Yvonne Wingett The Arizona Republic May. 30, 2007 12:00 AM
When the new Gilbert library opens next month, it will be the first public library in the nation whose entire collection will be categorized without the Dewey Decimal Classification System, Maricopa County librarians say.
Instead, tens of thousands of books in the Perry Branch library will be shelved by topic, similar to the way bookstores arrange books. The demise of the century-old Dewey Decimal system is overdue, county librarians say: It's just too confusing for people to hunt down books using those long strings of numbers and letters. Dewey essentially arranges books by topic and assigns call numbers for each book.
"A lot of times, patrons feel like they're going to a library and admitting defeat because they don't understand Dewey Decimal and can't find the book they're looking for," said Marshall Shore, adult service coordinator for the Maricopa County Library District and driving force behind the idea. "People think of books by subject. Very few people say, 'Oh, I know Dewey by heart.' "
Libraries are trying to adapt to changing times, experts said, and their success lies in a generation of young people who are more comfy at Borders than libraries. Across the U.S., some libraries are trying to lure readers by adding lounge chairs and coffee shops.
Some are incorporating the "bookstore" shelving system into sections of libraries but still use Dewey, or other classification systems, to arrange the bulk of collections, said Leslie Burger, president of the American Library Association.
The books in Gilbert's new library will be organized in about 50 sections, then subsections, from sports to cooking, gardening to mysteries. For example, a book on the Civil War would be in the history neighborhood and in the U.S. section.
"Nowadays, people are used to going to a bookstore to browse, so we're just trying to create that same atmosphere," Shore said.
"I know Dewey fans are out there. But we haven't changed a lot in so long, and I think we're in a fight for our own survival."
Okay, here are a few of my thoughts on this: first of all, this is hardly "the first public library in the nation whose entire collection will be categorized without the Dewey Decimal Classification System" some public libraries (about 20%) use Library of Congress, some use Bliss, some use Dickinson, and some use their own creations. I also take issue with the fact that people find things so much easier to find in bookstores, perhaps in those areas that you are familiar with and usually browse; but, having been a bookslave in a large bookstore i can tell you that a) customers often had to ask where books were and b) the bookstore where i worked had its own numerical classification system (which we didn't share with the customers because it would mean nothing to them) that we would use to know where to shelve~rather than just sticking in a general subject area where it seemed to belong (we needed those computers to tell us the area often~just like we librarians look up Dewey numbers.) When we tried to add directional, subject-related, signs to help customers find their own way that just confused them further. I don't think we have ever required customers to know their Dewey numbers~if they do that's a bonus~but everyone could use a little help from someone who knows their way around occasionally~and every system needs some kind of classification system just to be organized whether that system be opaque or transparent. We'll see how it goes...
I don't have a problem with this library's plan, just their assumptions. And helping the customer find something is just a matter of customer service~something we librarians are often weak on. Better customer service often results in higher circs and greater public relations, and who can argue with that? (perhaps we should make books more difficult to locate but easier to browse?...maybe not)
On another subject, or perhaps the same subject, my library is contemplating a huge makeover, something a little like this. However WE will still be using Dewey. I'm excited about the possibility, does that make me hypocritical? All is still dependent on the Administration and the budget. We'll see how that goes...