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:
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.
January 18th, 2011 Brian Herzog
Last month, the Huffington Post linked to a story on Flavorwire about books that originally started as an element of a fictional story, but then were later published as a real book.
I know that sounds a little confusing, but I did recognize most of them*. For the most part, books like this are fiction, and libraries shelve them as such. As the article mentioned though, television shows have also spawned real-life books - Richard Castle's books, from Castle.
However, one of these books recently(ish) caused a bit of a debate in my library - Roger Sterling's character from Mad Men wrote a book titled Sterling's Gold: Wit & Wisdom of an Ad Man. The points of the debate were these:
- Since this book is "by" a fictional character, should it be shelved as fiction?
- Since it is about the character that wrote it, should it be in autobiography/biography?
- Since the topic is business advice written by a successful businessman, should this be shelved with the business books?
- Since this is derived from a television show, should it be shelved in the television section?
- Since it is humorous, should it be shelved in the humor section?
We ultimately chose the last option, and shelved it at 818.6 (which was also the C-I-P suggestion). According to WorldCat, that seemed to be the most common Dewey number, but not the only one:
- Hamilton/Wenham (MA) Public Library: 659.10207
- Greenwich (CT) Library: 659.1
- Syosset (NY) Public Library: 817.54
- New York Public Library: 818.5402
- Cuyahoga County (OH) Public Library: 818.602
- Greene County (OH) Public Library: 791.457
- Anderson (IN) Public Library: 817
And those were just the libraries on the first few WorldCat results pages that were using Dewey.
But you know, within this genre, I'd actually like for Dewey to write his own book.
*My favorite book-within-a-book is the Books of Bokonon, from Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle
. It never fully made it to real book status, but it has come close
Tags: book, Books, ddc, derivatives, dewey, fiction, fictional, libraries, Library, public, shelving
September 11th, 2010 Brian Herzog
A patron comes to the desk and asks where the books on back pain are. I get up to show him, but he says he can find them himself, if I just write down the call number for him. So I write 617.564 on scrap paper and he was off.
A few minutes later he comes back and says he needs help after all. He found the books okay, but it turned out they are all on the bottom shelf and his back hurts too much to bend over.
We have a laugh at the irony, then I pull them all and put them on a cart, so he can take them over to a chair.
This is another example of an unintended side-effect of Dewey, and also the second shelf-height-related incident I've helped with. I wonder how long before we achieve the trifecta - is it possible for books to be too "middle-shelf?"
May 2nd, 2009 Brian Herzog
I wasn't actually asked this reference question this week, but I have answered it more than once in the past. I use it here because the scenario below illustrates the point of this week's posts.
Patron: I'm remodeling a room in my house - do you have any books on that?
Why, yes, we do. Usually when people ask this question, what they're after are the interior design-type books. These are good for ideas on paint color combinations, decor, furniture, etc, and are mostly shelved at Dewey 747.
I take the patron over there, and after flipping through a couple, the patron says,
Patron: I like the ideas in these two. But neither of them actually tell you how to paint - are there books that will show a beginner like me how to do it right?
We have those books, too, but they're in a different section. I shuffle the patron over to the 645's, but I also need to show her the 698's, because there are some how-to books there, too.
While I'm pointing out these books, the patron continues,
Patron: We've already started painting a bit, and spilled paint on the carpet. Will these books tell me how to clean that up?
Well, no, I don't think so... those books will be in 640.
Patron: Oh, and we noticed some cracks in the drywall, which we'd like to try to repair. My husband is pretty handy, so he thinks he can handle it. And one of the outlets isn't working, so can you show me where those books are?
Now we're back to the 690's for the drywall books, but need to cross over to 621 for books on wiring. The patron says thank you, and is excited, because we have books on every aspect of her project. But as I turn to leave, she takes my arm and says,
Patron: Before you go... well, I'm lost. I've forgotten where the first books are you showed me, and the 'how to paint' books - can you show me where those are again?
I know her project is involved, but the basic question is fairly straight-forward: "where is the home improvement section?" My issue is that Dewey doesn't have one - it has at least four.
Patrons have difficulty finding library resources because we make it difficult. All of these books, since they are related, should be shelved more closely together than this. Why is it that books on dogs (636) are between the electrical books (621) and the home improvement books (645); and between the home improvement books (645) and the general construction books (690's) are books on writing resumes (650)? Arrgh.
Don't worry: no dead horses were beaten during the writing of this post.
April 30th, 2009 Brian Herzog
When 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.
Tags: book, Books, classification, ddc, dewey, libraries, Library, non-fiction, organizing, public, subject, subjects
April 28th, 2009 Brian Herzog
What 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...
Tags: book, Books, classification, ddc, dewey, libraries, Library, non-fiction, organizing, public, subject, subjects