or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Another Case of Dewey Being Overly-Sophisticated

   August 28th, 2014 Brian Herzog

both way arrowsI've pointed out things like this before, and they always amuse me.

Last week, my director was looking for summer cooking books for a display and program she was doing. Of course, books about grilling were included in her search, and she was surprised - as was I when she pointed it out - that we had identical-seeming grilling books in two entirely different Dewey numbers: 641.5784 and 641.76.

When our cataloger and I looked those up in DDC23 to see which was right, we found that they both were:

641.5784:

Dewey 641.578 4 - Cooking at an outdoor grill

641.76:

Dewey 641.76 - Barbecuing, broiling, grilling

So, .76 is grilling in general, and .5784 is specifically grilling outdoors. Indeed very neat and precise, but perhaps to an unnecessary degree for our purposes.

We decided to consolidate everything into 641.76, to make it easier for patrons browsing the shelves. I'm sure there are lots more little Deweified topics like this, and I will enjoy consolidating each and every one of them as we discover them.

And finally, I thought a post about grilling was nice and Labor Day-related: I'm traveling to Ohio for a long Labor Day weekend, so there's won't be a reference question of the week this week. I hope everyone enjoys the holiday.



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You Can’t Get There From Here (DDC Edition)

   May 2nd, 2012 Brian Herzog

I know I've given the Dewey Decimal System a hard time for its quirks, and have experimented with other shelving systems when Dewey wasn't getting the job done. But recently, I stumbled on another great example of how Dewey totally misses the point - to wit:

Istanbul and Turkey Dewey call numbers

Now, keep in mind this photo was staged - I pulled these books off the shelf to photograph them. In real life, they're about three shelves away from each other.

And that's the problem: Istanbul is a city in Turkey, but Istanbul travel books are shelved in the "Europe" Dewey section, while general Turkey travel books are shelved in the "Asia" section. Ridiculous!

Yes, I know Turkey spans two continents, and the majority of Istanbul is in Europe while the majority of Turkey is in Asia. That's all very clever and precise, but totally fails patrons browsing the shelves. Chances are, someone looking for travel books to Turkey are going to find them and stop, and not think they've got to look for more books in a different section.

I talked to the cataloger at my library and (happily) we decided to apply Ranganathan's fourth law and move the Istanbul books to the Turkey section. But come on - a system is only good as the number of compensations you need to make for it.

Then again, perhaps this is nobody's business but the Turks.



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Ahmadinejad Classification System

   August 26th, 2010 Brian Herzog

I recently noticed in our Reference collection one of the quirks of the Dewey Decimal System that people often refer to as "serendipitous" - but look at the picture below to see if you also see a problem:

Ahmadinejad Classification System

The books that caught my eye are these (biggify the photo to see the Dewey numbers):

And here's the Dewey breakdown:

809 - History, description, critical appraisal of more than two literatures
809.91-.92 - Literature displaying specific qualities and elements
809.933 - Literature dealing with specific themes and subjects

I didn't see .927 described in either DDC21 or DDC22, but it was the call number specified in that book's CIP data (©1987), so it must have been phased out long ago.

And so, I get that these books are each about specific kinds of literature. But come on - a book about the Holocaust shelved between two books about imaginary things? It really is like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other fool Holocaust deniers got into OCLC and caused this to happen - a cataloger sleeper cell.

I'm going to talk with my Head of Technical Services to see how we can fix this.



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Organizing Books By Subjects, Part II

   April 30th, 2009 Brian Herzog

edu subject booksWhen it comes to reorganizing books by subject, it turns out that getting it all looking pretty on paper is the easy part.

After everything was documented, the first subject we decided to pull out of Dewey order and shelve separately were the test preparation books and college directories (shelved in Dewey 378). We chose this subject to be our first "stand-alone" section because it met a few criteria:

  • Contained enough books so that it wouldn't get lost being on its own
  • Popular enough so we would see quickly how patrons reacted to not using Dewey
  • Specific enough that it didn't really relate to the Dewey numbers around it, and so wouldn't lose context by shelving them separately

We decided to refer to these books as "Education," so all the call numbers would start with EDU. After that, the call numbers would be grouped by type of book (TEST or COLLEGE), and then further specified SAT, ACT, GRE, etc. We're still finessing how to label the college directories, but I think we'll end up with COLLEGE (or maybe SCHOOL?) followed by the type of school: 4-YEAR, GRADUATE, MEDICAL, etc.

Putting it all together, here are a few sample call numbers (including the year makes patron browsing and staff weeding very easy):

All of this seemed obvious, but we ran into our first trouble deciding what to do with books above and below college level. We decided to include any elementary or high school books (such as MCAS test prep, The handbook of private schools and other directories), and also graduate professional schools like Law and Medical schools.

What we did not include, even though we had them shelved in the 378's with education books, were the career tests, like the civil servant exam, NCLEX-LPN, TOFEL, Miller Analogies, etc. We decided to reclassify these into the Dewey 331.702 area, so they'd be next to the career directories.

Having stand-alone shelves for a single subject also means we can put other resources there, too. On top of these shelves we've put financial aid applications and workbooks, course catalogs from local colleges, New England Journal of Higher Education, and signs and bookmarks promoting our online education resources. We're also going to interfile our reference books, too, with prominent REFERENCE stickers on them - we'll see how that goes over.

We're still in the process of recataloging the EDU books, but so far, feedback has been mostly positive. The only complaint I've heard is that the new location (we put them next to the Young Adult section, thinking teens would be the heaviest users of college books) is further away from the Reference Desk than the regular Dewey shelves, so it's a longer walk.

I'm not sure which subject we'll tackle next. Doing this section-by-section is slow, but I think it'll work for us. However, in a recent conversation with a librarian at a nearby library, I learned that they are going to go all-out and redo their entire library bookstore-style. They've developed a list of 21 "neighborhoods" in which to group the books, and although I don't have many details, I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes.



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Organizing Books By Subjects, Part I

   April 28th, 2009 Brian Herzog

cookery signWhat I want to talk about is supplementing Dewey organization in a public library, to help both staff and patrons. But this post got so big I had to split it in half, so part two will be along soon.

I know there are libraries that have abandoned Dewey entirely, and there are movements afoot to develop a more modern system.

These are good things, but take major effort and investment. We've considered doing this in my library, but decided we just don't have the floor space for bookstore-like subjects and displays. So instead, we're going to start small, think long-term, and hopefully a series of gradual changes will ease us into an improved and patron-centric way to organize our collection.

Subject Sections for Staff
Something I've wanted to do for awhile is to make each part-time reference staffer responsible for the different subjects in the non-fiction collection. The staff librarians primarily do the selection, but I also wanted each subject assigned to a part-time person, who would be responsible for weeding, straightening, and shelf-reading. I also wanted them to assist with selection, by reading the reviews in Library Journal (as well as the articles, to keep on top of the field).

To try to make this easy, I came up with a list of Dewey ranges (see below) that fell into each subject heading that Library Journal uses in their book review section. They lined up with Dewey pretty well, but there are a few subjects that always have patrons checking different parts of the collection for very similar (to them) books.

A couple examples:

  • Career Books: resume/interviewing books are Dewey 650-656, but job/career directories and encyclopedias are in Dewey 331
  • Books for the Home are in a lot of places: gardening is 630's but landscaping is in 700's; repair and construction could be in 620's, 640's, 680-690's or 740's
  • And I won't even mention oversize books, the bane of my existence

After I had the list, I counted up the number of shelves we had in each Dewey range, grouped them in logical chunks, and then let staff choose which sections they'd be responsible for. After a bit of finagling, everyone ended up with about the same number of shelves, and so far things are going well.

Links to my subject listing is below - keep in mind I am a reference librarian, not a cataloger, so this is more from an end-user point of view. Another problem are the subjects in which we only have five or six books. I'm sure this won't work for any library but mine, but it's a start:

It's certainly not rocket science, but creating this list let me see on paper how we might need to rearrange Dewey in order to organize books by subjects. And by counting the shelves in each section, I also get an idea of how much space we'll need. This sets us up pretty well to start pulling subjects out of the non-fiction stacks to make more attractive and logical subject groupings, bookstore-style, instead of just having a solid mass of books.

Tune in on Thursday for our first foray into subject section shelves...



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Keeping Up and Moving Ahead

   July 10th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Change Agent badgeBecause of two consecutive weekends hosting visitors, I've gotten way behind with emailing and reading blogs and computery things in general. Of the 174 feeds in my Bloglines account, the ones I've been most grateful for are those I can just click on to make not-new, without actually having to read.

But saying that, one blog post did stand out and demand attention. This was Tim at LibraryThing's proposal for a new open source cataloging classification system to replace Dewey.

I like the idea right off in principle, and I'm very happy that Tim has created a forum to get the ball rolling and get people talking about it.

In practicality, though, I don't know how well it'll work. It seems like the really great ideas are born of one person and their unwaivering drive and passion to accomplish it. I like the idea, but I am not sure if genesis-by-committee can be successful. Something like this (or Craig's List or Wikipedia or Linux) seems to need to be centralized and dictatorial in the beginning, and then opened to the public once it's proven and off and running.

But I hope it works. I'm going to be watching it, and I encourage everyone else to do the same - and contribute. I agree with Jessamyn in that, to get tools that are innately useful to libraries, they will have to come from librarians - everything else is just someone's product.



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