Sorry Mr. Dewey, I Am For Real

Savage Non-Fiction section
Image by mlibrarianus via Flickr

Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in the last 15 years or more – I shelved a cart of non-fiction books.  A call went out for help in getting the large amount of non-fiction carts out to the shelves.  Since I’m usually chained to my desk and computer screens I thought it might be nice to have a change of pace.  It’s good to step out of your normal routine and try on someone else’s shoes for a bit.  I started as a page shelving materials so it was fun to get back to my roots.  Also it turned out to be a Mother and Son two for one deal – my son who is also a shelver at my library was in the non-fiction section yesterday.

There is something soothing about shelving non-fiction and getting the shelf in perfect order.  But after about 1 section of the cart done I started looking at things from a different perspective.  It started after doing one section of the cart and not having one single shelf was in order.  Things really changed perspective for me when I was in the computer section.  I was puzzled to see that Linux, Mac and Windows books were interfiled.  Hmm, why wouldn’t all the books in this particular section on Linux be filed together, and then the Mac ones or the Windows books?

As I continued to shelve I got to thinking about the Dewey Decimal system and whether or not our customers really use it.  How many people outside of the library profession can tell you what the call number is for cookbooks, computer books, or even financial books?  Has Dewey seen his day?  What about Library of Congress classification?  Yes, I understand we need some sort of system to file things so everyone can find them but is 005.4469T really the way to go?  I mean does it really mean anything other than a cataloger?  Would perhaps 005 T do just as well?  I can tell you most customers when returning something to shelf don’t seem to see the cutter numbers.  Why do I spend all this time trying to get a shelf perfect if the customers aren’t doing the same?

Book stores don’t use Dewey or LOC and people seem to find the books they want just fine.  So why are we still in this day and age insisting that our customers follow our rules instead of finding out what works for them and providing an easier way to find our collections.  My apologies to all the catalogers.  I’m not trying to make you redundant but I do think it is time we rethink call numbers and how we shelve our materials.

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