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

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

   May 2nd, 2012

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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9 Responses to “You Can’t Get There From Here (DDC Edition)”

  1. Lori Fisher Says:

    This is a big weakness in the Dewey system – mainly because it forces our users to go to multiple places to get the travel guides they need. We decided to make a “Travel Guide” section in our library last summer, and simplified the Dewey # (and added continent and either country or state). Example: 917 No Amer NH. We’ve seen triple the usage of travel guides since then, and patrons are thrilled with the ease of access. So in my opinion Dewey is still useful but needs to be modified in ways that benefit our users.

  2. Jacqueline Barlow Says:

    Yes, people just like it better this way.

  3. Jennifer Lutzky Says:

    I hate to admit it, but I mess with Dewey all the time in our K-12 library. Sometimes things that should shelve together just don’t — so I make them. 😉 I’m sure I’m going to Dewey hell — but in the meantime our students can find what they need. And ultimately, that’s the point of cataloging, isn’t it?

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Lori: I think that’s a great solution – although I do have a question. We have a lot of US travel books that are regional, like “the Southwest” or whatever. How do you handle those, and are they on the shelf near the states they cover? (one advantage of Dewey’s geographical grouping is keeping regions together)

    @Jennifer: it sounds to me like you’re doing fine. Maybe Dewey Hell is the same place as Customer Service Heaven – you be the judge.

  5. Rich Allen Says:

    Greetings everybody!

    According to WebDewey,

    Turkey guide books: 915.6104 (Middle East)


    Istanbul (Turkey) T2–49618
    Istanbul (Turkey)–ancient T2–398618
    Ä°stanbul Ä°li (Turkey) T2–49618
    Ä°stanbul Ä°li (Turkey)–Asia T2–5632
    Ä°stanbul Ä°li (Turkey)–Asia–ancient T2–39313
    Ä°stanbul Ä°li (Turkey)–Europe T2–49618

    The problem is Dewey makes major changes over the years and old numbers obselete That’s why we bought WebDewey for $260 a year subscription.

    If you want to stay current every day, there’s the 025.432: The Dewey blog:


    Hope this is helpful!


  6. Marcie Says:

    You know, I never noticed the Istanbul/Turkey thing. Maybe because the libraries I’ve worked in haven’t collected travel books just on Istanbul but preferred to get more general books on Turkey. So are you going to collocate the history books as well? (Istanbul 949, Turkey 956)

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Rich: thanks – interesting. I actually had scanned the Istanbul and Turkey pages from our MARC books to include in this post, but then thought OCLC might claim copyright violation, so I didn’t. But it’s good to see the situation in this detail.

    @Marcie: Good point – I hadn’t gotten that far. I’ll have to look and see if we even have any Istanbul books in 949. It makes sense to move them to be consistent, but on the other hand, Istanbul hasn’t always been part of the country of Turkey, so I can also see leaving them separate – for some reason, having them separate in the history/geography section doesn’t bother me as much as the travel section. Hmm – I’ll have to think more about it.

  8. Cari Says:

    All I can say is, the last line made me giggle. 🙂

  9. Kristen Says:

    I work in a bookshop, so our non-fiction is all arranged by category.
    Our travel section is easy to navigate as everything is in alphabetical order, but some of the other sections are a lot trickier – “Gift” is a nightmare.
    There also always seems to be a category which is simply called “Non-Fiction” which contains a random mish-mash of items that can’t fit in anywhere else.
    The store system makes it fun for browsers, but extremely difficult for people after a specific book, as there is no standardisation – it’s all up to how the shelver felt on the day they put the book away.

    As flawed as Dewey is, combined with flexiblity and common sense, it’s still way better than store classification!