anything there. Also, a smaller section or sub-section can function as a test case, where you can observe patron reactions and adjust accordingly before moving on to larger projects. Maybe (for some unthinkably bizarre reason) our patrons will hate what we’ve done with the DVDs. It’s a small enough section and easy enough work to restore them to the original DDC order if desired.

2. Have a plan. As much as it seems like we jumped into the project on Tuesday, it really was a long time coming and part of a larger strategic goal. Even though we finalized the categories that morning, we had discussed them in-depth previously as part of a larger collection reorganization. Make sure what you’re doing is in line with the larger scope of the library and the collection as a whole. Having a plan assumes research regarding your library’s collection and users.

2a. Once you have a plan, get to work. Once everything is ready to go, go do it. Try to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Don’t plan reclassification for a time right before you’re going on vacation, or it’s finals week in the library, or other situations where you might be interrupted. I think drawing this type of project out or letting it linger in limbo doesn’t do staff or patrons any good. Hence tip #1 to start small. If all you can do is one shelf a month, then pick your shelf and get it done and just do that one shelf. But do it, rather than putting it off until you “have more time.” We’re never going to have more time. Libraries never do. If you’re going to do it, find a way to get it done, or don’t do it at all.

3. Take advantage of available resources. Part of the reason we could reclassify our feature films so quickly is because both of us were intimately familiar with our collection. I can reclassify DDC 22 because I know the system like the back of my hand. I can look at most materials that come into our library and classify them immediately, without even looking at the schedules. This means I can reclassify sections in a day that might take the staff at out other campuses a week or more. Harness these strengths. Use people on your staff (yourself or others) with expert knowledge. Can you do some sort of batch change or find-and-replace in your ILS? Use that to your advantage. Do you have volunteers, interns, student workers who need easy projects? Set them up labeling or shelving.

4. Don’t overthink it. You can easily get bogged down trying to accomodate every tiny little niche category and user. Yes, browseability is important, especially in an arts library like ours. But remember that you can’t please all the people all the time. Remember that there are alternate means of access, like the catalog. There are still ways to find all the films set in a certain time period, or all the Pierce Brosnan movies. Think of your classification as broad browsing categories, and leave the niche, faceted searching to the catalog. Many people will not understand this, and everyone will have opinions about classification categories. But remember: this is what you do as a cataloger. This is ostensibly your area of expertise. It’s our job to consider ideas and suggestions from users and staff alike, but it’s also our job to use advanced knowledge to screen the ideas and create something functional, rather than getting bogged down trying to incorporate every idea and suggestion. There are other, better tools and technologies for that, and all these things can be designed to work together rather than replace each other.

5. Don’t get too carried away! I love classification and reclassification, and goodness knows I might reclassify everything in sight if given the chance. But some materials and collections don’t need it, and it’s better to direct energies elsewhere. Change for improvement is good. Change simply for change’s sake is just change. And change can be hard to adjust to, for library staff and patrons alike, even if it is designed to improve user experience. Which brings me to…

6. Documentation and training: Sure, some of the reclassification projects I’ve mentioned, like upgrading to DDC22, are theoretically pretty seamless to staff and all but invisible to patrons. Something like our DVD categories seems pretty self-explanatory. But believe you me, when we open our doors again on January 7, we’re gonna see some wide-eyed and confused faces. Be ready to explain–many, many times over–the new system and how it works. Make signs. Make handouts. We’re planning on typing up descriptions of the new categories, posting them in the audiovisuals area as well as on our student portal/website and faculty intranet. Additionally, I’ll be writing up something similar for internal library use, not just for staff reference but also training and succession planning. This way anyone who adds new feature films to the collection in the future will have documentation telling them exactly where to class Jane Austen or animated foreign films. This also ensures consistency, so that all war movies will really be classed under action.

7. (Most importantly) Have fun! Yes, this is a lot of work. Maybe I’m crazy, but I really enjoy these sorts of projects.  I like classifying things, and I like having a tangibly demonstrable example of improving user experience. I can’t wait until the quarter starts to see the reaction from students and faculty. Maybe they’ll hate it and so we’ll change it. But maybe they’ll love it, and be very happy about it. That’s what I’m anticipating, and that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing–after the shock of change, the smiles on their faces, as they are not only happy with the new ability to find materials, but also the realization that we listened to what they had to say, and acted on it.

DVD reclassification projectDVD reclassification projectDVD reclassification--spine labels

{October 7, 2009}   “The Dewey Dilemma”

Library Journal posted a great article the other day profiling libraries migrating away from DDC to alternative classification systems. I found it pretty fair and balanced and definitely worth the read. Check it out if you have a minute.

{March 10, 2009}   your patrons, or yourself?

Last week (or was it the week before? I lose track) I attended an awesome webinar sponsored by Infopeople called “The Deweyless Library: An Innovative Approach.” Now, I’m not normally big on webinars. In my experience, they’re fairly one-sided, and often so dumbed down to a lowest-common-denominator level that I find I don’t get much out of them that I don’t already know. But heck, it was free, and I’ve been dying to hear about any follow up on Maricopa County’s migration to BISAC classification. The presenter, Marshall Shore, talked about the decisions and processes of implementing a non-Dewey classification system at a new public library branch.

Now, I’ve made a few anti-DDC posts in this blog. I won’t deny it. But, as I’ve said before: I like the Dewey Decimal System. I think it’s an example of brilliant design, with its repeating patterns and subdivisions. I admire it very much, despite its known flaws, and I fantasize about someday being smart enough to develop a classification system half as well-designed. However, I’ve been the recipent of a few comments (both on- and off-line) that seem to interpret my stance on this as being some sort of anti-DDC Nazi.

I’m not. What I am obessed about is using the right classification system for the job, whatever the job may be. And what I appreciated the most about Shore’s presentation was that he, too, was focused on finding the right system that would work for his patrons and his libraries. He wasn’t out to get rid of the DDC just to get rid of it–he was out to improve user experience in the library.

He talked a little bit about the library as a “third place,” and using that idea as a motivational factor to improve patron experience. I appreciated that he took a survey of the participants, asking them whether they thought their libraries were or should be considered “third places.” I was pleasantly surprised to see that not everyone thought they should be. The library where I work, for example, is part of a college, and rather than functioning as a community center, is designed to function more as a “second place”–where students come to get work done. Ideally, I’d love it if we could incorporate elements of the “third place,” but our first priority is to support the school’s curriculum and the information literacy of our patrons. (That’s straight out of our mission statement, btw.)

Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that there are all different types of libraries. Some are work centers, some are community centers, many are a mix of both, and more. Libraries have different missions, different needs, and different patrons, and so each library should evaluate its situation and determine how to best serve its users, classification systems included. If the DDC works for your library, great! If LCC works, awesome! If you work with the library collection of some random historical society and find that people respond best to filing the materials chronologically by date, then why not?  But if you’re using a classification system despite your patrons, then who are you really serving? Your patrons, or yourself?

I have to give props to this webinar, especially regarding attendee participation. There were about 75 people logged on to attend, and I was delighted to “see” some familar names, including some blog readers (hi Gina!), as well as co-workers.  Besides overwhelming the presenter with questions, I loved that spontaneous discussion broke out in the chat box among attendees–I’ve never had that happen in a webinar before. Another interactive survey by Shore asked people what they would do to improve patron experience at their libraries. Of course there were the standard copy-cat answers of “we’ll go Dewey-less just like you did!” which bothers me just as much as the resistance to doing away with Dewey. I mean, let’s think about it: if you’re moving away from DDC just because it’s the “hip & cool” new thing to do, it’s equally as problematic, imo. You’re still ignoring the potential needs and wants of your patrons.

One of the survey responses fascinated me so much that I had to inqure among the attendees who posted it. The contributor talked about designing a visual classification system for use in their library. It turns out she was the library manager of the new Home Gardens branch of the Riverside County Library System, and they are in the process of creating a classification system that relies on images rather than words. Of course I was instantly intrigued, as I think the use of a visual classification system in our arts-focused library has a great deal of potential. So I sent her an email and she was kind enough to respond with some more information about the project. I love the fact that she is actively seeking out potential ILS software that will actually display the image as the “call number” rather than substituting a word like [TRAVEL] or [FICTION]. She also pointed out that the visual symbols serve to eliminate language barriers when there is a large multi-lingual patron deomgraphic (which hadn’t even occurred to me but I think is brilliant). But my favoritest part: when they can’t decide what section a book should be classed in, they ask the patrons. That’s right. They take a survey of 3 or 4 average patrons and ask them what section they would look under if they were looking for that title. It doesn’t get much more user-centric than that! The classification system is still in the works, as they build a new branch, but I can’t wait to see it in action. I am totally trying to weasel a tour.

I talk a lot about the DDC because I know a lot about the DDC. I will always, always love it (wouldn’t get it tattooed on me otherwise) and I’d actually be pretty stoked to work on it (if I wouldn’t have to work for OCLC to make that happen…) But in the end, it doesn’t matter if that’s what I love, or what works best for me. It matters what my patrons love, and what works best for them.

{February 12, 2009}   a rainbow of possibilities

I’ve decided that I want to classify our library’s collection by color.



Stop laughing.

It’s not a joke, I’m totally serious. Classification by color has always appealed to me in an esoteric sense. In my own personal book collection, I have long classified by what I’ve always referred to as “aesthetics”: I group books by subject, then by size (I live in a small apartment) and then arrange them by how pleasing they are to me on the shelf. I only have about 900 books, and I’m pretty familiar with all of them and so I know where a given book is at any time. I like the arrangement, and it pleases me, which leads me to wonder: if this sort of arrangement pleases me, how many other people might it please?

The more reading I do about information-seeking behavior of artists and art students, the more intrigued I become with alternative classification. A literature review shows that artistic types are more inclined towards browsing and “serendipitous discovery.” Who wouldn’t be drawn to browse through aisles and rows of  rainbows?

Not to mention the continual flood of inquires regarding books by color: I’m sure we’ve all gotten the patron who is “looking for that book with the yellow cover.” I’d be willing to bet the number of such inquiries only increases with artistic and visually-oriented patrons. It leaves me wondering: could art students benefit from an arrangement such as this? Would it really be functional, or it is just the joke everyone always laughs it off as? Could this actually work, and would library users like it?

There’s only one way to find out. (If you said that one way was “research,” then you my friend are indeed a librarian and in the right place.)

I started to do some poking around the good ol’ interotubes, and lo and behold, what did I find? A most amazing discovery: in 2004, an artist named Chris Cobb took the collection of 20,000 books at San Francisco’s Adobe Bookshop and organized them all by color. Under the guise of an art installation called There Is Nothing Wrong in This Whole Wide World, Cobb and a team of 10 accomplices entered the bookstore after closing one night and arranged all the books by color, where they were left for 2 weeks for customers to browse, before rearranging them all back into their original order.

 Besides being an amazingly visual experience with a powerful artistic message, I found people’s responses fascinating. Of course some people spoke of the issue of like subjects no longer together, but there were plenty of comments from people who were intrigued and pleased with the new arrangement. Many spoke of looking for a title and then finding something new placed next to it that they never would have sought out or given a second look in previous circumstances. Can we say “serendipitous discovery?” I knew we could.

If classification by color supports serendipitous discovery, and art library patrons enjoy serendipitous discovery, shouldn’t the two be a match made in heaven?

Of course, there are some significant issues to consider. Patrons are still going to need books on particular subjects, with specific titles, by certain authors. There would need to be a way to search the collection by subject, author or title…maybe we could even computerize this list, put it in some sort of database, even put it online so people could search in the library or remotely… Hm. Sounds like we’ve got that part pretty well covered.

We’d also need a way to connect the book to the search result, something in the record that says “this book has a red cover” so you know to find it with the red books, and, in the event of a large collection, know that it can be found between the “brick red” books and the “cherry red” books (not to be confused with the “fire engine red” books or (my favorite shade of lipstick) the “shameless red” books. A “color call number,” if you will. Interestingly enough, there does happen to be an international numeric standard for colors. Fancy that! They even make these nifty devices that would allow you to scan the book’s cover and determine exactly what color and number it is. Our library happens to have two. Seems to me the “Pantone(tm) Classification System” might be in order.

We’d need a way to physically convert the books and rearrange the collection. This where where a lot of librarians at catalogers often balk, but I tell you, I eat collection shifts for breakfast. I’m the one who spends 50% of my time reclassifying Dewey, so I don’t find spending time on an alternative classification to be a stretch. I’m also the go-to girl for all of our collection shifts, the one who does the alegbraic calculations to determine just how little space we can leave on each and every shelf when we move all the books. I somehow almost always end up being one of the few people doing the actual book moving, for some reason. Cobb did 20,000 books overnight with a crew of 10. We have two weeks between quarters and 20-odd staff members. With the right preparation beforehand, it’s easily achievable.

Then there’s the little hitch of selling the whole idea to the administration. And here’s where my heart will always be with this library, because I think if there’s any one library in the word this could ever possibly happen, it’s here. We’ve actually had color-based organization suggested to us before from higher-ups who don’t quite understand libraries. It’s rumored that the architect who designed our Orange County library wanted to rebind every single book in pink to match the campus-wide color scheme. Plus, there’s nothing that this school loves more than marketing and publicity, and this would bring it in droves: every library journal, magazine, and blog would eat this up, this crazy controversial idea of classification by color, as well as loads of other design channels. Not to mention the photo ops! This would put our library on the map (and I’d probably be invited to talk about this whole hair-brained scheme at all kinds of fun events…not that I have a big ego or anything). Really, it’s a win-win situation all around.

The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work. Perhaps it will turn out to be significantly non-functional and all the patrons will hate it. So what? All the books have DDC labels, and we’ll just put the collection back the way it was. Maybe we just do the whole thing for a quarter, like Cobb’s transitory art installation.

But I really want to make this happen. Just to see. I think it could work.

{December 24, 2008}   Why such a storm against Storms?

As some of my co-workers know, I’m an avid reader of American Libraries Direct, delivered straight to my inbox every Wednesday (or maybe Thursday, or sometimes not at all, depending on whether or not Verizon is on the fritz). Mainly I read it for the sheer laughable entertainment value–much of the information is trite and nearly useless, and of the links that are actually functional and accessible, most are touting how great librarians  are so we can all feel good about ourselves. Each issue is generally good for a few laughs, but this week’s had a real gem: a link to a Tampa Tribune article about a state Senator who suggested eliminating the Dewey Decimal System. The comments on the newspaper site alone went on for 11 pages, and the paper has also posted several editorial responses, all in disagreement with Sen. Storms’ ideas.

And I agree that there is much there to disagree with. For instance: “Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who oversees state support of libraries, told the committee that Dewey Decimal is the national standard, set by the Library of Congress.” Secretary Browning might benefit from a tiny bit of research before telling lies to the committee–the DDC is owned by OCLC, not the Library of Congress, and with OCLC’s history, I’m a little surprised that they didn’t sue Secretary Browning for attributing DDC to the LOC (which, by the way, has its own classification scheme, quite appropriated entitled “Library of Congress Classification,” or LCC for short). It’s scary to think that such an ignorant individual is responsible for overseeing the state’s libraries.

However, the one thing I most definitely do not disagree with is Storms’ call to cease using DDC in the state’s public libraries. Her reasons? The system is costly, anachronistic, and frustrating for patrons to use. She admires the simplicity of bookstores like Barnes & Noble and wonders why libraries do not follow suit. Opponents against her suggestion are mainly motivated by cost–they say it would cost too much money and time to convert to something else. They also say that the focus and purpose of libraries is not the same as retail and so need a different system.

A lot of responders are calling Storms ignorant and incompetent, but I’m with her on this one. I’ve gone on record in the past as loving the DDC, and I still do. I think it is a brilliant classification system, though not without it’s flaws–you can read about prejudice in the DDC in plenty of other blogs and articles, so I don’t feel the need to go into detail here. It’s certainly not the best classification system ever invented, but it’s good points, I think, are really good–the mnemonic use of the number system is one of my favorite things about it. No matter what section you are in “92” will always mean personal treatment, whether it’s 920 (collected biography), 746.92092 (fashion designers), or 779.2 (photographs of people). The United States is always represented by 973, where books on history of the US are classified, or 747.0973 (interior design of the United States). The manipulation of subdivisions for geography, time periods, and other special topics are outstanding, allowing catalogers to build numbers rather than fit each material into a pre-established narrow box which may not actually be appropriate for the work. DDC has a lot of good things going for it, and its design revolutionized libraries and opened up stacks for patron browseability. I love the DDC and probably always will.

So why am I railing so hard to have it removed from public libraries? Someone who touts the merits of the DDC surely should encourage its use, no? Because it doesn’t serve our users.  Gone are the days of elementary library education–while I can remember weekly trips in second grade to the public school library, where we were taught the Dewey Decimal System and how to properly remove books from the shelf by placing a paper bookmark in between the books on either side so we would return the book to its proper place, most patrons these day did not have the luxury. I mean, I can also remember being instructed in how to use the card catalog (yes, the actual paper one) and the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature(the old bound print editions). These things don’t even exist anymore, having been replaced by the OPAC and subscription service databases. We would no longer think to include card catalog searches and print Reader’s Guide instruction in our bibliographic instruction classes of today. These things have changed with the times, and so too should our libraries’ classification systems.

A part of me struggles with this, I confess. By eliminating instruction on the Dewey Decimal System, is it just one more nail in the coffin of library instruction? I sometimes think so, and worry that not trying to push for further DDC instruction as opposed to elimination, only contributes to what I see as a downward spiral of ignorance and ineducation in our American society. But then another part of me feels stubbornly that if we’re not getting through anyway, we shouldn’t be trying whatever it takes. Why would we purposefully continue to make libraries more difficult to use, rather than easier? Restricting access though classification is not doing anyone’s education any good. Shouldn’t we be trying any means necessary to connect our patrons with the information they seek? And if that means migrating from the DDC to something more simple, so be it.

BISAC (the word-based classification system used by most major retail bookstores) was designed to be easy to use. Why? Because the easier it is for a bookstore customer to find something, the more likely they are to buy it. People can’t buy what they can’t find. (I worked for Barnes & Noble for 5 years, so believe me, I know.) The same goes for libraries: people can’t access what they can’t find. The bookstore and the library are not so different as some people like to think. Am I advocating for the use of BISAC in libraries? Not particularly. BISAC, like all classification schemes, has its flaws, too. I know Maricopa County Library (AZ)’s Perry brach switched to BISAC, and I’ve been anxiously awaiting word on its results before I start tooting the BISAC flag.  I’m also anxious to see what comes of the Open Shelves Classification, but I’m not necessarily pushing for that either (disclaimer: I originally intended to contribute to the OSC, but both my lack of public library cataloging background as well as some other personal issues made me back out). The thing is, I’m not advocating for any particular classification scheme at all. What I am advocating for is for libraries to find a classification scheme that best serves its user base, whatever it may be. Maybe it uses numbers, maybe it uses words. Maybe it’s by subject, or maybe it uses some sort of color-and-shape system (something I always wanted to experiment with for our collection, since our patrons are so visually inclined). Whatever it turns out to be is fine, as long as it’s what works best for your patrons.

But all that money it will cost and time it will takes to change! That’s pretty much the argument against changing any already-established classification system. And I can see that–to a point. I doubt the Library of Congress would have much success reclassifying its 32 million books and print materials, even with all of its staff. However, most public libraries don’t even come near that total: the tour guide from my recent visit to Seattle’s infamous new main public library branch quoted their holdings at 1 million books.* Yes, it’s a lot, and it sounds daunting. Heck, I’m daunted by the prospect of reclassifying our ~27,000 books. But what’s more important: our lack of desire to do reclassification work, or the patrons’ abilities to find the materials they seek? Sounds like we’re being pretty selfish and lazy when we put it that way. Yes, reclassification would be a lot of work. But aren’t our patrons worth it? And if we’re not taking on such tasks, then what are we being paid for? As a service profession, our first duty is to our library users. We’re paid to make otherwise inaccessible materials accessible to all. This is not just our job, but our professional duty. It can be done.


*I’m not sure if that included branches as well; I think not, but still.

et cetera